Why parents and wheelchair users want these barriers removed from Calgary walkways

Some Calgarians are calling on the city to get rid of "maze gates" — metal barriers installed at either end of walkways between streets in some communities.

They're known as 'maze gates' and city says they're for safety but some residents complain they're a nuisance

An example of a maze gate on a walkway in Calgary. (Desmond Bliek)

Some Calgarians are calling on the city to get rid of "maze gates" — metal barriers installed at either end of walkways between streets in some communities.

The walkways are meant to offer a shortcut but, for people who rely on wheelchairs or parents pushing strollers, the gates can make them difficult or impossible to navigate.

"If I had to pick one battle to fight, it would be the maze gates," said Stewart Midwinter, who uses a wheelchair to get around Calgary and has documented dozens of the barriers in photos.

The devices, installed in pairs as a safety measure, are known as "maze gates" because of the path they make you walk — forcing you to slow down and make 90-degree turns to pass through. (Or hurdle over them, if you're able and feeling particularly athletic.)

Midwinter says the gates in some areas force him to go two or three blocks out of his way.

A series of maze gates obstructing a walkway in several locations. (Stewart Midwinter)

"There's not enough room, usually on the sides, to get around them," he said. "Or, even if you can get around the side of one of them, you can't get between them."

Lindsay Bliek is also frustrated by the gates.

The Calgary mom says the barriers make it especially hard if you have a stroller.

"You can walk through them but you have to lift your stroller up and over, and that's next to impossible if you have a sleeping child," she said.

She often transports her kids in a bike trailer, as well, or on a large cargo bicycle. In both cases, she says, the gates also present a major barrier.

Lindsay Bliek with one of her cargo bikes. (Robson Fletcher/CBC)

City spokesperson Kara Bussey says the gates are meant to slow people down before they exit the walkway onto the sidewalk or road.

Some of the older gates, she said, are too narrow for a wheelchair to fit through. But she said the design standards have changed for the newer ones, which the city continues to install in some places, with the gates placed further apart.

She says she's aware of the concerns from parents and people with mobility challenges but, for now, the city has no plans to stop installing the gates or remove existing ones.

"Safety is the No. 1 thing with these gates," she said.

"We just want to make sure the people using the pathways are safe and we're not getting people ripping out onto the sidewalk and onto the road and having a collision with a car."

The city says the maze gates are placed on 'engineered walkways,' which don't receive snow-removal service, as opposed to designated pathways, which do. (Stewart Midwinter)

The city couldn't provide a count or estimate of how many maze gates exist in Calgary.

Bussey says they are installed on what the city classifies as "engineered walkways," which are typically "small pathways that go between two streets."

Unlike Calgary's designated pathways — along the Bow and Elbow rivers, for example — these smaller walkways receive no snow-clearing service from the city, she says, and it's up to area residents to shovel the snow from them, if they so choose.

Midwinter says the gates just make it harder to do that and, in general, he feels they to do more harm than good.

"The potential benefit of having them is far outweighed by the problems they pose for a wide swath of the population," he said.

He says public education and better signage could achieve the same safety goals or, if some type of physical barrier is required, narrow bollards would be a "lesser evil."


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