Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wheelchair access to beach in Auckland, New Zealand, going away

From The Times in New Zealand:

A decision to abandon a concrete path along the foreshore to connect with a new boardwalk has disappointed disabled people.

Work on the new cycle and walkway between Half Moon Bay and Little Bucklands Beach started at the end of August.

Pakuranga Community Board called a halt to plans to create a three-metre concrete path along the top of the grassed area from the end of the walkway to just beyond the road t-junction which leads onto The Parade.

Instead, a 2.5-metre concrete transition path will lead from the end of the car park to the boardwalk. It will have a mountable kerb designed for wheelchairs, prams, bicycles and walkers.

As well as disappointment the chance to wheel along the foreshore away from traffic has gone, questions remain about safe access to the transition path.

“There is no disability parking here at the moment,” says wheelchair user Gayleen Mackereth (pictured), of Howick, who visits the beach.

“Also it [lack of a foreshore path] means we will have to wheel along the back of the parked cars to get to the boardwalk. No one can see you from a car – they may back over you.

“It’s pleasant to be able to go along the beachfront. The beach has been my life, I was swimming by the time I was three. Look at St Heliers. The walk there is so popular with babies in prams. If it’s a problem for me, it’s going to be a problem with a baby.”

Ray Hickey, who is disabled, and his wife Pat, of Cockle Bay, enjoy walking and wheeling around their local area.

“Usually my husband has to wheel on the far side of the road and look past all the cars to see the water at the beaches, so accessible walkways by the shore are great,” Mrs Hickey says.

She questions whether wheelchair users will be able to use the boardwalk if there is no wheelchair-friendly access.

“The proposed three-metre concrete path would seem like common sense. It would allow for ‘two-way traffic’ of bikes, chairs, prams, depending on how busy it is. It would not be detrimental to beach enjoyment.”

Mrs Mackereth and Barry Keon, chairman of Half Moon Bay Residents and Ratepayers Association, are also critical of a decision to reduce the width of the original, and now the transition path, from 3m to 2.5m.

“My wheelchair is nearly one-metre wide and prams carrying two babies are wider,” says Mrs Mackereth. “Elderly ladies with a walker must be able to pass.”

If people arrive from the subdivision behind the beach, the existing footpath will link with the transition path, says Johann Ferreira, Manukau City Council’s parks group manager.

“If they arrive and park in the car park, they will either walk behind the car onto the sealed car park or in front of the cars, onto the grass and onto the concrete transition path.

“The original idea of taking the path further along the beach was to get access to the boardwalk away from the road t-junction.”

Mr Ferreira will discuss providing disabled car parks at the boardwalk end of the beach with the council’s transport officers.

“We will have to keep an eye on the parking to see how popular the boardwalk becomes for disabled people.”

Accessible car parking for disabled people will need to be enforced properly, says Martine Abel, the council’s policy adviser for disability.

“It will also depend on whether the council decides to provide the minimum standard of car parks or whether more than is required. It is important that is factored in, otherwise there will be frustrated people.”