Sometimes footpaths seem like obstacle courses. Pedestrians are required to duck under branches, swerve around cars and dodge outdoor diners. For people with vision and mobility disabilities these obstacles make using footpaths more difficult. Narrow pathways restrict wheelchair access. Unseen branches scratch and bruise heads.
The Disability Discrimination Act says footpaths should be free of barriers that restrict access. So an outdoor trader cannot block the footpath with tables of goods. And a gardener cannot allow his hedge to cover the pathway. It they do, a pedestrian is entitled to lodge a complaint, usually with the local council.
A few years ago the writer of this article received a letter from his local council demanding he trim his front garden. If he failed to comply, the council would do the work and charge him. The cheek of them! After he ranted about all the other things the council should be worried about, he pruned the trees and shrubs.
Victorian council rules for gardens and trees near footpaths appear to be fairly consistent. In the municipalities of Campbelltown, Whittlesea, Knox and Maroondah branches must be higher than 2.5 to 3.0 metres when over a footpath.
In Knox City vegetation lower than 2.5 metres must be cut back to the fence line. In the City of Whittlesea lower vegetation must not block pedestrian access. In the City of Campbelltown lower vegetation must not encroach on the footpath.
When pruning, homeowners should be aware that trees and shrubs sag in wet weather or when laden with spring leaves and flowers. Trees on nature strips are the responsibility of local councils.
There has been an explosion of outdoor dining areas throughout Victoria. Fashion shops place racks of clothes on footpaths. And every business seems to have a sign spruiking their specials on the footpath. These signs, tables and racks must allow space for pedestrians.
In the City of Melbourne street trading areas should allow footpath space for two mobility aids or prams to pass each other comfortably. The Greater City of Bendigo has a similar policy. The space required to be kept clear for pedestrians can differ due to varying footpath widths. Two metres is the smallest minimum clearance allowed in Melbourne. The City of Yarra has a 1.5 – 1.8 metre minimum footpath clearance.
In both Bendigo and the Yarra council areas street trading is not allowed against the front of buildings. This is to make those buildings more accessible. This condition also applies in Melbourne's main and intermediate streets.
Parking on footpaths
Footpaths are not free parking areas. Tow bars can trip and injure pedestrians. The Road Safety Road Rules state it is illegal to park a car on a footpath. This includes cars blocking footpaths when parked in driveways. VicRoads recommends contacting councils about repeat offenders. The police can also apply penalties.
Motorcycles can legally be parked on footpaths in Victoria. The motorcycle must be parked at least its length away from a building to allow pedestrians access to the footpath. A motorcycle must not be parked opposite a parking spot for people with disabilities.
Please do your bit
Recently the Wangaratta council has been busy lobbing low hanging branches from trees on nature-strips. Everyone can do their bit to make footpaths easier to use for pedestrians with disabilities. Overhanging trees and gardens should be pruned. Cars and motorcycles should be parked legally. While businesses should ensure there is sufficient space for pedestrians in front of their buildings.