Friday, August 15, 2008

PG Mobility for all

Prince George Mobility for all

I ride a mobility scooter through the streets of Prince George as my main means of transport. I feel the city should encourage people to drive environmentally friendly vehicles like bikes and electric transport and encourage walking. As far as the economy and fuel prices go, I feel I was lucky to be afflicted by a mobility impairment that forces me to ride this type of transport. Life played a role in that as well.

I was involved with a lady the last time I drove a conventional vehicle and only used a cane part time. Partly due to a rocky relationship not based in total reality and mostly due to a poverty situation as I waited for “disability pay” combined with the powerful thought “I can do this while I still can”, I had let my driver’s license expire in October 2005. Not being able to afford fuel and repairs, I had not driven for a couple of years before that. Checking, I realized that the provincial government of British Columbia only requires you to retest for a DL Renewal after 3 years without. I was pretty sure this situation of poverty and the relationship would end within 3 years so I walked as much as I could then switched to my Electric Mobility Scooter when I got weaker. I got a BCID for the odd time someone asked for ID.

For quite a long time now, I have ridden various electric Personal Electric Transport devices (or “PET’s”, Mobility Scooters and Power Chairs). Many times I am forced to ride alongside the traffic in a special lane created for bicycles. Summer is a blast; the PET can go many kilometers no matter what the weather. I put a Harley Davidson sticker on a big green 3 wheeled PET I named “Scoot”. “Scoot” and I made a positive reputation for ourselves and everyone noticed us.

The sidewalks around Prince George are not well maintained in many areas. Curb cuts are in many of the main areas of the city but often do not exist in the residential neighborhoods (if a sidewalk even exists). It is interesting to notice those things; they are valuable access for everyone. Parents with infants in strollers, workers moving heavy items with carts and dollies, bikes and any number of rolling transport appreciate being able to get off the street and access the sidewalks easily.

Prince George has a “Falls Prevention” hot line setup; it can be accessed by calling city hall at 250-561-7600. The hot line is a reporting system for barriers to the “walk-ability” of the city. People are encouraged to phone the city and report any walk area that is in need of repair. As soon as they know of an area, they put it on the list for city crews to eventually repair. As I understand it, the city has a long list and priority for the crews is on a first called, first fixed system and will eventually get to your area.

The city had set this up in 2003 when it presented a mandate to the province concerning Prince George fitness. The theory was based on the thought “People tend to walk more in areas when they see others walking”. That fact was apparent to me on my PET. Every year I go out, I see more and more of them on the road. Prince George has over 3100 of these devices owned by its’ citizens. As I ride I smile and think “monkey see monkey do” a lot. Several mobility riders even offered my trademark greeting of “Want to Race?” before I could speak anything.

Over the winter of 2007/08 the Prince George region experienced an unusually large dump of snow over a period of several weeks. In addition to that, the nearby confluence of the Fraser and Nechako Rivers decided to overflow their banks, threatening transport routes, businesses and housing along the Nechako. This was due to large ice jams forming from the confluence to about 9 Km up the Nechako and Fraser. Actually, flooding on the Nechako had been occurring since the spring & summer of 2006 & 07; the 07/08 winter brought many additional snow removal challenges that the city had not experienced for well over 20 years and the waters rose to levels not seen in over 100 years.

Prince George did not seem prepared or organized during that period. Resources were spent to the maximum and some city streets and most sidewalks would remain unploughed for weeks at a time. Priority for cleanup seemed to be based on the aggressiveness of complaints. Having just a mobility aid for transport I often found myself trapped in my apartment most of the winter. Having a polite nature and a soft voice, I missed over 60 percent of my limited work days over that winter; my transport just is not made for those conditions. I got fed up and called city hall one bright sunny January morning and blew up. Crews were deployed within 2 hours and I was able to get out for the first time in 3 weeks! During those 3 weeks, I planned ways to make the city aware that folks who decided to reduce their carbon footprint by only driving devices like this were being prosecuted this way. What would the incentive be to do our part for the environment if we could not leave our houses?

To that end I contacted John Neison, former chairperson for the now defunct “PG Scooter Club” in February 2008. We discussed the potential of re-forming the club with new values and principles. In April 2008, we announced to Prince George that the Prince George Power Mobility Club was born out of the ashes of the Scooter club. We discussed methods of recruitment; possible activities if we did. We came up with a few ideas, thought of the barriers to doing those activities and found ways to overcome many.

