Monday, April 28, 2014

Vancouver---A Paragon of Access

I was interested to learn that in November of 2013 Vancouver, BC passed a code update mandating the use of levers (or door handles) instead of door knobs in new building.  An article in the HuffPost British Columbia from November 19, 2013 explains that the Vancouver Council back in September changed the building code  "unanimously at a Sept. 25 council meeting, [so that it now] states that all doors and faucets in new buildings be equipped with lever handles instead of knobs." The catalyst for change is accessibility.

The city's attention to accessibility flows out of a concept known as universal design, in which an environment is built in a way that is open to everyone ...The doorknob ban and its underlying concept have drawn enormous attention online, with Salt Lake Tribune reporter Jim Dalrymple saying, "I visited Vancouver earlier this year and found that its progressive design initiatives had actually created a wonderfully pleasant city; perhaps sometime we’ll look back at this decision with similar admiration."

The change in the building code mandating the use of levers in new construction has drawn a bit of attention of late, even though the council meeting was last fall.  Other cities in Canada are discussing following Vancouver's lead, according to the story, The March of the Lever ...  and the Demise of the Doorknob,  in The Independent on April 25, 2014. 

But the spate of articles isn't just about how levers provide humans.  There are several articles about the provision of bears.  Yes, you read that correctly...bears!  It appears that an "unintended consequence" of the use of levers is to give access to bears....  The Independent article goes on to mention the issue of bears

Doorknobs do keep bears from wandering into Canadian homes – the animals have learned to push down levers. George Torrens, a senior lecturer in design at Loughborough University, said this is because “bears have a form of digits and can hook or press on handles, they can’t grip”....He added: “But neither can people with severe arthritis or neuromuscular conditions which stop them using their muscles to move the digits. In order to provide security for the houses in Vancouver, they would need a button and lever action, to make the task more complex.”

But this is not the only mention of bears. My dear friend and colleague, Mark Bauer, actually alerted me to Vancouver's change in the building code when he sent me a link to a recent story in the April 19, 2014 The Economist.  The article, titled "Canada's War on Doorknobs: Knobless Oblige" with the subtitle "New building rules will help old folks—who now risk being eaten by bears" got my attention (and with a headline like that, how could it not?). The article mentions that the change in the building code wasn't universally supported, with some  opposition--you guessed it---from some of the doorknob professionals

The rules have provoked grumbling about the nanny state, much of it from doorknob manufacturers. The Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA) complains that Vancouver, the only city in Canada with the power to determine its own building code (elsewhere it falls to provincial governments), changed the rules on its own, instead of asking for a revision of the national regulations, which would have triggered more detailed cost studies.

The article in the Economist goes on to point out that concerns about regulation are misplaced and instead we have a bigger concern... bears:

These complaints pale in comparison to a more sinister worry. True, elderly and disabled people find it easier to operate doors with handles. But so do bears. In British Columbia, bears have been known to scavenge for food inside cars—whose doors have handles, knob advocates point out. Pitkin County, Colorado, in the United States, has banned door levers on buildings for this very reason. One newspaper columnist in the pro-knob camp has noted that the velociraptors in “Jurassic Park” were able to open doors by their handles.

The article continues with a mention that the ban is under consideration in other areas of Canada and concludes with a word of advice "[i]f further bans do go ahead, those living near the woods would be wise to invest in some sturdy locks before installing doorhandles." 

The HuffPost British Columbia responded to the Economist article with one of its own, Vancouver Doorknobs Won't Get You Eaten By Bears.  Their response to the velociraptor comment from the Economist:

To set the record straight, Vancouver Coun. Geoff Meggs told The Huffington Post B.C.: "I can say categorically that the risk of bear attack was not factored in, because there hasn't been a live bear spotted in city limits in a very long time." ... Meggs did, however, disclose that he has heard of another hypothetically grizzly situation... "One writer suggested kids of a certain height would lose their eyes," he said. "I've been trying to recreate that scenario: maybe running sideways against a wall, they might bang their head into a lever, I don't know."

The article continues, noting that Meggs acknowledged the receipt of only positive feedback and then concludes, "[a]s for the naysayers, they can just grin and bear it."

Stay tuned. I suspect we have just bearly opened the door on this topic. (pun completely intended).  I for one think that Vancouver's change to door levers ROCKS!

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