Beacon Hill Park and Sour Pickles

Dear neighbours

I wish to share something with you. I hope you are able to take a few moments to read it.

The past week and a bit have been very challenging. I have been hearing things, things that have left me feeling very weary and troubled.

It all started with Pickleball Courts.

Normally I would be excited to hear about people participating in sport, but this story has been soured. It has been soured by a Mayor and Council who continue to look for ways to remove vehicles from the city’s beloved park. A by-product of this is that some people with disabilities and limited mobility no longer have access to several of the areas of the park they once did.

At the beginning of COVID-19, the City of Victoria Mayor and Council closed the majority of roads through Beacon Hill Park citing the need for social distancing. This was touted as a temporary measure.

One of the roads closed was Arbutus Way; a road that lead to the Arbutus Way Parking lot which is a gateway to several of the park’s popular amenities. It is a few steps from the bandstand, lake, kids park, washrooms, alpine garden and family picnic area. It is a very important access point for people with limited mobility, including some seniors.

Over time some roads in the park re-opened, but not Arbutus Way. The community protested their lack of access. Determined to keep Arbutus Way and the parking lot closed, Councilor Ben Isitt personally designed a route for people with limited mobility to drive into the park from Cook Street, park, pee, and then leave – all in the name of accessibility.

A year into the pandemic, a group of citizens launched a class action Human Rights claim against the city for taking away the access they once had. The case is currently in the queue with the BC Human Rights Commission.

Several months later, I had an opportunity to have a conversation with Mayor Lisa Helps. During that conversation the topic of Beacon Hill Park came up. I explained the challenges the community was having with not having access to the parking lot. She clearly understood and suggested that the city look into re-opening the road, and replacing the road parking with a protected bike path and walkway beside it – just like in other areas of the park. I was promised it would be on the list for the fall for planning.

Enter the Pickleball players.

Last week, the city announced that displaced Pickleball players would be granted access to the Arbutus Way Parking where they could establish a pilot project with at least two courts. Pilot projects are not temporary, but rather ways of testing if what you are trying to achieve works. If you are not questioning why the city has set a pilot project up in a parking lot that is at the centre of a Human Rights case, you should be. Personally, I take this as a direct assault on people with disabilities. I also find it mean spirited to place the Pickleball players in the middle of the controversy.

But this is not what has left me feeling weary and troubled. I am accustomed to the City of Victoria Mayor and Council behaving this way. And I am never surprised when they toss those with disabilities aside to achieve their goals – they did this with the bike lanes leaving visually impaired citizens at risk of injury.

I am feeling weary and troubled because of some of the comments I see on social media from the community.

Living with a disability is exhausting. You have to plan all aspects of your life in ways that others don’t. And you often have to plan to overcome the obstacles that have been placed in front of you by able-bodied designers who have not really considered your experience or needs. Think of what it is like for someone who uses a wheelchair to cook dinner. The cupboards are unreachable as is the stove – and there is often no room to maneuver your wheelchair around your kitchen. Now think of what the rest of the day might be like.

Consider what it is like when no one thinks to include you – not just from a loneliness perspective, but from one of self worth. I know that when I was first diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, my doctor dismissed me, telling me to go home and basically do nothing. I felt I was going home to die. Because of my experience and how I see others with disabilities treated I was not surprised last week when I learned of a woman in Ontario requested medically-assisted death after repeated failed attempts for better housing.

I consider myself fortunate as I have managed to remain able-bodied (although I have todo a myriad of things to stay that way). I have however come to learn through others in the community what some of their daily struggles are like.

When I share with others the need for access to a park, and what that access needs to look like and I am met with an endless chain of tweets that tell me I am naïve, wrong, selfish, lying, irrelevant, elitist, condescending, and a prop to preserve the driving status quo I feel weary and troubled. I was tired before I ever came to the table because of all the of things I have to do to manage my disability.  The endless barrage of compassionless messages and constant accusations of a hidden agendas are soul sucking.

I question if you’re actually the one connected to the disability community: or just the middle class and richer disability community.

– tweeter

What is most troubling however, is that those who are doing this, are doing the very thing they are accusing mobility advocates of – using people with disabilities to further their agenda.

