When Paralympic skier and current X Games gold medallist Sam Danniels wanted to train on Whistler Mountain, he used to park at one of the three accessible stalls located closest to the Village Gondola on the Springs Lane loop.
For months, however, Danniels, who is paralyzed from the armpits down, has had to park at the next closest accessible spaces to the mountain, near the Sundial hotel.
“There are spots on Sundial (Crescent), which are significantly further away,” said Danniels. “If you use a wheelchair and there’s eight inches of snow on the ground, I challenge you to carry 50 pounds of gear on your lap to get through it.”
The three parking spots were removed in September from land that Whistler Blackcomb (WB) manages as part of a Crown lease. As part of a July development permit approval process for a new freestanding retail building at the Hilton submitted by proponents Mountain Square Holdings, it was determined that the parking spaces were blocking a fire lane.
“We had to take out that accessibility parking. I mean really all it is, is just three little signs on the wall, and people use it. It infringes on the fire lane, we just couldn’t put it in,” said Bryce Margetts, Western Canada’s vice president of Canderel Property Management. Mountain Square Holdings has since been sold, and Margetts is under agreement to complete this project on their behalf.
While Margetts was unaware the spots had already been removed, he expects they were taken out because construction stalled on the forthcoming retail building.
“I guess Whistler Blackcomb took them out thinking I’d have them relocated, but we got delayed. We’re definitely going to put accessibility back somewhere in the Village. It’s going to be hopefully just as convenient,” he said. Construction on the retail building near the Hilton is expected to begin in the spring, said Margetts, and will include a wheelchair accessible ramp leading up to the patio adjacent to the Lift Coffee Company.
Part of the approval process requires Mountain Square Holdings to implement $2,000 of accessible parking improvements in Whistler Village to the satisfaction of the RMOW. Two additional accessible parking spaces have been created in Sundial Place by the muni, of which Mountain Square Holdings funding commitment may be applied, pending approval. The RMOW is also working on extending the time limit for accessible pay stalls at Sundial Place from two hours to eight. Staff are also looking at additional accessible options in underground parkades close to the mountain, a move Danniels welcomed, although he doesn’t like the idea of metred accessible parking.
“There’s a big issue with paying for parking for somebody in a wheelchair because it becomes an impediment. You’ve got to make sure that you’ve meticulously kept the metre and access to it clean from snow,” he said. “It’s unfair to put a disabled parking spot that you need to pay for, but not provide reasonable access to pay for it.”
The RMOW reported that they are looking at implementing a pay-by-cell phone option for parking metres.
Paralympian and head coach of the BC Para-Alpine Ski Team Phil Chew suggested establishing free parking near the mountain for persons with disabilities, a policy that resort operators at Colorado’s Copper Mountain have already adopted.
“If you’re talking about accessibility you’ve got to put your money where your mouth is,” said Chew, who is a member of the municipal Measure Up Select Committee of Council, an advisory board that works to address accessibility concerns in the community. Chew said the removal of the spaces means the community is “going a little bit backwards,” especially considering the 2010 Paralympic Games were hosted in Whistler.
“We were the host of the 2010 Paralympic Games. That’s a very honourable title to have, but it comes with a responsibility of keeping the community accessible for all people including those with disabilities for all recreational activities,” said three-time Paralympic sit-skier Stacey Kohut.
A bigger concern for Kohut, who is a low-level paraplegic, is that the removal of the stalls is not only hindering accessibility in the community, but the sense of independence felt by people in Whistler with disabilities who want to participate in recreational activities on the mountain.
“How do they expect a nine-year-old girl who’s just learning how to sit-ski … to learn anything about independent living? How do they expect her to learn anything about what it’s like to grow up with a disability if she’s got to park so far away that she needs a million people to help her start her day?” said Kohut.
The Springs Lane spaces were installed years ago after WB determined “it would be a good thing to do to add some accessible parking there. It wasn’t required by anyone,” according to WB’s vice president of planning, government relations and special projects Doug Forseth.
Municipal bylaw requires one accessible parking space per 40 sleeping units or guest rooms, and one accessible stall per 100 spaces required for commercial uses.
The RMOW posted information regarding the development permit at the site of the removed stalls, but no other public notice was given, as the muni does not control the accessible stalls in question.
“This is not something the RMOW would (or would be required) to provide notice about,” read an email from a municipal spokesperson.
Forseth said he was “not aware” of WB notifying the public of the stalls’ removal.
When asked why the Springs Lane parking stalls were installed years ago if they were blocking fire lanes, Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden responded: “Well that’s a good question, but sometimes these things just don’t come to light until subsequent review. That neighbourhood has undergone changes over the years, so when they were first installed they very well might not have impeded fire access.”
A municipal spokesperson said Whistler Blackcomb installed the spaces without the RMOW’s knowledge.
There are 76 accessible parking spots in Whistler, including 21 in the Village and four in WB’s day lots.