A person utilizing a wheelchair crosses a avenue underneath a snowfall in New York’s Occasions Sq. throughout a winter storm in January 2017. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AFP/Getty Pictures/TNS)

On a Sunday afternoon in Could 2021, Patsy Ellison left her Knoxville, Tenn., house in her motorized wheelchair and began to cross a close-by avenue, as she usually did. She by no means made it.

Although there was a cease signal, a Dodge Ram pickup truck turning into the intersection struck and killed Ellison, who was 62. The motive force advised police he didn’t see her within the roadway.

“We have been simply devastated. She was such a very good particular person. It’s nonetheless laborious,” her great-niece Future Dozard mentioned in an interview with Stateline. “I’ve a 5-year-old, and he talks about it each day. He’s nonetheless traumatized.”

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Dozard mentioned her great-aunt, who used the wheelchair due to knee issues that made it laborious for her to stroll various steps, had a beloved canine named Spartacus and was well-known within the neighborhood, the place she repeatedly visited a comfort retailer to purchase Scorching Cheetos and Slim Jims.

“She’s somebody we might go to after we couldn’t go to anybody else to speak to,” Dozard recalled. “She helped her neighbors in the event that they didn’t have any meals and gave them cash. She was a sweetheart. It’s loopy that one thing like this occurred to her.”

The streets might be harmful for individuals in wheelchairs. Some are pressured to roll alongside the road as a result of the sidewalk is damaged, uneven or nonexistent. Some should cross busy roads with a number of lanes. Motorists, notably these in SUVs and huge pickup vehicles, might not see them as a result of they sit low.

Incapacity rights and freeway security advocates say a few of the funding from the brand new $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure legislation, which incorporates $11 billion for transportation security packages, needs to be spent on curb ramps, extra accessible sidewalks and roads engineered to decelerate site visitors and supply protected crossings for individuals with disabilities.

The legislation contains the “Secure Streets and Roads for All” initiative, which is able to present $5 billion in grants to native governments over 5 years to assist tasks and techniques to scale back crashes and fatalities.

The legislation additionally boosted funding for the Federal Freeway Administration’s state-administered freeway security enchancment program. It added a provision aimed toward bettering security for “weak street customers” akin to older adults, individuals with disabilities and bicyclists. If these customers comprise 15% or extra of the full variety of annual fatalities in a state, it must dedicate a minimum of 15% of these funds the subsequent 12 months to enhance these street customers’ security.

“The incapacity neighborhood has not all the time been on the forefront of thought after we’re doing our mobility planning,” mentioned Jane Terry, a vp on the Nationwide Security Council, an Itasca, Ailing.-based group targeted on eliminating preventable deaths. “We are able to and we should do higher.”

Some state and native governments already are attempting to determine enhance security for individuals with disabilities, in keeping with Carol Tyson, authorities affairs liaison for the Incapacity Rights Training and Protection Fund, a civil rights legislation and coverage middle primarily based in Berkeley, Calif.

Tyson pointed to a 2019 Massachusetts Division of Transportation survey of state sidewalks and curb ramps that famous, for instance, that 31% of the 7,600 bus stops within the Boston space lacked adjoining crosswalks.

Within the Chicago space, the Metropolitan Planning Council and the College of Illinois Chicago issued a report final 12 months that targeted on whether or not 200 municipalities had inventoried bodily limitations to entry on streets and sidewalks and created plans to take away them, as required by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Act. Solely 22 have been in a position to present they’d a plan.

Harmful Streets

A 2015 Georgetown College examine discovered that pedestrian wheelchair customers have been greater than a 3rd extra more likely to be killed in crashes than non-wheelchair customers. Almost half the deaths occurred at intersections. And in additional than three-quarters of fatalities, the motive force used no “crash avoidance maneuver,” akin to braking or steering.

Pedestrian fatalities general have spiked through the COVID-19 pandemic, as dashing and aggressive, impaired and distracted driving have proliferated.

Final month, an evaluation by the Governors Freeway Security Affiliation, a nonprofit that represents state freeway security places of work, discovered that an estimated 7,485 pedestrians in america have been struck and killed by drivers in 2021, the biggest quantity in 4 a long time.

Information involving pedestrians in wheelchairs, nonetheless, is sparse. The federal authorities collects fatality knowledge from legislation enforcement crash experiences, however police don’t all the time determine whether or not a pedestrian was utilizing a wheelchair, walker or crutches.