Here’s a sample of some of the messages I received. I’ve organized them into a few categories.

1. What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you do what the rest of us do?

I don’t get it.Why can’t they go through the park? Where can people not go?

Have you connected with the Victoria chapter of Cycling Without Age

Thanks, but we can’t always get what we want. That’s life.

2. You are part of a car lobby or being used by one – suggesting this is why we shouldn’t have access to the park

The point is there are always lots of bad-faith arguments put forward every time there’s a move to reallocate road space. Anywhere. It’s self-interested, ideological opposition from a privileged group of road users and it needs to be called out and properly dragged at every turn.

…people who drive everywhere can’t bear to give over any of “their” road space to other uses. It’s as simple as that. It’s ideological and political, nothing to do with reality…

Nice story. What does it have to do with the topic being discussed here, which is the exploitation of people with disabilities by the car lobby to influence public policy, street design, and accessibility?

People with disabilities are used as human props by the car lobby all the time – they use them in their attempts to preserve the status quo, further their agendas. It’s cynical as hell.

It’s incredibly naive of you to think that people with disabilities aren’t used as human props by the car lobby.

My quarrel is not with people with disabilities making the case for car access. My quarrel is with people who aren’t disabled who use people with disabilities as props to preserve the driving status quo. Happens all the time.

The narrative you should be focusing on is not the one pushing for mobility equity but the one pressing to preserve the dominance of private vehicles.

3. Most disabled people can’t drive anyway

Considering disabled people are less likely to drive than able bodied people, and the lanes provide pretty good infrastructure for mobility scooters: this argument is just nonsense.

Agreed. But, the system currently in place prioritizes the privileged by default. The fact that many disabled people don’t drive, or even have access to cars, is “new” to many – and it’s a fact actively opposed by the car lobby – so we need to break down century-old assumptions.

The first step is to acknowledge that car-centric planning and design is exclusionary and serves primarily the privileged. Any genuine efforts to address inclusion and diversity will necessarily have to challenge the prevailing status quo.

4. You should take the bus because not everyone can afford a car or….

In the current transportation system, who is most accommodated – people who can afford customized vans and caregivers or those who can’t?

What I see is so much bad faith about clover point or bhp but nothing about lack of transit for low income people with and w/o disabilities

It’s not for me to understand why some “accessibility advocates” only ever seem to care about being able to drive places and nearly never mention public transit…

5. Most of you have access, why should everyone else suffer for a few?

Check your logic! I see many people with walkers, scooters & wheelchairs in the park. It is only a few that can’t park and travel on the walkways.

Yes, I am ok with that. There are only a few people who can’t access the park without a car. The rest of us should not suffer the ‘abuse’ of cars in the park to accommodate a few.

There are other places to go! OMG such a fuss over one place! If the park is open to more cars there will be a parade of driving through. Should we all have to suffer that? The park is a quiet refuge. Those who want more cars in the park are being narrow minded and selfish.

It’s unfortunate that some people are unable to access more of the park unless they travel by car. However, we should not destroy the peace of the park by allowing a parade of noisy, polluting vehicles in to serve a few people. Call me ableist- it’s old news.

And the clinchers:

I had posted an article trying to bring balance to the conversation. It  talked including people with disabilities in planning, decreasing cars and making the car spots most available to those who with disabilities who need them. Here’s what was tweeted back. Note the absence of preserving car space for those who need them and how he is quoting only part of what furthers his agenda – same thing many of these people accuse the car lobby of doing.

Thanks, great article. “Disabled people should be asked what we want, not be unilaterally drafted in by petrolheads . . . if the same number of cars remain on the roads, the built environment will still be disabling to us”