In the spring when the snow cleared I saw that several large communities in Canada had started an event of colossal importance. Electric Day was held and will be held annually, some hold hopes that it will become another day of celebration; yet another “Stat” with a purpose directed towards the environment. A day to celebrate all things related to electric transport. Buses, Cars, Bicycles, Scooters, Wheel chairs, Electric generating treadmills, and solar panels (to name a few of the items I saw featured) were presented to thousands. “Why can Prince George not hold such an event?” I asked John. He did not know an answer. I further suggested that the PGPMC investigate the potential and perhaps host it here.

We decided to put it to a few more mobility riders who showed up to our first meeting. We first held a general vote in early June 2008 to select officers for PGPMC. John was named as President and me as Vice-President. Nancy (John’s wife) would be the treasurer and an administration person collected notes and created minutes from the meetings. We discussed the idea of “PG Electric Day” after that business.

It went over well. A week after, John, Nancy and myself acting on behalf of the PGPMC contacted Pat Bell, Prince George North MLA with the idea. He loved it. He offered PGPSC a whole lot of support to set up an administrative office for PGPSC, and offered to tell a few contacts. A few days later, Shirley Bond, BC Minister of Education and Deputy Minister for British Columbia contacted the PGPSC offering major support for the club. Even Gordon Campbell put in a comment (verbally) offering his support for PG Electric Day in June 2009! I put up a blog to promote this to the world.

It is now August 2008, 10 months till we launch the E-Day. The PGPSC has taken a summer vacation to plan a strategy for developing the beginning of this new club in Prince George, one that has a powerful recruitment strategy and could attract a potential of 3500+ power mobility owners.

Once the idea catches on, the potential for all communities to start such a club is great as well.

PGPSC is set up to provide riders in Prince George with fun, recreational ideas keeping the environment in mind. They would participate with other riders, providing a measure of support and companionship for a common goal of recreational/environmentally safe fun. Prince George parks (many of them) have trails that can be accessed with these devices. In addition, the surrounding area around Prince George is extremely accessible in its developed areas. Quesnel has an accessible riverfront trail area and about 140 miles north of PG a trail was just developed connecting with local trail systems here in the city, stretching over 100 Km across British Columbia wilderness with accessibility in mind on many sections on either end. It was endorsed by support organizations like the Prince George Paraplegic Society. With recently acquired support, we now have the capability to move about 20 scooters and chairs to wherever we decide to hold an event.

Right here in PG (right in your back yard), we have over 100 Km of accessible nature trails and street routes. For example, the Heritage Trail system, which is over 8 KM of paved trail with about 3 Km of packed and compacted gravel in environmentally sensitive areas. Forests for the world on Cranbrook Hill, a UNBC project comprises over 15 KM of compacted gravel trail which is fully accessible; a wonderfully relaxing tour whether riding on electric or human powered mobility.

A Prince George city bylaw demands that all new business construction must be accessible by everyone. This makes Prince George a very accessible place to do business; the perfect center to begin the drive for using this equipment for local transport and forcing petroleum companies to rethink their money gouging practices. I won’t even mention to you that they take your money (TONS OF IT!) and do not do half of what is needed to clean up the messes their products create. We even have to pay extra taxes for the gov to do the petrol companies “dirty” work of “carbon cleanup”. WTF is Carbon tax??? Do they not make enough to wipe up their own spills and environmental damage? Anyway, I’ll shut up now on that heated debate.

Out of the 3500+ electric mobility devices that exist here in Prince George, I would estimate that today only about 10% are being used to their full potential. I believe that once people see how much fun we can have on these slow moving machines and how they are evolving into an alternative transportation solution to the fuel crises :) we will go a long way towards meeting our goals in the environmental concerns. People would save loads of coin so they would spend more at local retailers improving an already uplifted economy!!! How sweet would that be! On the lighter point as a side effect the air would be slightly cleaner and you would be rewarded with a good feeling that you are contributing to saving the environment. As we are in the center of the province we would become a model for the province which coincidently will become the model for the nation, then the world as a whole!

Till next time, fellow planet saviors: Ride free, Ride far and screw the gasoline companies; save your coin for your favorite sidewalk market!!! We don’t need no stinking licenses, helmets and do not ask to check my oil!

In Prince George, please contact either Medichair Prince George @ (250) 562-8280 or PG Surg Med @ 564-2240 for advice and information about these devices.

This blog has been brought to you by Employment Action of Prince George British Columbia Canada. If you have physical barriers and would like to return to gainful employment, please contact our professional staff of employment counselors. Together we will explore your options, attempt to overcome your barriers and try to find the perfect career for you. 250-564-8044 or toll free at 1-866-409-8044. Thanks for reading!

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