Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Civil Rights

Last Friday I spent a little over an hour with a Reporter from the Washington Post. No, I didn’t rob a bank – he ran across this blog, and I am happy about that. I ran through the liturgy with him, and he asked some very insightful questions. It was a little like batting practice for a while, and then he asked, “Do you consider yourself a civil rights activist?” The first thought that ran through my head was, “I’m a white guy from North Carolina. Is he serious?” See, sometimes I forget that I am blind. I like that, actually.

Honestly, I had never really thought about it before. Civil rights activist? ME? Of course. So I finally answered him – “I guess I am.”
People are amazing and capable of so many wonderful things. In a diverse place like Silver Spring, people come in many colors, shapes, languages, and life situations. In a County where that is valued and celebrated, ALL people must be provided for equally. The public spaces – including the ROW – must be accessible at all points, at all times, for everyone. To resist doing this stands against principles we all hold close to our hearts.

Moreover, Montgomery County and Maryland should strive to be one of the best places for pedestrians in the world. Isn’t that part of what we say we believe? Our government should understand completely how important pedestrians are to the well-being of a community. Our leaders should fulfill the promise of Smart Growth and demand that walkable communities be built and connected so that people can choose to walk instead of drive. This should be done as part of an overall effort to reduce the consumption of petroleum products. It should be done as part of the economic development of our urban areas. It should be done around schools and transit and County property. It should be done with enthusiasm and priority, and it should be done NOW.

I understand that this is a process. It is not possible to fix all of these impediments in one fell swoop. It will take time and should be done systematically. Montgomery County needs to move from reactive to proactive. Seek-out problems and formulate solutions. Look for information from Users. Treat pedestrians like they are IMPORTANT- not just because I am one , but because I am not alone.

I am speaking for a lot of people who may not be able or inclined to speak for themselves. My situation is unique as well. It has landed me here – stooped over the keyboard, writing about cracks in the pavement. Just remember that the real issue is not the concrete, it is about the people. People like me, who don’t drive. People who moved here because they don’t drive. That sizeable portion of our residents who need to walk. I want to see them celebrated, not ignored. I want pedestrians to be valued BEFORE they get hit. I want them counted while they are still up, not after the police report has been filed.

The problem of pedestrian deaths and injuries will never get better as long as Montgomery County and MDSHA refuse to become proactive and approach our ROWs with a new attitude. Pedestrian safety is a function of accessibility. Focusing solely on safety without planning accessible pedestrian infrastructure is a fool’s errand. Only responding to complaints without considering proactive solutions is nothing more than neglect. Our communities deserve better, and a County Government that touts Smart Growth should deliver! Everyone deserves to be able to walk in their own community without fear. Only when everyone feels safe and comfortable walking into Downtown Silver Spring will we be able to claim success in bringing this town back from near-desolation. Until then, I guess I’m a civil rights activist.

Monday, June 14, 2010


On Saturday morning Kathleen and I headed to the Farmer's Market. We stopped at Safeway on the way to get some water. When we left we walked across the front of the store to the County parking lot on Bonifant St. It is faster this way than walking around the entire building.

The lot is connected to the Safeway , or is it? Here are photos showing that there is a serious trip hazard here. This begs the question - If Safeway has a designated entrance for people in wheelchairs, do they need to make sure there is access from this direction as well? What about the County? Don't they have to make certain that access to their lot is available for everyone, not just people who can negotiate this location? I think so.

You can't tell what abilities or disabilities an individual will bring to a particular location. For this reason, the County and private business owners should strive to make all passages and entrances accessible for everyone. Seemingly insignificant locations like this add-up, and leave pedestrians wondering where the next obstacle will pop-up.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

What Does it Take?

Chilling, but still only a glimpse of the horrible reality. Why would this kid be in the road like that? Many (probably MOST) neighborhood streets in Silver Spring don't have sidewalks on either side. While this design may have been fine in 1940, does it really work in 2010? When do we finally let go of the suburban mentality and deal with the urban reality?

Saturday, June 5, 2010

"Beam Me Down, Scotty."

A new Bus Stop on Fenton St - right across from the Civic Building - not connected to any sidewalk. Pedestrians must tippy-toe along this busy street to get to the Bus Stop. Anyone in a wheelchair is just out of luck, and a blind person is going to have a time here, too. Considering that Transit Users are pedestrians at both ends of the trip, how can you have a Bus Stop that isn't connected to the sidewalk? Where are those who alight here supposed to go? A driver must have designed this Bus Stop, forgetting that riders don't just materialize. I wonder what this stop would look like if a Transit User had designed it? I bet that it would look completely different - in a good way.