12 thoughts on “Beacon Hill Park and Sour Pickles

  1. I think that it is disgusting that Victoria’s Council prioritizes it’s sustain for car travel over the health, happiness and lives of it’s disabled citizens. Whether they are the blind navigating floating bus stops or mobility challenged individuals trying to access their favourite public park…all to further council’s agenda of expanding bike lanes. They have no regard for the needs of at least 20 percent of their most vulnerable population. They even go against nature and environmentalists by putting the pickle ball courts in the middle of the blue heron nesting spots where peacocks, deer, ducks and humans peacefully gather to appreciate nature’s beauty in its true habitat. They want to be able to not only access the park, but enjoy it without the incessant racket that is pickle ball. Surely there is another more appropriate spot to place these courts rather than build them there against public wishes. Council knows there is a pending lawsuit over access to the parking spaces in Beacon Hill Park that would accommodate the needs of the mobility challenged in our population. This should matter to a council that supposedly represents all its constituents, not just it’s favoured agenda. Please stop council’s willful discrimination of its most vulnerable citizens, and disregard for environmental concerns. I love to bike, even though it is more difficult as I get older, and have even tried pickle ball, but my enjoyment does not, and should not supersede the rights of others or the health of the environment. There are other solutions.
    Disgusted with Council.

  2. I can’t imagine your frustration with the inept Victoria council. They say they are improving the city meanwhile destroying it. You shouldn’t have to deal with hateful comments because you are standing up for equal access. So much respect and stay strong. Thank you for sharing your story and the details of the battle you are facing. More people need to know. October can’t come soon enough. Things will get better once the current council is out.

  3. Susan

    You raise some interesting points in this post. With that said, are you at all concerned that including anonymous quotes without linking the original tweet removes valuable context? While this style is effective at reinforcing your narrative, to a wider audience it presents as dishonest. Always include a name when using a quote, unless they requested to be anonymous, as well as a link to the source.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts. For those who are interested in reading the many comments posted they are welcome to review my twitter feed. It is publicly available.

      I chose not to share names as I am not trying to call out any one person but rather share the types of comments made to or about people with disabilities when we ask for what everyone else has. My hope is readers will understand the impact it has on our being.

      Reading tweet after tweet from people who may be well intended but don’t necessarily understand the impact of what they are saying is painful. As described above, when I share with others the need for access to a park or anything else for that matter, and what that access needs to look like and I am met with an endless chain of tweets that tell me I am naïve, wrong, selfish, lying, irrelevant, elitist, condescending, and a prop to preserve the driving status quo.

      What I do not receive is how can I help.

    • Daniel Gray,
      Your chastising comments are unnecessary. You even contradict yourself. “Always include a name when using a quote, unless they requested to be anonymous, as well as a link to the source.” Did you bother to check with Susan to see if this was in fact the case? She is free to use Twitter quotes that can be easily checked. And once again, you have missed the point of her article. How does it feel to be chastised publicly?

      • Hi Liz,

        I’m a bit unclear about what I’m being chastised for. “Unless” is a preposition commonly used to indicate exceptions between connected clauses, so there is no real contradiction in my original comment. It wasn’t necessary for me to check with Susan about whether she had discussed the use of anonymous quotes with her sources, as I’m familiar with the original Twitter threads, as well as widely circulated complaints about how these quotes were contextualized. My comment was intended as a gentle reminder of accepted standards that help reduce the perception of obvious bias. While I don’t doubt Susan’s commitment to her cause, there is certainly a chance that some would see the practice of using unattributed quotes from noncooperating sources as manipulative, which ultimately undermines her campaign.

        With all that said, I accept Susan’s previous explanation that the quotes were kept anonymous to avoid backlash against those individuals—although arguably readers of her blog may be just as likely to follow up on her Twitter to find and harass those sources as to verify the context of her narrative. Ultimately, the use of this quotation style is fraught with the potential of misuse and should be used sparingly.

        I hope this helped clarify things somewhat,

        Daniel Gray

        • Thank you both for your comments. I recognize that each person reacts to my writing differently. Some choose to share their personal stories as you can see from the comments on the post, while others choose to focus on something else. It is not my place to tell people how to respond. I do however encourage those who are not speaking from a place of empathy after reading my post or the comments of other people, to consider watching this video.

