Much of Europe has notoriously tiny roads. The age of their infrastructure means that cobblestones, tight alleyways, and unleveled sidewalks are commonplace. The same can be said for many other parts of the world. Things are even less user-friendly in rural and underfunded communities. Bumpy dirt paths, potholes the size of small planets, and worn away concrete make up a large percentage of the spaces people move through.
In the United States, ADA guidelines are thought to be strictly enforced. This should mean that all areas are wheelchair and compromised-mobility friendly, especially pedestrian spaces. However, those idealized guidelines are nowhere near fully implemented or maintained.
Yesterday, I went on a short walk through my neighborhood. Outside of dodging homeless camps on multiple sidewalks, the extent of the inaccessibility was so obvious that it sparked a NSFW exclamation of disappointment. How does anyone get around here without constantly jigsawing their way through a maze of people and things?! On my small sidewalk radius, alone, there were: discarded construction materials, people sleeping, piles of garbage, signs for businesses, traffic cones, chairs, shopping carts, missing concrete, tree roots, and miscellaneous awning poles. Of course, there were also unaware and phone-absorbed pedestrians. But, that’s a topic for another time.
I’m in a major city. They have the laws, resources, responsibility, and social pressure to keep this place walker friendly. Having obstacles at every step, limits an area’s appeal and functionality. Citizens and companies seek to setup in locations that provide easy access and safety. People are looking to move where their homes give them a full community experience. That includes walkability.
When I say walkability, I’m addressing all forms and types of movement. As the population ages, they shuffle and more easily loose their balance. Medical conditions and differences in senses mean that people rely on solid, level surfaces. There should be enough space on a sidewalk for a wheelchair, walker, animal companion, or sight stick to safely get it’s owner to their destination.
Everyone should be able to move about their communities safely and with confidence. Making adjustments as you go about your daily routine isn’t the same as being trapped in your home or stuck on the side of the road because there is no way for you to move across unnecessary hurdles. Cities desperately need to step up their accessibility game if they want to attract and keep a diverse population.