Leigh Spruce gets off of Everett Para Transit at the Everett Mall on March 11 in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Leigh Spruce gets off of Everett Para Transit at the Everett Mall on March 11 in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

People with disabilities demand better sidewalks, transit

An initiative challenges elected officials to a week without driving in Snohomish County and elsewhere.

If she could drive, Amandeep Kaur could get from her Lynnwood home to school at Everett Community College in 30 minutes, probably less.

Micah Lusignan could see his friend who lives 5 miles across town within a few minutes, instead of the hour by bus.

But a disability keeps them from taking the wheel.

Kaur relies on rides from family and friends, but often uses paratransit that doubles her travel time, at best, she said during a presentation of research about transportation access issues for people with disabilities Wednesday.

“I think it would be better if we got good public transportation,” said Kaur, a featured speaker during the online meeting hosted by Disability Mobility Initiative, a program of Disability Rights Washington. She said more bus stops and increased service would let her use fixed-route transit more.

Where she lives, the nearest bus stop is 2 miles away, and there are incomplete or missing sidewalks in her neighborhood, Kaur said.

Her story is similar to those from over 130 people on the group’s Transportation Access Storymap, an ongoing assembly of people with mobility issues sharing what it’s like to try to get around across the state.

Lusignan, who is legally blind and uses a cane to help him safely walk, graduated with a creative writing degree from the University of Washington this year. But being legally blind makes all of his knowledge and expertise around the English language moot at times when it comes to a printed bus schedule, he said.

Recently he moved near Lynnwood, where his rent is less than Seattle. But it has come at the expense of losing some accessibility afforded in the larger city, such as being farther away from a transit station where the express buses run to and from Seattle.

“It’s tough,” he said. “Part of why I felt OK being up here is because I work remotely and because I have family who’s really great.”

Accessibility and affordability are a calculus people with disabilities must do, balancing how long it takes to get to school and work, groceries and health care, family and friends.

When he lived near the University of Washington campus, he was close to grocery stores, doctors and work. Now that he’s in an unincorporated part of Snohomish County, he has to be mindful with how many groceries he buys that he must carry back on the mile-long walk home.

“I gave up the freedom that I had to just walk wherever, where now I’m not three minutes away from Trader Joe’s anymore, seven minutes away from Safeway, 15 minutes from the pharmacy or Target,” he said. “Now wherever I go, it’s a trip.”

Where he lives is in the same neighborhood where a driver hit and killed a man, Charles Fritz, and seriously injured another on 13th Avenue W.

Lusignan said his hope is people who can make these changes will, after hearing his stories and those from people like him. But he’s not waiting on them and instead encouraging transit agencies to explore on-demand transit service and making a bus ride more affordable or fare-free.

Their stories are echoed across the state in the Initiative’s “storymap” that features nine others sharing their experiences with transportation in Snohomish County.

“This is something, as someone who is low-vision, I’ve thought about a lot,” Disability Mobility Initiative director Anna Zivarts said.

That led her to advocate for other people who, like her, had a mobility issue that keeps them from driving. They’re hardly alone, as 1.7 million people in Washington don’t have a license to drive, according to U.S. Department of Transportation data. Of course, some wouldn’t be eligible because of age and other reasons. But that’s still a sizeable population unable to operate a motor vehicle.

“We really need to make sure our communities are connected by transit and by walking and rolling infrastructure,” Zivarts said.

The “Transportation Access for Everyone: Washington State” report lists recommendations for 15 categories related to challenges with getting around.

Disability Mobility Initiative also challenged elected officials, as well as transit and transportation staff, to go a week without driving under the hashtag “#MobilizeWA,” and offered to pair them with someone who doesn’t drive as an adviser.

“It’s time to start getting disabled non-drivers in transportation roles, in transportation planning and policy,” Zivarts said, noting one of the recommendations is for transportation groups to include people with disabilities.

Have a question? Call 425-339-3037 or email streetsmarts@heraldnet.com. Please include your first and last name and city of residence.

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