The Nationwide Freeway Visitors Security Administration carried out an evaluation for Stateline and located that a minimum of 301 individuals in wheelchairs and 225 who used a cane or crutches died in pedestrian crashes from 2010 by way of 2020.

These fatalities proceed to mount.

• In April, a 65-year-old man in a wheelchair trying to cross a avenue in Salt Lake Metropolis was killed after being struck by a automotive.

• In January, a 58-year-old lady in a wheelchair and her canine have been killed in a hit-and-run crash as she was making an attempt to get throughout a avenue in Tucson, Ariz.

• In early April 2021, a 37-year-old mom of 5 in a wheelchair died whereas crossing a avenue in San Jose, Calif., after being struck by a hit-and-run driver. Simply weeks later, a lady utilizing a walker was hit and killed on the identical intersection.

“Take into consideration what number of communities have a bus cease on one facet of the road and a shopping mall on the opposite facet and 5 or 6 lanes of site visitors and no gentle or crosswalk there,” mentioned the Nationwide Security Council’s Terry. “The crossing level is likely to be blocks away. In a wheelchair, they’re going to cross the place they get off the bus.”

A 2020 College of Illinois Chicago examine discovered that folks with disabilities encountered limitations together with “damaged or uneven sidewalks, intersections which have poor strolling indicators, crosswalks which can be unsafe to cross, curb ramps which can be too steep, and fast paced site visitors being too shut.”

These findings are much like what Incapacity Rights Washington, a statewide advocacy group primarily based in Seattle, discovered when it surveyed 200 individuals with disabilities who don’t drive within the state over the previous two years.

“Individuals really feel scared to stroll or roll round their communities due to insufficient infrastructure,” mentioned Anna Zivarts, who directs the group’s mobility program.

Some intersections don’t have any sign in any respect, Zivarts mentioned. “It’s important to belief that the motive force goes to cease and see you. It’s like a sport of rooster.”

One other impediment for wheelchair customers: scooters and e-bikes left in the midst of sidewalks, which might make them not solely harmful but in addition impassible.

Tanisha Sepulveda, 31, a Seattle architectural drafter who has used a motorized wheelchair for greater than a decade after a spinal twine harm left her with quadriplegia, needed the general public to know the way dangerous sidewalk situations have been, so she participated in a video final 12 months exhibiting how she maneuvers metropolis streets.

“Typically the sidewalks have ended, or the concrete has damaged up, or there isn’t a curb minimize, and also you’re pressured to be on the street,” she advised Stateline. “I’ve had individuals who’ve yelled and stubborn at me for being on the street. They are saying, ‘Get again on the sidewalk.’ And I believe, ‘The place do you see a curb minimize, buddy?’ It’s ridiculous.”

Heidi Case, a Washington, D.C., resident who makes use of a wheelchair as a result of she has a number of sclerosis, is aware of about these perils effectively.

One of many greatest issues in her metropolis is that many sidewalks aren’t easy, and streets usually have potholes, making them tough to cross, she mentioned. Some curb cuts are so steep that she has fallen off her chair, face first into the road.

Case, 61, mentioned she has been hit twice crossing the road: as soon as by a metropolis bus and one other time by a automotive. The automotive crash threw her 10 ft out of her wheelchair, and she or he wound up within the hospital, after which a rehab facility.

With the inflow of latest federal infrastructure {dollars}, Case, who additionally chairs two metropolis authorities transportation-related accessibility teams, predicted that bicycle and pedestrian advocacy teams are going to be pushing laborious for cash to be focused to assist their members.

“Everybody needs these {dollars} to be spent on them, and the incapacity neighborhood has to combat to get in there,” she mentioned. “We’ve made good partnerships with them, however bike teams have lobbying and funds and are an enormous powerhouse. We’ve bought a scarcity of lobbying pull. With out our voices and getting a seat on the desk, accessibility will get quick shrift.”

Even when incapacity teams get what they’re asking for, the infrastructure cash received’t be sufficient, mentioned Zivarts, of Incapacity Rights Washington. She famous that her state did an evaluation final 12 months that discovered it wanted greater than $5 billion simply to make state roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists. That’s the full quantity of the Secure Streets program’s funding nationwide.

“The infrastructure funding is a drop within the bucket,” Zivarts mentioned. “It’s not practically sufficient to deal with how harmful and disconnected our pedestrian networks are. We’re going to want an entire lot extra.”

Stateline is a nonpartisan, nonprofit information service of the Pew Charitable Trusts that gives each day reporting and evaluation on developments in state coverage.


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