StopGap: Ramps in Cambridge
Have you ever noticed the number of times you step over a curb on an average day? How about the number of times climbing a set of steps is necessary to enter a building? The number of times you see the sign ‘watch your step’ and proceed without issue?
If you’re able-bodied and without young children, chances are you take your ability to ‘step’ for granted. But, if you use a wheelchair, powerchair, mobility aids, or push a stroller, often the words ‘watch your step’ may as well read ‘turn around.’
Single-step entryways are a common feature of storefronts in Cambridge, creating a physical barrier for many local citizens. The good news is, there’s something we can do about it. We can become (or advocate for) good architects that design accessible spaces. Until then, we can build ramps.
Sheri Roberts, chair of the Cambridge Accessibility Advisory Committee, independently entered Play with Clay on Water St in Galt for the first time in August 2017.
The accessible ramp movement began in Toronto back in 2011, led by Luke Anderson, a University of Waterloo alumnus and structural engineer. After a mountain biking accident that left him with a severe spinal chord injury in 2002, Luke became aware of, and frustrated by, the many barriers faced by a person in a wheelchair. Particularly, the many storefronts that were off-limits by virtue of a single step up from the sidewalk. This frustration led to the creation of the StopGap Foundation, designed to bring attention to single-step barriers and offer a short-term accessibility solution. Brightly painted wooden ramps soon adorned Toronto sidewalks and the initiative has since spread to many urban centers across Canada.
Here in Cambridge, Sheri Roberts and Kara Miller, chair of the Cambridge Accessibility Advisory Committee and Recreation Coordinator for the City of Cambridge respectively, were responsible for getting the wheels rolling on a local StopGap Community Ramp Project. In Fall 2016, Sheri reached out to the University of Waterloo, bringing Waterloo Architecture into the fold. Students at the School of Architecture soon joined forces with the StopGap Foundation, City of Cambridge, Cambridge Seniors’ Woodworking Club, and Cambridge Accessibility Advisory Committee. Over the last year, together with local business and many kind volunteers, we have been making StopGap ramps for storefronts in our local communities of Galt, Preston, and Hespeler.
Waterloo Architecture’s primary role in the project has been to incorporate an element of public art. By engaging local artists to submit bold graphics that could be stenciled onto the ramps, our intent has been to add some joy to our sidewalks and build awareness around the topic of accessibility. We started by putting out a call for artwork in Winter 2017. We provided templates, both digital and printed, and received many submissions from fellow students.
Submitted designs were exhibited at the BRIDGE Storefront in April 2017, complete with miniature paper ramp models. Don Patten, of StopGap Kitchener, led an On Empathy conversation alongside the artwork about the importance of accessibility and human factors in architectural design.
With donated plywood and two-by-fours, members of the Cambridge Seniors’ Woodworking Club constructed the ramps, each custom fit for its specific location. Volunteers then applied multiple coats of non-slip paint donated by BEHR Canada. The artwork was painted manually using laser cut paper stencils.
Three vibrant community paint nights were hosted in the BRIDGE Storefront in November 2017. Many Waterloo Architecture students and Cambridge locals alike came out to lend a hand.
From left to right, stencil designs by Xiao Wen Xu, Nat Semenova, Hannah Mete, and Sean Maciel.
Members of the Cambridge Seniors’ Woodworking Club pose with Kara Miller, Recreation Coordinator at the City of Cambridge (second from the right), and two of the ramps they constructed.
Photo op with Mayor Doug Craig at the Cambridge Centre for the Arts! Photograph courtesy of Erin Hasse.
Once completed, we delivered the ramps to each business to ensure a good fit and make any necessary adjustments.
Boardwalk Optical on Main St. in Galt. Stencil design by Hannah Mete (centre).
Andy’s Pizza on Wellington St. Stencil design by Emily Guo.
Tiny Cakes on Dickson St. in Galt. Stencil design by Sean Maciel (right).
Luxe Touche Designer Consignment on King St. E. in Preston. Stencil design by Alexandra Hucik.
Nate, a student at William G. Davis Public School who uses a powerchair, will now be able to access the school courtyard. Stencil design by Samuel Ganton.
Over the past year, we are proud to have built 22 ramps for 15 different businesses/organizations in Cambridge, with nine stencil designs by seven artists.
From the point of view of an architect in training, it’s critical that we are aware of the physical challenges that people with disabilities face in their daily lives. If you’re able-bodied, remember to not take your stepping ability for granted. Let’s work towards building communities that no longer require StopGap ramps to be accessible.
Are you interested in getting involved?
If you’re a student interested in getting involved, send me an e-mail. We are currently looking for students who can carry forward Waterloo Architecture’s involvement in the StopGap project.
If you’d like to make a financial contribution to the project, click here and select “Cambridge Community Ramp Project” on the dropdown menu.
Thank you to everyone who has lent a hand!
None of this work would have been possible without the help of the many individuals who donated funds or materials, submitted artwork, and volunteered their time and energy.
A special thanks to the StopGap Foundation for providing us with funds to get the project off the ground and to BEHR Canada for donating the many cans of Deck-Over Paint required for our ramps.
Thank you to all the accessibility-minded Cambridge businesses that have participated in our project thus far: Andy’s Pizza (Galt), Blair House Gifts (Galt), Boardwalk Optical Boutique (Galt), De Sousa Auto Service Inc (Galt), Galt on the Grand: Downtown Cambridge BIA, Luxe Touche Designer Consignment (Preston), ONE Movement (Galt), Parkway Back Clinic (Preston), Play with Clay (Galt), Social Planning Council of Cambridge and North Dumfries (Galt), Swifty Print Ltd (Preston), The Hub Bicycle Shop (Hespeler), The Upper Cut by Tammy (Preston), Tiny Cakes Inc (Galt), William G Davis Public School (Preston).
Thank you to the artists whose artwork now brightens the streets of Cambridge: Alexandra Hucik, Emily Guo, Hannah Mete, Natalia Semenova, Samuel Ganton, Sean Maciel, Xiao Wen Xu.
Check out StopGap Cambridge in the local press:
Photographs by the author (unless otherwise noted).