The City of Victoria’s website says it provides 28 accessible parking spaces downtown, but a report for the Accessibility Working Group found there are closer to 24 — and only half meet a basic level of accessibility.
“I was getting frustrated with the number of times I’d see people and things like dumpsters in the accessible parking spaces throughout downtown that aren’t supposed to be there,” said David Willows, who wrote the report.
Willows’s son is five years old, has cerebral palsy and requires a wheelchair, so the family uses an accessible van. It’s not just the Willows family who are impacted by parking space designs. The Victoria Disability Resource Centre (VDRC), who issue accessible parking permits, said seven per cent of the city’s population has an accessible parking permit. That number doesn’t include the 12 other municipalities in Greater Victoria.
After struggling almost every day to find accessible parking downtown, Willows took it upon himself to audit the city’s parking and created a 53-page review.
Armed with a map from the city website, Willows walked around downtown to find the 28 accessible parking spots only to find several had been taken out. One of those spots was — ironically, he adds — at the Ministry of Health building, but was removed when the Pandora Avenue bike lanes were added.
“The City of Victoria is home to the provincial government as well as the federal government, and everyone has a right to access government. Accessible parking is a way for people who live in the area to come in and access government. Without it being designed properly, we are being denied a degree of access to our government,” he said.
Of the accessible parking spots Willows could find, he said many had design flaws making them difficult or impossible for a wheelchair user to park there.
“One of the worst ones was in front of the old bus depot on Douglas Street,” Willows said. “There were two Canada Post letter boxes six inches from the curb, right where the side door of a van would be. You can’t use a ramp, you can even park a wheelchair beside the vehicle to lift someone out to do a transfer.”
Other issues Willows found included confusing signs, that looked like accessible parking could only be paid by coin. (Willows prefers using the city’s parking app that allows you to pay from your smartphone.) He’d look to see if the size of a parking space allowed access to a wheelchair in the back of a vehicle, if there was enough room to open doors fully and where a ramp onto the sidewalk was.
He was looking for design flaws, but Willows was also looking for solutions.
“I did this audit of all the parking spaces to figure out what’s wrong with them and what’s a cost-effective, quick way to fix them because no one wants to spend money. We want to affect change as quickly as possible too,” Willows said.
The Douglas Street parking was the worst, but it also the easiest to fix. Willows called Canada Post himself, and the company moved the boxes immediately. It took less than 10 minutes and cost nothing, Willows said.
He suggests raising the fines for people or companies using the accessible parking spaces without a permit. Painting curbs blue and making signs easier to see and understand would also help locate the parking spots.
“When you can’t reliably get someplace to get your kid to an appointment, you have to take more time off work so you can find that parking,” Willows said.
For now, his son is small enough he can be carried between their van and his wheelchair, but Willows hopes his son will one day be able to be mobile with less assistance. For adults with disabilities, access to parking can limit where they can work or where they can live.
“When you’re caring for a child with a disability, you’re thinking of caring for them for your entire life and then having something set up to provide for them once you’re gone. This,” Willows said, gesturing to his report, “is one piece of that for me.”
Willows’s full report on accessible parking in Victoria can be read on drcvictoria.com.