Friday, June 30, 2006

A View Of Limited Access

Detroit is known around the world as the "Motor City." The car is king here, and anyone who does not have access to one on a regular basis is no better than a lowly serf. It's tough to get around even if you do have a car - between pothole plagued streets, the most speed traps in the nation (it's a documented fact), construction that bottles off easy access to the city's attractions, and some of the most expensive auto insurance rates in the nation, it's tempting to stay home. The public transportation system here in the area is underfunded, poorly executed, and has very shoddy service due to budget cuts and a lack of a defined regional service offering.

As tough as it is for the average Joe Driver to get around, it's even tougher for those who are disabled and dependent upon public transportation for their daily needs. Disabled and elderly riders who once rode city busses for free now have to pay a $0.50 fare one way due to the city's looming budget deficit. Disabled riders have long complained about busses with broken access ramps, often having to wait hours for a bus that can accommodate them. The situation became so bad, a class action lawsuit was filed forcing the city to come into compliance with ADA guidelines. The lawyer who took on the case was uniquely qualified to understand the frustrations of the riders affected. Richard Bernstein, a local lawyer, is blind and fights tirelessly for the equal access.

Then there's the dilemma of how to get around once a disabled rider is off the bus or trying to get to the bus stop. Curbs are slowly being rebuilt to accommodate the needs of the disabled, but not fast enough to meet demand. Sadly, it appears that the rebuilt curbs are not helping to alleviate the situation. The newly designed curb ramps have been criticized as being poorly designed and implemented, so much so that some advocacy groups have had to go back to court to get the city to redesign the ramps to meet ADA requirements. The city is disputing the claims, of course, and this battle could end up costing Detroit millions of dollars to do the right thing.

It shouldn't be this hard to get around the city.

Poor access is partly to blame for one man paying the ultimate price as he tried to get around. An 80 year old man, possibly a retired railroad worker according to some news reports, was trying to get to a medical supply store yesterday evening. He was in a motorized scooter and was attempting to cross a set of railroad tracks when the wheels of his scooter got caught. He was unable to free himself before being struck by an oncoming train. He died of his injuries. Reports note that he did ignore the crossing gates, warning lights and alarms, but it's not known if he didn't see or hear them or thought he could beat the train.

Progress is being made, but it's very slow in coming. Let's hope that no one else gets hurt - or worse - before things get better.

More to come later, on a slow moving train.

Update (7/5/06): I just added a link to a series of articles in Detroit's Metro Times reporting on the state of the region's transportation system. It's an interesting read. Check it out. The link is in the "underfunded" quote.

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