The Halifax Regional Municipality says it made a “mistake” when it failed to proactively consult residents with physical disabilities before moving accessible parking spots from Gottingen Street.
In October of last year, the municipality moved Gottingen Street’s four accessible spots to side streets in order to make room for the new priority bus lane, however those side streets are inclined, making them difficult or unsafe to use for many drivers with mobility challenges.
Skarlet Young, who suffers from a neuromuscular disorder called Friedreich’s Ataxia, said she nearly had to crawl from her place of employment on Gottingen Street to her parking spot around the corner on Buddy Daye Street earlier this month. It was too icy for her to make it uphill so a colleague had to carry her.
“If he hadn’t been there, the only way I could have got to my car safely would have been to crawl on my hands and knees across the road in a pile of ice and slush, and that is probably the most humiliating and undignified thing I can think of someone having to do,” she said.
In response to questions from Global News, the municipality has admitted that it should have deliberately consulted stakeholders with physical disabilities in advance of moving the spots. But at the time, the municipality thought it was doing the accessibility community “a service,” said HRM spokesperson Brendan Elliott.
“We thought when we were doing that, we were actually doing something good because those spots would be there 24/7, whereas on Gottingen, during those peak rush hours, everybody has to be out of those areas,” he explained. “Obviously, we’ve learned from this that those spaces aren’t ideal for everyone.”
In the public feedback stage of the rapid transit priority project on Gottingen Street, Elliott confirmed that much of the feedback on parking spots came from concerned business stakeholders and that opportunities for members of the accessibility community to comment came in the form of open houses and an online survey.
But the online survey, in fact, contained no direct questions about the impact of moving accessible parking spots, and only two respondents identified that they were accessible parking spot users.
Furthermore, the municipality did not consult its own accessibility advisory committee.
“We definitely see that we made a mistake in this situation. We learned from it and we reacted as soon as we could to fix the problem,” he said.
In response to complaints about the parking spots, the municipality has restored an off-peak hours accessible spot to Gottingen Street near the YMCA and, in the near future, plans to add two more, pending approval: one by the YMCA and another by Cogswell Street.
That would bring the total number of accessible spots in the vicinity to seven, although Young doesn’t see that proposal as a solution. Because she works full-time hours, a time-restricted parking spot means she’d still have to move her car from Gottingen Street to the hill on Buddy Daye Street in order to complete her shift without getting a ticket.
Now, she’s considering filing a formal complaint with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.
“It’s discrimination. People with disabilities have the same rights as everybody else, and that includes being able to access businesses on this street, access places of work on this street,” she said. “And when you discriminate, you start infringing on other rights like your right to safety and your right to employment.”
Elliott said that “nobody is getting parking all the time on Gottingen” and that the municipality is accommodating “just about everybody that we can.”
Everyone who parks on Gottingen Street will be inconvenienced by the transit route, he added, and the municipality is striving to strike a “delicate balance” that meets everyone’s needs.