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Woman’s death prompts renewed accessibility concerns

The death of a woman who drove her wheelchair on Second Avenue against traffic last February is renewing concerns over accessibility in the city.

The death of a woman who drove her wheelchair on Second Avenue against traffic last February is renewing concerns over accessibility in the city.

On Tuesday, Yukon’s chief coroner published her judgment of inquiry into the death of 71-year-old Margaret Johnson.

The woman, coroner Kirsten Macdonald found, was travelling in the curbside lane, against traffic, on Second Avenue on the night of Feb. 23.

A pick-up truck collided with her head-on between Strickland and Alexander Streets, and Johnson later died at Whitehorse General Hospital.

In her report, Macdonald noted the sidewalk between Strickland and Jarvis Streets, south of where she was struck, was impassable for the wheelchair. It hadn’t been cleared of snow and sand, suggesting Johnson might have chosen to travel on Second Avenue to avoid it.

But the sidewalk between Strickland and Alexander had been cleared, according to the report. Macdonald didn’t provide any hypotheses for why Johnson still chose to go into the street.

“Sidewalks need to be free and clear of ice, snow, sand, and other debris to ensure accessibility for persons with mobility issues,” Macdonald wrote.

In Whitehorse, it falls on home and business owners to clear the sidewalks in front of their property.

They have 48 hours to clear snow and ice after a snowfall. In the downtown core, parking meter officers will report uncleared sidewalks, but for other parts of the city, citizens have to call bylaw services.

For accessibility advocate Ramesh Ferris, the territory’s aging population means Yukoners, businesses and the city will have to take a serious look at how to improve the situation.

“Eventually you will be relying on crutches, walkers, wheelchairs, because of natural aging, cancer and diseases,” Ferris said.

“Either we all come together now to make our community more accessible or this constantly becomes a fight.”

Ferris, who has lived in the Yukon for 28 years, uses crutches to walk.

He said there is also a business case to be made for making the city more accessible.

The Rick Hansen Foundation conducted studies linking greater accessibility to businesses to more local spending, Ferris said.

“What’s being done by the business community and city to create a culture of accessibility and acceptance of accessibility so people are inclined to stay in the Yukon and support the local economy?”

In Skagway, Alaska, for example, all the storefronts on Broadway are accessible, Ferris said.

Colette Acheson, executive director of the Yukon Association of Community Living, said there’s a need to take a broader look at how to make the downtown core more pedestrian-friendly in light of the territory’s aging population.

“In general our North American cities are built for the ease of cars, not the convenience of people,” she said.

The City of Whitehorse does have a windrow removal program. Residents over 65 or with a disability can request the city remove the windrow left by snowploughs in front of their homes.

Anybody with concerns about ice and snow removal from business storefronts can call bylaw services at 667-2111.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at