Leigh Spruce navigates a curb ramp March 11 at the Everett Mall. People with disabilities are calling attention to the infrastructure problems they face. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Leigh Spruce navigates a curb ramp March 11 at the Everett Mall. People with disabilities are calling attention to the infrastructure problems they face. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Too many sidewalks aren’t built for people with disabilities

After the Week Without Driving challenge, our transportation columnist reflects on a recent scene in Everett.

Odds are good you know someone who doesn’t drive.

Maybe they’re too young for a license. Maybe they can’t because of a medical condition.

Whatever the reason, the state had over 420,000 people eligible for a license who didn’t have one in 2019, according to Federal Highway Administration data.

Some of them have shared their stories about what’s it like to live in Washington with the Disability Mobility Initiative. They talked of cold waits for paratransit, complex trips for health care, long walks to services, and sidewalk gaps.

During a work visit to the Valley View neighborhood of Everett, only accessible by a two-lane bridge over I-5, I saw someone in a wheelchair crossing east. But the curb sidewalk wasn’t wide enough.

Even if it had been, the eastbound segment didn’t have a ramp. Only a painted line separates people biking or walking on 75th Street SE. The sidewalk on the other side has a ramp on the west end, but not the east end.

So instead, the person was in the road.

It didn’t feel safe. It wasn’t safe.

In 2015, Reuters reported that an analysis of U.S. crash data showed wheelchair users were 36% more likely to die if hit by a vehicle driver than other pedestrians. (It didn’t go into the reasons why they were more susceptible for fatalities.)

Between 2007 and 2013, an average of 28 people in wheelchairs died from a vehicle collision in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

During my active transportation commitment, I’ve focused on the biking, busing and walking. Those options are available to me as a person without a disability, which is a privilege I need to and want to acknowledge.

Last week, I wrote about the Week Without Driving and how some of the Snohomish County elected officials who participated realized their communities have a lot of gaps for people with disabilities.

These experiences and numbers give a picture of how our systems aren’t working for everyone when they could and should.

Disability Mobility Initiative, which is part of Disability Rights Washington, gives a more cohesive voice to people who haven’t been at the forefront of policy decisions. Its leaders and members are hoping for more, too.

Transportation Access for Everyone: Washington State, a research paper the agency published this year, recommends elected officials fund construction of the pedestrian network and assign responsibility for its maintenance.

For someone like Jo Ann Maxwell, who lives in the North Creek area, a ways from nearby stores and transit, even sidewalks wouldn’t be especially helpful. But recommendations from Disability Mobility Initiative — for zoning changes and subsidies for affordable and wheelchair-accessible housing near transit, as well as focusing new residential construction in urban growth areas — could help her and others.

Of course it takes money to build sidewalks and curb ramps, to operate paratransit buses, and to plan for wider sidewalks or protected pedestrian paths. It also requires a bit of political will to spend infrastructure dollars there instead of elsewhere.

When we think about the people we know and how they could benefit, that seems a worthy choice.

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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