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Mats, Maths, and Stiffness

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About twenty years ago I wrote a feature article for the now-defunct Ottawa magazine Trans FM about accessibility to local clubs for music fans. It was inspired by an advocacy group housed down the hall from CKCU where I volunteered as a DJ. It occurred to me, as a spun records, that the listeners the next room may not be able to go to see the same gigs I did. Small rooms, stairs, tiny toilets.

Fast-forward a couple of decades. A lot has changed. I’m spinning records, discs, and files at home now. I write for myself and edit for others. For sure I don’t go to as many gigs any more, largely because of time and money. And, after thirty years of concert going, I want to sit. Also, as you may have noticed from previous posts, I use a cane now so standing for long periods of time is out of the question.

Back in the late ’80s I saw an abridged version of the Replacements at Barrymore’s in Ottawa. They were a fantastic band who never quite got the credit (read: sales) that they deserved, drowned out by mediocre radio-friendly crap. After years of rumours and acrimony, the band announced a reunion tour as part of Riot Fest…with a Toronto date! Mine wasn’t the only heart that skipped a beat; most of my Gen X friends posted, cross-posted, and linked their middle-aged brains out on Facebook.

“You in?”

Well, was I? Let me check prices. The cheap seats had gone right quick so the remaining single-day general admissions were about $60 to $70. Not bad for the Mats, plus Iggy Pop, the Weakerthans, Dinosaur Jr., et al. I reached for my credit card.

Then the light went on. Where would I sit? The photos of previous fests showed an audience as a sea of standing bodies. OK, it’s a rock gig—well, a festival in a field, actually. I searched the website for accommodations for fans with mobility issues:

Those with disabilities are welcome to attend. We will not be providing parking to attendees, so those with disabilities should be transported to and dropped off at the main gates. Attendees with disabilities should inform security of their needs at the gates upon entry, they will assist you in accessing the festival. We will not have seating available, so those with trouble walking or standing should use an all-terrain wheelchair and/or attend with someone who can help them navigate the vast festival grounds. Onsite, there are many paved pathways to use, ADA accessible toilets will be provided in all parts of the venue and ADA accessible ramps will be placed next to the Front of House structure at a couple of the main stages. If you have further questions after arriving at the festival, head over to the Information Tent on the grounds, and they will be able to assist.

So no room for camp chairs. I’d need to rent a wheelchair for one day. Ok, fine, that starts at about $15, but for a Sunday and return the Monday? Sigh, call it $30. Then I’ve got to get it there. Hmm. The TTC’s Wheeltrans service is out of question as 1) I have to apply, 2) I’m ineligible, and 3) it isn’t used for just one day. Fine. So a cab…from my home in the East End all the way to Fort York: roughly $60 one way.

The tally so far: ticket $70 + wheelchair $30 + return cab $120 = $220 (plus tax) and I haven’t sipped a beer, nibbled a hot dog, or visited the merch table. A friend of mine suggested I get a VIP ticket as she did (thinking there would be more room) and we’d split the cab: ticket $120 + wheelchair $30 + cab $60 = $210 (plus tax) and I’m still parched and famished. Oh, and there’s no guarantee I’ll see the actual show; just the giant TV.

So because I have arthritis, going to Riot Fest would have cost me a minimum of $210 + tax.

Compare this with TURF, which cost me $70 all in. Why? Because I can bring a camp chair. It’s that simple.

Now some would say I’m too old. Uh huh. I’m the exact demographic who would see the Mats (Paul Westerberg, b. 1950, age 53) and Iggy Pop (b. 1947, age 66). Old? Me? Get outta my way, kid, let me see the show.

Oh, one more thing. I’m not alone. In the UK, young Paul Belk is trying to make fests more accessible.


Rubber Hits the. . . Sidewalk

I attended the preliminary meeting of Walk Toronto led by Spacing writer Dylan Reid. As you can see, the attendance was good and the discussion (which you can’t see) was lively. The issues raised ranged from clearing snow to “pedestrianism,” which amounts to a walking culture. That sounds odd, but to me it’s s simple as a culture where more people walk around in their communities, get to know their neighbours, see folks walking their dogs, chatting about the weather. I grew up in a suburban neighbourhood that has become quite bleak. There is nothing to do, nowhere to go, no real parks where you can just sit and read or people watch; just a few malls (enclosed and strip) that offer nothing but consumerism and stale air. This isn’t conducive to growth, engagement, or even feeling safe. I think walking will help contribute to improving our city. Because everyone is a pedestrian.

