Qualicum Beach’s Pat Kayll believes having a parking permit for people with disabilities should provide accessibility.
But Kayll said she believes this isn’t always the case, especially at the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre, where she said there isn’t enough to go around. The centre is the third-largest parking area in town and went down an accessible parking spot in early 2019 to make room for an electric vehicle charging station.
Kayll wrote to the town recently, expressing her frustration and calling parking at the centre “lacking and not well-placed.”
She pointed to the loss of accessible parking at the centre as especially frustrating. She’s also worried about winter and the additional accessibility challenges cold weather brings.
“Almost every time in the morning when I come, this is taken,” she said, pointing to the accessible spots closest to the centre.
Kayll said it’s a pressing issue, especially given the older demographics of the town and the increasing population. Sandra Hobson, chairwoman of Access Oceanside, agreed.
“The fact is, in our community, that’s probably not enough,” said Hobson about the number of accessible parking spots in Qualicum Beach. “We are an aging community, some people will age with disability, but many will age into disability.”
CAO Daniel Sailland said the city needs to balance the needs of electric charging stations with accessible parking — both of which are increasing with new families and seniors moving to the area. The town now has a total of a dozen charging stations, and plans to introduce two more at the museum parking lot.
“There’s undoubtedly going to be some discussion and some possible changes there,” he said about the Civic Centre.
In terms of replacing the lost parking spot, Sailland said the town will look at how they can bring it back in a similar location.
Luke Sales, director of planning for Qualicum Beach, said in terms of anything changing at the Civic Centre, the RDN and Qualicum Beach would have to work together since it’s shared property between the two government bodies.
“We are in discussion with the Regional District of Nanaimo who own and operate Ravensong Aquatic Centre, we’re in discussions with them about the reconfiguration of potentially that building and some of the parking around,” he said. “In the future we will be looking at trying to make the handicap stalls as convenient as possible.”
Sales said the town will consider Kayll’s points.
“The first step would be an evaluation of the usage of our current handicap stalls because that would give us the information we need to make a decision about where they should be in the future,” said Sales.
Qualicum Beach does an annual accessibility review, during which Sailland said he heard other concerns about accessibility in the community.
“I wouldn’t say we get complaints, so much as we go around with a group and identify areas that can improve and every year we try and improve on and try and hit some of those targets that are within our budget ,” he said. “I think the largest complaint that we tend to get, which is one that we’re working on, is when we have handicap areas making sure those handicap parking areas are right by or right on let-downs.”
Sailland said the town gets “a handful, a half-dozen or so a year” complaints related to accessibility.
“That said, we do aim for a higher standard,” said Sailland. “Just with our demographic we know that mobility is always a challenge so if we can aim for that higher standard in a cost-effective way and a balanced way where we’re gradually advancing and meeting the needs over time, then we’re really building for all ages.”
Hobson said it’s important to note that because Qualicum Beach is an aging community, there’s a variety of disabilities that people experience — some visible, some not. She said there are many people who need to be considered when making decisions around accessible parking.
“I understand, you know, the climate crisis, the need to move to more accessible, move environmentally friendly vehicles and public electric charging stations are a great move,” said Hobson. “But they shouldn’t come at the cost of the needs of people who make up a fairly large proportion of the taxpayers in this region.”