For an official host venue of the 2010 Winter Paralympics, accessibility should not be optional.
In preparing to host that event, and the Olympics beforehand, a lot of infrastructure and planning went into this community. One would expect accessibility would be part of that process and a legacy from the event.
But this week it has come to the attention of The Question that three accessible parking stalls on Springs Lane, which provided the closest access to the base of Whistler and Blackcomb, have been removed.
These stalls were used by paralympians and many people participating in the adaptive sports program on the hill, as they also allowed the quickest access to the hill and the greatest amount of room to maneuver with equipment, especially if you are in a wheelchair.
Three-time paralympic sit-skier Stacey Kohut flagged the issue as an accessibility problem, one that others in the community have echoed. He said nobody could tell him why the stalls were removed, or who was even responsible for them in the first place.
Several phone calls and emails from The Question later, the mystery of where the stalls came from and why they are no longer there was revealed (see story on page 13).
But the story itself reveals a lack of official process for informing those in the community that use this specialized kind of infrastructure that it is being removed or replaced. As it turns out the plan is to see the stalls replaced sometime in the future with similar proximity to the mountain.
In the meantime two spaces have been added in Sundial Place by the municipality. Those spaces are in addition to several paid accessible parking stalls in that location.
What is mindboggling about those already existing stalls, to us at least, is that they are part of the pay parking program in Whistler, but if you are in a wheelchair and there is snow on the ground, it becomes difficult to reach the parking metres.
We have been told that municipal parking attendants, as a result, have been looking the other way. Muni officials could not confirm whether or not this is the case, but it clear that the traditional pay parking system doesn’t work for those in wheelchairs during the winter months.
Another system is in the works to address these issues, including extending accessible parking times at Sundial to eight hours and developing a pay by cellphone system.
But for an administration that is all about openness and accessibility, this story seems to be lacking a bit of both. The muni even has its own select committee of council that acts as an advisory board to address accessibility concerns, although it is not required to notify the public of these changes outside the already legislated development permit process.
It is reasonable to think knowing three of the most accessible spots to park to access the ski hill were about to be removed, somebody either at Whistler Blackcomb or at the planning department, would have gone to the stakeholders in the community or the committee itself to receive its advice on the effect of that change and solicit ideas to see the stalls replaced appropriately.
But officials were clear that accessibility is a top priority and the goal of council and that committee is to see no net loss of accessible parking spaces in Whistler. This is important and we hope the muni will live up to the challenge, the question is whether or not they tell anybody about it.