  4. One of the saddest aspects about what is being said here is the fact that someone with a disability who had a legitimate series of points to make with Lisa Helps and her council was disrespectfully ignored and never given an opportunity for any further input. But any of us who have lived under the Helps regime know that this is how she operates. She thinks she knows better than anyone what is good for the city (or perhaps she was on an 8 year mission of revenge to make the city inhospitable to anyone who didn’t fit into her “vision” or one of the “stories” she likes to tell about the city. I am glad the lawsuit was filed and I pray that the court sees the move to use the parking lot for something it was no intended for is another Helps fickle and aggressive backlash to the disabled community. My partner has recently been diagnosed with a life ending neurological disease which means soon he will be in a wheelchair. We used to live across the street from BH Park and we chose our forever home to enjoy what life we had left. Then everything changed and feeling threatened by some of the campers (who stole from our building and physically assaulted one owner) we moved to the country. Surprisingly we find the rural Cowichan Valley is surprisingly suited to those with disabilities. We do have some big hills around here, but the Cowichan Valley Regional District has a POLICY of striving to make parks in the area as accessible as possible. They bring in road graders to level out paths and spread gravel evenly wherever possible and they do this yearly. They provide washrooms and lots of parking at the head of multiple entrances to the parks. So if one part of the trail is steep, the other end is flat for those with challenges. A year since moving away I only realized that thankfully Victoria city is a worst case scenario and the majority of other areas on the island take into consideration the needs of residents of all ages and abilities.

    • Thank you for sharing your story. I wish both you and your partner all the best and am glad you have found peace in your new home <3

  5. Susan,
    I had been very concerned regarding numerous matters, in and around James Bay for the last few years. After a serious discussion, and after living in what we thought would be our forever retirement city, we packed up, left Victoria, and resettled on the North Shore. It’s not perfect for a disabled person, but it IS inclusive, council DOES engage its citizens for numbers accessibility issues, AND it we hear fewer sirens, (police or ambulance), protests, DO NOT look over our shoulder when meandering through parks in the evening, and I am happy to report, I can ride my e-bike, lock it up, and not worry that it will be dismantled in short order. Peace of mind came to my family when we left Victoria. this has EVERYTHING to do with the current council, and their self-indulgent, ignorant, ableist, short-sighted, operating in their-own-little-bubble ways. I have slept like a baby since our departure in January. I’m not suggesting this for everyone, but any improvement may take years, if not decades. I would encourage anyone to vacate and relocate, if you are able. It has vastly improved our quality of life. I hope that the vote this fall will result in improved living conditions for everyone. MM

  6. Thank you Susan:
    I was thinking that I was all alone with my feelings of frustration over not being able to access my favourite part of the Park. I’ve been denied this ever since the mayor decided to close the back road into the Park for “social distancing” reasons. Which made no sense to me at all. People can’t social distance on the foot path?? I have many medical problems, one of which causes difficulty breathing. I use a walker. I used to drive to the parking area off Arbutus Drive and park by the playground, get my walker out of the car and enjoy a peacful, enjoyable walk around this beautiful area. I have recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer, so I’m assuming that by the time this is all resolved, I’ll be gone. I just wish I could enjoy what time I have left in my “happy place”. I was born and raised in James Bay. I still live in James Bay and I’m now 72 years old. Beacon Hill Park has always been a joy for me all of my life. I’ve tried to reason with the mayor and she just takes that condescending approach like she always does and ignores my feelings. She’s a pretty sefish, mean-spirited person without a care about anyone except herself.

  7. Thank you Susan for a well written expression in support of accommodating persons with disabilities. Persons who deserve equal consideration and worth to those whom are fortunate not to have to be accommodated.

    Pamela I hope it’s ok that I reposted parts of your post that resonated for me…

    “…They even go against nature and environmentalists by putting the pickle ball courts in the middle of the blue heron nesting spots where peacocks, deer, ducks and humans peacefully gather to appreciate nature’s beauty in its true habitat. They want to be able to not only access the park, but enjoy it without the incessant racket that is pickle ball. Surely there is another more appropriate spot to place these courts rather than build them there against public wishes.”

    “Please stop council’s willful discrimination of its most vulnerable citizens, and disregard for environmental concerns.”

    I believe their is a win-win solution for pickle ball playing and all who are not participating in the game. That being, endorse the game to be played only within an indoor arena where only the people playing are subjected to the noise they create and others (humans and all other hearing abled sentients) are not affected.

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