Wheelchair users in Clonakilty battle poor footpaths

16 March 2016
By Elaine Murphy

Over the last week to ten days, the Clonakilty Access Group has been very active as a result of many people contacting it’s members about issues of concern relating to the “new” footpaths and street layouts in the town. We have a received a statement from the group.

With consternation raised about rough brick surfaces put in place on footpaths about three weeks ago, which had created a lot of problems and difficulties for people with disabilities, mobility issues, and the general public, the Access Group called a public meeting on Monday 7th March. It was attended by around 20 local people and many issues of difficulty were raised from the floor.

Access Group officers explained that they had made a formal four page submission to the council at the public consultation stage in May 2014, before the works began on the streets, and after members had viewed the proposed new town centre layout.

Eight main points were raised by the group in that submission, and related to issues such as parking for people with disabilities, crossing points, the inclusion of on-street trees (seen as obstacles, leaves may people to slip in wet weather), the non-inclusion of traffic lights for the visually impaired, the non-inclusion of a bus stop facilitating a wheelchair accessible hoist and other issues. In reply to the submission in 2014, the council ignored almost all points put forward by the group or were non-specific in reply.

Clonakilty Access Group sought and were promised a meeting with the council architect responsible for the final design in September 2014, but that meeting did not take place and the works commenced some months later and are now coming to a completion.

At the Access Group public meeting on 7th March, a number of new issues arose. One of the most serious was the gradient on the new footpaths only recently put down which wheelchair-users describe as being hazardous, as their chairs are pulled out towards the road where traffic is passing by.

On the Thursday after the public meeting (10th March), the Chair and PRO of the Access Group belatedly met with Ms. Guillia Vallone, Council Architect, Justin England, Municipal District Officer and Eoin McCarthy, NRA Engineer. The two-hour meeting discussed the original points put forward by the group in their formal submission of May 2014, s well as the new issues that have arisin.

Unfortunately, the points made by the Access reps regarding the trees, the bus stop, the assistance traffic lights for the blind, etc. were again dismissed. The group received clarification of the location of disabled persons parking spaces on Pearse St. but are awaiting reply re: location of Ashe St. ones (none were on the councils drawings originally!).

The council reps also conceded that the offending “rough surfaces” put in place only a few weeks ago will now all be taken up “before Easter” to make them safe for all. This has been only after considerable pressure from the Access Group and our repeated requests to cordon off the remaining surfaces or to highlight the danger in some way to people has been ignored.

We have received many complaints regarding the apparent lack of adherence to normal protocol for health and safety standards applicable to all work sites which many people feel are endangering them, their elderly parents/relatives and children. There is a lot of anger regarding this.

The issue of the gradients of the new footpaths and the fact that downpipes from three storey buildings on the streets will spew water indiscriminately all over footpath surfaces proved to be major issues of contention at the meeting last Thursday. After a lot of discussion, the NRA engineer agreed to meet with wheelchair users and “walk” all the new footpaths with them to see assess the difficulties for himself.

This was agreed to happen on Monday.

As there are several different types of wheelchair user, those with stronger upper body strength, those with less upper body strength and those who are assisted by a Personal Assistant, volunteer wheelchair users from each group offered their assistance in assessing the new pavement.

Experiences of Disabled People

(1) The first w/c user was joined by her PA and we proceeded from Ashe St to the AIB bank corner. Along Ashe St the PA experienced difficulty in keeping the wheelchair straight that is not heading towards the street with the fall of ground. This meant that the PA was walking angled toward the building, not a particularly healthy position for her own back. The w/c user was actually thrown sideways towards the street with the fall of ground of the new footpath. The particular chair in use for this walk was a well-supported chair. It was alarming to see how the user’s position could be affected so adversely. When we reached Astna Square, the user was rattled around like a box of smarties as the surface is so uneven and is permanently so without regard to persons who may traverse that area in wheelchairs who experience pain/tremor/involuntary movement in such situations. We proceeded along Pearse St which was not easy. The ramping at the Bank of Ireland is simply unpassable. It is too steep, one person with a light user such as the PA in question had could not manage it, a PA with a heavier individual simply could not use that ramp with any degree of safety at all. This walk was carried out on Friday.

(2) On Monday morning Elizabeth Walsh met with Mr Eoin McCarthy Engineer NRA and Ms Breda Leonard, Council onsite Engineer. Two wheelchair users joined us, a lady who would be typical of possibly 50% of users in having less upper body strength and a gentleman who has good upper body strength. The lady who had parked in the space opposite Forristals required assistance from a passer-by in order to negotiate the junction at the bottom of Ashe St and onto the footpath. This junction is simply too uneven and hazardous for a wheelchair user. We proceeded along Ashe St. On three distinct occasions this lady was in immediate danger of landing in the road in front of traffic. She had to exert considerable effort to keep her chair propelled forward and even then continuously it was heading with the gradient for the street. This street is unsafe for this lady to use. She required assistance again to reach her car safely only because the road is impassable and unsafe.

The gentleman proceeded from the same starting point and experienced exactly the same difficulties. It was a constant effort to keep the chair propelled forward and to prevent it from swinging towards the street and traffic. As this gentleman had traversed this street in the rain a few days earlier he could relate the added difficulties and hazards caused by the flow of water across the pavements. We again proceeded though Astna square, which is not easy for a wheelchair user due to the surface and down the left hand side of Pearse St. The ramp at the Bank of Ireland was impassable and dangerous. Returning on the opposite side of Pearse St, a difficulty was identified where the parking bays are planned for people with disabilities as the footpath level is not even causing one wheel to spin giving a loss of control. Other difficulties were identified as we returned towards Ashe St, one being that some bricks with grooves have been inserted in the street and footpath at various points. These are very obvious places for wheelchair wheels and crutches/walking aids to get caught.

A comprehensive list is being compiled. We express our deep gratitude to those wheelchair users who have aided us in what is turning into a rather exhaustive task.

Bus Stop

The Access Group have been contacted by people raising other issues. The matter of the council plan not incorporating a town centre bus stop suitable to accomodate a bus with a lift for passengers with disabilities was raised by the Access Group in its submission of May 2014. The council refused to include it subsequently due to “engineering reasons”, but it has now become a real live issue in the groups campaign, as they have been contacted by a user who is unable to avail of such public transport simply because the correct bus stop will not be put in place by the council in these works. This user is only one of many who are discriminated against now as there are wheelchair accessible buses, but these individuals will not be able to access them through a decision of the council. Why should any individual have to incur a significant taxi fare to Cork when public transport is provided from Clonakilty to the city. If the council chooses to discriminate against individuals who require this service, will they then bear the additional financial burden they are inflicting on such wheelchair users? If a young person using a wheelchair wants to go to Cork on a Saturday with his/her friends on public transport as young people do, should that individual be discriminated against because Clonakilty Council does not see fit to include the required bus stop? It is time to stop discrimination in all its forms.

The Access Groups’ ethos is one of positivity and inclusion, for all. The Group wants to see the public money being spent in the new Clonakilty streetscapes by public officials to achieve value for money and to result in the best possible town centre for all locals and visitors. We will continue to be assertive and demand nothing less than the best for people with disablities and mobility issues, visually impaired, etc. There should be no compromise on these matters as what we are seeking are basic human rights that should be a given, and should not have to be fought for like we are currently forced into doing with the council.

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