Shopping plazas do need to be more pedestrian friendly. If given the opportunity, people will walk with kids to the nearest play places, go shopping, or go to work by means of transportation other than by car. Governments on all levels promote the use of more local public transit to reduce the number of cars on the road and thus reduce traffic and pollution. Our Town supports local groups that promote active Aurora and I am sure “walking” is on the list. Having said that, people that walk regularly continue to face barriers. One example being no sidewalks in some parts of the Town. An issue, let’s say for a person pushing a stroller on a busy street. However, slowly lengths of sidewalks are being added in our Town, so the situation is improving.
Nonetheless, I have a connectivity concern that needs improvement and consideration – it’s an access and maneuverability issue at shopping plaza or strip mall drive-thru and parking lots. Pedestrian safety is also a concern. My point is clearly illustrated by the following example at the recently built McDonald’s restaurant plaza. One may ask how is this relevant to the Town since it is not a Town property. Simple, these plaza’s or business park designs are reviewed and approved by the Town; therefore, to serve our community better, especially the walking community, the Town needs to demand more from developers and property owners on the issue of accessibility.
Now lets analyze the McDonald’s restaurant plaza that was obviously built for drive-thru customers only. There is no doubt that this property layout was designed with the right intent. Unfortunately even though the commercial property is within walking proximity of residential properties, it appears that there was no consideration during the design stage given that people may actually walk to the place. Believe it or not on a regular basis people are arriving at the McDonald’s restaurant on foot, kids on bikes, parents with strollers, nannies with double plus strollers and people from the nearby bus stop.
There are three entrances to the McDonald’s plaza, an official 24-hr Entrance with no sidewalk from Pedersen Drive, an official 24-hr Exit (also entrance) with one sidewalk adjacent to one building closest to Earl Stewart Drive, and a bypass through the LCBO plaza. As mentioned before, the easiest and safest way to enter this plaza is definitely by motorized vehicle.
Below is the 24-hr Entrance from Pedersen Drive. No sidewalk on either side.
To get to McDonald’s restaurant or out of the parking lot, people who walk use the grass pathway after crossing the two-lane drive-thru driveway. This also includes people pushing strollers through this area. Imagine pushing a double or quadruple stroller. It can’t be that easy but people do it.
Referring to the image below, there is an awkward island of concrete. What is it for? A cross-walk marking, faded now, is connecting this intriguing concrete island and the sidewalk on the other side. It has an accessible ramp linked to the cross-walk on the left side. On the other side there is just a curb. It’s like they expect someone to spring over the two-lane drive thru to reach McDonald’s or turn around and walk on the grass to exit the property. Weird.
Since getting in and out of the McDonald’s plaza through the marked 24-hr Entrance is already difficult, some people take on an alternative and arguably more difficult path, that is to climb the steep hill. These are the people/employees who need to get to the bus stop located at the top of that hill. Recently a hydro pole in the same location on Bayview Avenue was replaced due to damage during high winds. Most of the electrical contractors parked their vehicles at the plaza and climbed the hill, similar to this woman in the photo below.
Again, in the picture below is another view of the 24-hr Entrance off Pedersen Drive. Not sure why the sidewalk is adjacent right to the road without any buffer on this busy section of the street. Most of the time sidewalks are offset from the road with a strip of grass as a buffer. Sidewalks that are offset are safer for pedestrians. This sidewalk is also sloped, a lot. See the sidewalk slopes guides below this image [Source: “Accessible Sidewalks and Street Crossings — an informational guide,” Pg 9-10, Filetype PDF.]
There is another entrance to this commercial property marked with a 24-hr Exit sign and with a sidewalk on one side, but it only serves the commercial building along Earl Stewart Drive. This entrance is hardly used by pedestrians. As it stands it is meant to be an exit. The sign says it all.
The McDonald’s restaurant in the shopping plaza in theory is accessible because it was designed for all kinds of vehicles of all sizes, cars, trucks, buses, tractors, street sweepers and more. I have seen them all there. The property layout does not consider people moving around on foot. At this point the property’s accessibility is not a Town issue. With such little space to work with and the potential for high costs, I am not sure it will ever be improved. However, all the concerns could have easily been avoided if strategically thought out during the design stage.
When the McDonald’s plaza was in the planning stage, the community expressed the following concerns. It seems like accessibility was a miss.
“Delegation to express serious concerns for the proposed McDonalds with 2 lane Drive Through. This site will result in an increase in traffic, litter, birds (ie Seagulls), noise from the Drive Through speakers and truck deliveries, excessive vehicle idling, along with annoying smell of grease emanating from the proposed McDonalds. All of the above will drop the property values of the surrounding homes and seriously degrade the enjoyment of our property and surrounding properties around this proposed site.” Issues brought by one of the delegates Tuesday March 31-2015.
Well, people must realize that it’s very seldom that they will be able to stop a development on usable lands. Perhaps as a community, we should always stress and advocate for better accessibility and connectivity for non-drivers (pedestrian) within commercial properties both from the developers and from the Town’s planners. In fact this connectivity criteria should be mandatory and promoted by the Town. This is something for which the Town’s Accessibility Advisory Committee should also strongly advocate, since those with challenges are impacted as well.
Anna Lozyk Romeo