By Chris Lewis | Oct. 8, 2020
One Carbonear businesswoman says she is at her wits’ end trying to ensure her customers’ safety.
Sandra Abbott is the owner of Medical and Physical Therapy Supplies, located on Water Street. Due to the nature of her business, accessibility is an important aspect of the business’ physical location, but after years of dealing with a high back sidewalk in front of the property, Abbott is becoming more concerned about the safety of those visiting the store.
The concrete along the front of Abbott’s business is her main concern. With a high curb back leading into the building itself, and only four available parking spots, she said the area has become a safety issue, especially for elderly clients.
Water Street has been subject to several upgrades in recent years, including widened sidewalks and some brand-new streetlights. These changes are the beginning of what will eventually become an entirely redesigned Water Street.
In early public consultations with the Town for the multi-phase project, Abbott took the opportunity to speak to some of her needs.
Among those needs was a lower curb entry. At the time, Abbott said she was told by the Town that the request should not be a problem.
“The only input that I really had, the only thing I really needed, was a low back in front of my store, because there’d always been a high back there and it was a tripping hazard,” Abbott said.
Abbott’s concerns became a reality this year. Between mid August and mid September, she said, two of her customers tripped and fell on the concrete. Both customers suffered minor injuries, and Abbott fears that it could get worse if the problem continues.
Now, the downtown revitalization project is in full swing, and parts of the street have seen major updates, including the area where Abbott’s business is located.
However, the curb outside her building was not changed the way she had hoped.
“When they were putting the curb and gutter in there, they put a high back there,” Abbott said, adding that she went to the Town with her concerns again.
The difference between a low back and high back easement on a sidewalk boils down to a few inches. A low back is comparable to the slight rise in concrete that is generally seen in front of residential homes. A high back, however, is a few inches taller and can be a bit more difficult for certain vehicles and people to traverse.
“That’s what was happening here,” Abbott said. “Not only were people finding it hard to get in, but when they were opening their car doors, they were scraping them off on the bottom.”
However, according to Town code, a low back is not able to be installed there.
Now, Abbott is back to square one with her safety concerns.
Despite this, Abbott noted several other businesses in the area do have low backs, including The Stone Jug. She said the Town told her that these businesses regularly require the use of a delivery truck, which need low backs to safely drop things off.
After a few phone calls, Abbott said she got in contact with the engineers behind the project and was told that a low back should not be an issue. The Town then decided to go ahead with something similar.
But it was not exactly what she was looking for, Abbott said. The Town’s compromise was almost, but not quite, a low back, as Abbott described it.
This led to Abbott offering to pay out of her own pocket for the rest of the work — an idea that was then passed around to council members via email for a vote.
That decision, to Abbott’s disappointment, was a no.
“The first time I asked if I could get a low back cut out — when the high back was there, and they weren’t going to give me anything — the councillors were told it was going to cost between $6,000 to 8,000 to get it replaced,” Abbott said, despite being under the impression that the cost was much less. “They said no, because that’s taxpayers’ dollars.”
Since two of her customers fell and sustained minor injuries in August and September this year, Abbott has been making calls to as many people as she could, including Carbonear-Trinity-Bay de Verde MHA Steve Crocker and the Department of Municipal Affairs.
However, even after calling Service NL, Abbott said her concerns fell on deaf ears.
“They said since it’s out on the sidewalk and the curb, and since the road is already done, it’s not in their jurisdiction either,” Abbott said. “They said they might be able to write a letter and suggest that the high back be moved, because it’s become a safety hazard to the people. Right now, I’m at my wit’s end. I’ve dotted all my I’s and dotted all my T’s, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone willing to help me.”
Now, without a clear solution to the problem, Abbott said she is considering taking her concerns to a lawyer to see if, in the interest of the general public entering her business, there are any laws in place that would require the presence of a low back.