Victoria councillors want to explore options to improve access to a washroom in Beacon Hill Park near the children’s playground and other park amenities for visitors with mobility challenges.
The city closed some of the roads in the park to motor vehicles last year, including the parking lot closest to the playground and a main washroom, prompting concerns from people with mobility impairments and those who prefer to enjoy the park in a vehicle about decreased access to some popular areas.
City staff plan to increase the number of accessible parking stalls in the park to 21 from eight after evaluating accessible parking standards, and to install accessible portable washrooms at the park’s summit and the west side of the Circle Drive parking lot, bringing the total number of washrooms in the park to five.
Beacon Hill Park has more than 330 parking stalls in four lots within the park, and there is additional street parking on Douglas Street, Cook Street and Dallas Road.
On Thursday, councillors voted unanimously to ask staff to explore options to improve access to park amenities for people with mobility impairments while minimizing the impacts of motor vehicle traffic on park users, in a discussion that revived debate on the partial car ban and questioned what constitutes accessibility.
Coun. Stephen Andrew said he believes council has a duty to make all areas of the park accessible within 100 metres of a parking space.
“This is not about vehicles. This is about people, and people need those vehicles to make access,” he said.
Coun. Geoff Young countered that it’s not possible to make the entire park accessible due to the hills, narrow gravel paths and landscaped areas.
“We kind of thought when we were designing Clover Point that accessible meant accessible for a wheelchair or mobility scooter,” he said.
”It seems that many persons feels that accessibility means within a certain distance of a parking space for a motor vehicle, or perhaps that a person within a motor vehicle must be able to enjoy the amenity.
“And we can’t achieve that objective while maintaining the natural amenities of the park.”
Coun. Sarah Potts said people with disabilities are as varied as any other group, and they have shared different desires in terms of access in the park. Some have said they prefer increased vehicle access in the park, while others have said car-free routes allow for easier mobility.
The debate around vehicle access has been amplified by people without disabilities who are concerned about losing the ability to drive in the park, Potts said.
Councillors will need to ratify the vote at a council meeting in two weeks.