Walk Toronto

At a meeting at Metro Hall on the evening of Feb. 13, over 80 participants gathered in order to launch our new group devoted to pedestrian advocacy in Toronto.  At the end of the meeting, attendees took part in a vote in order to determine the official name of the organization, and the winning choice was “Walk Toronto”. For the time being our web presence will continue at , but soon the group’s new web address will be: .

The meeting began with the organizers outlining the need for a group to advocate walking in Toronto. As part of the visioning process, participants  discussed walking issues which they considered most important. These will be used as the basis for shaping the direction that Walk Toronto’s advocacy will take.  The meeting concluded with the formation of a circle of active volunteers who will perform various roles on an ongoing basis.

We thank…

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Getting a Grip

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Welcome to 2013! Since last year was largely snow-free, this is my first winter with the stick and, therefore, the first time I’ve had to negotiate slippery surfaces with dodgy knees. Traction is a priority, so I am thankful for sexy, warm, dry, and drama-free moonboots! Now I need to acquire a “claw” for the metal cane. But how useful will it be on clear sidewalks or sheer ice? I can hear you grumble, “How bloody often are you going to walk on sheer ice?” Glad you asked. As often as you don’t clear and salt your bloody sidewalk!

The rubber grip at the end of the cane seems quite sturdy on snow for now. It gives me (false?) confidence that my knees are stronger and that I can enjoy the outdoors more this season. I was thinking about snowshoeing in High Park. Not great treks, just a short trial to see if I can manage it. Or tobogganing. I can manage slideing on my ass downhill, right? Hang on. . . there’s an uphill part of that equation, isn’t there? Sigh. Must speak with my physio.

On Ramps

Within minutes of my last post, Mary-Margaret McMahon reminded me (via Twitter) of the initiative created by Luke Anderson and Michael Hopkins. Their goal: “StopGap is creating a world where every person can access every space through fun and engaging community projects that raise awareness and remove barriers.” Check it out!

Accessibility Walk

Blocking the sidewalk in front of Meat on the Beach.

I went on a great walk today organized by Mary-Margaret McMahon, the councillor representing ward 32 here in Toronto. Our group included residents with visual impairments and those who use wheelchairs, as well as Adam Smith from the Beaches BIA, Edward Bimbaum and Laurie Smith from McMahon’s office. Along the route (from Brookmount along Queen to Lee) we pointed out the various obstables in our path, such as a fire hydrant in the middle of the sidewalk, poorly made concrete patches, and tree stumps.

The valve is raised above the cement, which makes it a tripping hazard.

We also discussed the need for ramps to businesses. The event was sparked by Joanne Smith, a resident (and, as I learned, my former Seneca classmate) who uses a wheelchair and cannot access the Starbucks at Queen and Brookmount. The cafe installed a ramp at her behest, but the city ordered it removed citing some regulation or other. The issue of ramps and the accessibility in general highlights how cutting corners cuts off people (i.e., taxpayers) and why it’s important that creative and innovating thinking must prevail when it comes to urban planning; not just in the broad scheme of things but also in day-to-day access.

Why can’t patches be corrected when they are installed rather than have to fix them later?

Walking the Walk

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I’ve been using a walking stick since February to prevent falls, stop traffic, and get seats on the streetcar. It’s worked a charm. Indeed, it’s worked in ways I never imagined. Remember the childhood rhyme, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back”? Well, I owe her a million apologies.

When I walk, I pay very close attention to my surroundings, particularly the ground. Curbs, cracks, uneven sidewalks, potholes, wet sewer covers: all of these threaten my stability. It’s remarkable how much stuff is in our way and yet we manage to avoid the hazards.

The pain of my knee “shifting” and the embarrassment of falling made me quite paranoid for a while. I tend to walk on the right-hand side of the sidewalk with an ear open for the sounds of skateboards, bikes (a subject of another post altogether), and scooters, among other things. And I’m relatively young. Imagine if I were elderly. Yes, most people are respectful of their elders (holding doors, letting folk pass, and so on), but your thought process of venturing forth when you are unsure of your footing makes you rethink leaving the house.

