Toronto's cluttered sidewalks 'dangerous' for visually impaired residents

Christine Malec, who is blind and uses a white cane to navigate Toronto, wants residents to stop blocking city sidewalks, saying it’s dangerous for people who are visually impaired.

Christine Malec, who is blind, says she was injured by a truck parked across a sidewalk last week

Christine Malec says as someone who is blind and uses a white cane in Toronto, she encounters obstacles on sidewalks every week. (Christine Malec/Facebook)

Christine Malec is imploring drivers and fellow Toronto residents to keep sidewalks obstacle-free after a bruising encounter with a parked truck while walking to work.

Being blind, she uses a white cane to navigate the city, and says she ended up walking headlong into the vehicle last week after its driver had parked it on a sidewalk.

"I experience a lot of angst about having to cope with this kind of thing when I'm just trying to go through the routine of my day," said Malec, 48,  who lives in the St. Clair West neighbourhood and works as an office coordinator.

This is the second time Malec says she's been injured by vehicles parked in the middle of sidewalks in the last two months.

Although injuries aren't common, she said, obstacles blocking her path on the sidewalk are a weekly occurrence.

"I'm just trying to get to work or get my errands done, and this adds a layer of physical pain and emotional anxiety that makes my life a lot more difficult."

Malec posted two photos in her local community Facebook group showing the truck and the bruises she got on her forehead and chest.

Malec posted these photos on Facebook after being injured by a truck in the middle of the sidewalk. (Christine Malec/Facebook)

She says she received help from a cyclist and had a brief conversation with the driver of the truck, but her issue isn't with him.

"I don't want to punish the guy in the truck, I want to reach the guy in the next truck who might do the same thing and cause me more injuries," said Malec.

Sandwich board signs, doors and bins

It isn't just cars blocking sidewalks in Toronto. It's sandwich board advertisements outside businesses, doors propped open in the summer, even recycling bins. Malec says she can pinpoint bruises on her arms from recycling day.

Kat Clarke, lead for advocacy in the GTA for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, says this happens frequently in the city, but it's often just taken in stride by the visually impaired.

"It's a difficult situation because it happens so often in our community that unless someone needs some serious medical attention, these things are often just passed off as a part of life," said Clarke.

But Malec says she posted the photos in the hope that something will change.

"The only solution I know of is public awareness," said Malec.

'By the time you call someone, the guy or gal is gone'

Coun. Joe Mihevc, who represents Malec's neighbourhood, says his office hears of inappropriate and illegal parking "all the time.

"It's one of the issues of being a congested city, that truck drivers feel ... that they can park almost anywhere," said Mihevc.

"It's becoming increasingly a problem, especially when it impedes mobility."

Clarke, who works in government relations with the CNIB, says she would like to see more bylaw enforcement on the sidewalks, so that when someone is parked on the sidewalk, they can be ticketed.

But Mihevc said that is not realistic.

"These kinds of things are very hard to enforce and that has been a problem at the city with a number of bylaws," he said.

"By the time you call someone, the guy or gal is gone."

Christine Malec says suffered several bruises after walking headlong into this truck, which was parked on the sidewalk. (Christine Malec/Facebook)

Mihevc says council might need to create a restriction on delivery services to try to prevent trucks from parking across sidewalks. That would involve limiting the hours companies can deliver goods to avoid peak times. But he says that's for the next city council to tackle.

Until then, Mihevc says, it's in the hands of the drivers to do better, to know that "the choice to go on the sidewalk is not really available to them." And, he says, pedestrians need to be wary.

For Malec, Toronto residents just need to be aware that not everyone can see the obstacles on the sidewalk.

"I think most people are kind and want to do the right thing, and many people are aware and take responsibility, but the exceptions are really harmful and dangerous."

With files from Derick Deonarain