August 9, 2016
the debate is framed like it: to be against a blacktop path is to be against accessibility.
Accessibility for all activities or all abilities?
It is no secret that the debate is mainly geared by the Vancouver cycling community, and the main local organization, HUB, has made clear its vision; a cycling highway -where one can “bike from the Fraser River to False Creek in 30mn” (that makes an average speed of 20km/h+) . From there, the conversation regarding accessibility is mainly reduced to wheelchair accessibility concerns, while at the same time accessibility is understood as skate board and roller skate users inclusion.
However, if we understand accessibility as “universal access” for people with impairment of various nature, the conversation take another turn: A trail where a cyclist can zip at 25km/h becomes quickly unfriendly to people with a visual impairment . The accessibility problem is multidimensional and can’t be reduced by how comfortable it is for the small wheels.
A cycling corridor or a greenway Promenade/trail
- Scenic promenades; and
- Experential promenades
The Vancouver Seawall is a great example of scenic promenade: the emphasis and the purpose of the promenade are the views it can offer. The west Richmond dykes falls also in this category. other trails could not offer too much of a view but a more experiential aspect: the Stanley park inner trails fall in this category, as well as the Richmond Shell road trail or the Lynn valley trails (including its suspended bridge).
If the focus of a trail is a viewpoint, one would like then provide the easiest access to it, if the focus of a trail is experiential, then one would like provide the best compromise comfort/experience. That is the trail itself, and noticeably its surface shouldn’t distract of the experience, which sensorial aspect must not be neglected. A universal accessibility trail exists in Stanley park, it is Beaver lake trail :
Similar trails exist elsewhere in the region, Fitzsimmons trail in Whistler, the Panorama trail at the top of the Squamish SeatoSky Gondola or the Spirea nature trail in the Golden Ears park are among them. However some other trails, though not designed universally accessible could in fact be much more wheelchair friendly that the Stanley park’s Beaver trail (which has not keep up with the up to date standards): it is at least the case of most of the Burnaby Central park trails:
The wide and flat enough trails of the Burnaby central park offer good rolling condition, and stay in good condition during raining periods as illustrated in this Google view.
The Stanley park trails accessibility could not be up to the current standards:
What about the state of the art?
In BC, the very recently opened Great West Life trail in Prince George is pretty much the state of art:
A hard packed surface, soft enough for the knees of the elder, and still presenting good rolling capability, as well as other surface treatments, such has woodboards, provide a rich experience . It features wheel-guard where required and slope not greater than 3%. Such a trail design is the result of a cooperation with the Spinal Cord Injury-BC society.
Trail head accessibility?
It is another aspect where the Burnaby central park is hard to beat: it is directly serviced by the Skytrain (Patterson station) as well as 2 frequent transit bus routes (19 and 49). Something Stanley park can’t compete with.
What about the bikes on an universally accessible trail?
The state of the art doesn’t seem to have found a compromise much better than this:
The banning of bike from Universal accessible trail, seems to be common  for reasons previously touched. Cycling is in theory also not allowed on the “universal accessiblity” trails of Stanley park , but the rule is not well respected.
A preliminary conclusion
Our region is surrounded by trails often offering first class experience, but when time comes to find an accessible trail, the region becomes a laggard. When it is time to find an “universally accessible trail” reachable by public transit: pretty much nothing exists.
it is where the Arbutus corridor becomes a golden opportunity: it presents many characteristic required for an “universally accessible trail”, first of them, being the gentle grade, second being the experiential aspect- including the sensorial aspect capitalizing on the meandering among community gardens. third it is easily reachable by many frequent transit routes, allowing to experience it in many different ways.
It is also clear that an “universally accessible trail” vision capitalizing on the experiential aspect of a greenway is not compatible with the cycle track vision as exposed by Hub, and a compromise will need to be found.
 Arbutus Greenway Announced, Hub news, March 14, 2016
 Similarly, Accomodating visual impaired people is also the main challenge the designer of shared space has to address
 A reason why a cycle track on the Paris Petite Ceinture (a disused rail corridor) has been dismissed, as we have seen in a previous post
 It is also good at maintaining the motor skills and enhance the mental health, a reason why such surfacing are often preferred.
 It is also the case for the promenade built on the Paris Petite Ceinture, among others.
 The ravine trail is also presented as “universal accessible” by the Vancouver park board, thought it has some questionable access impediment.