I could join the chorus of voices advocating for seniors, but that’s redundant. Besides, I’ve learned that retirees are pretty good at advocating for themselves as they have a lot of time on their hands, and now that their numbers are swelling, I’ll leave them to their own devices. They’ve seen and done a lot more than I have thus far. They don’t need my help.

But let’s consider the broader picture. Eighteen or eighty, we are all one misstep from being temporarily disabled. One false foot placement on a crumbling curb and you can find yourself in emergency with a broken leg. Sure eight weeks in a cast and you’re on the mend, but you still need to get around. If you live on your own, as a growing number of us are, you need to navigate the city. Suddenly the state of sidewalk repair becomes a priority.

Pedestrians are often forgotten in the so-called war on cars by cycling enthusiasts. Indeed, walking seems to be seen as recreational as opposed to a means of transport; as through real commuters drive or cycle. Even if you live in the downtown core, you stroll to work, leisurely without a care in the world, lazily sucking back a fluffy coffee. As if.
People take this behaviour to heart—stopping to gawp at shop windows, to chat to neighbours, to indulge their child—right in the middle of the already narrow sidewalk, which is already considered fair game for hawking merchandise and parking bikes. I expect that on an average day the useable width of a sidewalk on a main street is about two feet—for two-way traffic. No wonder we apologize so damn much.

This is why Toronto needs to widen its sidewalks and invest money in their maintenance. Not to cut down on the beg your pardons, but rather to prepare for the future. Despite Google’s invention of driverless cars, I think we’ll all be walking. In fact, walkability is now a crucial factor in housing prices. Being able to stroll to work, to stores, to cafes, and see your neighbours helps to define quality of life and therefore safe communities. Don’t believe me? Search for “walkability real estate.” Walking is cool.

Learning to Navigate: An Introduction

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About five years ago I was diagnosed with chondromalacia patella (patellafemoral, a.k.a. “runner’s knee”), which is characterized by pain, stiffness, and my knee giving out seemingly spontaneously. I think this was caused by running, climbing CN Towers, cycling, and generally being active, then compounded by a bike accident in which I banged up my right knee. When I was diagnosed, I sought out physiotherapy, massage, and a brace, but after a while I felt that I had plateaued; the symptoms had apparently subsided.

Fast forward to now and the problem has roared back with a vengeance: massive swelling, falling, and immobility. This time, however, my older and wiser self has determined to stabilize the damn thing (again with physio, massage, and an improved brace). I don’t hope to run 5K or climb 1,776 stairs, but a bike ride on the Martin Goodman trail might be nice . . . one day. We shall see.

Part of my strategy is to use a cane to prevent falls when my knee gives out, to stop traffic, and to get a seat on transit.
Now, I’m not going to moan about my “plight” as things could be much worse: cancer, dementia, and so on. This is just a wonky knee (actually, both knees are cranky) and I have a plan in place to diminish the wonk. No, I’m going to observe the world around me (sidewalks, roads, cars, infrastructure, cyclists, and pedestrians) and how I navigate through it.

Approximately, twenty years ago, I wrote an article for the now-defunct Ottawa music paper Trans FM about accessibility, centring on clubs and bars. The paper was a guide to campus radio station CKCU.FM (a.k.a. “The Mighty 93”) and it dawned on me that some of our listeners may not be able to get in the clubs and bars that not only sponsored the station but also hosted bands. In fact, I once saw one fellow plucked out of his chair and carried upstairs by staff at Barrymore’s. While I don’t think the bloke who carried the guy felt anything but compassion and goodwill, I think the man being carried harboured a sense of indignity and lost independence.

I remember one summer when I severely sprained my ankle and required a cast. I had a Ramones ticket and was determined to see them at RPM. So rather than use my crutches, I hired a wheelchair (yes, I know). Fortunately, I didn’t have to power myself all night as my friend Linda was there to push me around (a rare case of this, so don’t get any crazy ideas). As we rolled closer to the stage, a bouncer told Linda to move me back, so she did. I literally put the brakes on.
“Where am I going?”
“The guy told me to move you back.”
“Hey, guy.”
“My foot’s broken, not my fucking head. You want to move me, ask me, not my helper.”
How often does that conversation transpire, I wondered. This was a temporary measure for night, not a lifetime.

And now, here I am again using a device normally reserved for the elderly to move around safely and securely. My fingers are crossed that this, too, is a temporary measure. That said, the perspective is remarkable as is the opportunity to use it to help make Toronto a more mobile city. Stay tuned.



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