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Accessibility for the Disabled in Your Community

Last month when I crossed the street in Fairfax, I saw a very intriguing curb ramp that caught my attention. I noticed that the material on the slope surface is different than elsewhere. At first I was curious why it was designed that way, then I realized the material for the ramp was rougher compared to the rest of the sidewalk, and it has more friction on the surface. I assumed this is for people who are waiting to across the street and not to slip over the curb, especially on a rainy day. Also, for people who may have a physical disability, this kind of material can help the wheelchair gain more friction as they stop to check the traffic. I was surprised when I saw the detailing on the curb ramp to help people, and I started to pay attention – discovering those little nifty helpful details in my community.Picture1

 

As an Urban Planner, we need to do our best to plan for those who have a disability, making sure they can also have access to and can enjoy a high quality of life. When we deal with open space design, such as recreation areas and pedestrian routes, we need to pay more attention in these details. For example, we use Metro as our daily commute and we notice that the metro station does a really good job in providing accessibility: from going down to the train level to getting onto the train.

I found a handbook online: Accessibility for the Disabled – A Design Manual for a Barrier Free Environment.

This book mainly talked about 5 target disability categories:

(a). Wheelchair users

(b). People with limited walking abilities

(c). The sightless

(d). The partially sighted

(e). The hearing impaired

In the urban design consideration, it divided into 10 chapters:

  1. Ramps
  2. Elevators
  3. Platform lifts
  4. Stairs
  5. Railings and handrails
  6. Entrances
  7. Vestibules
  8. Doors
  9. Corridors
  10. Restrooms

The book has many details of the accessibility that we probably haven’t noticed before such as a barrier-free path for the safety and independence of disabled people; symbols of a wheelchair figure with either a square background or a square border. It gives principals about obstructions, signage, street furniture, pathways, curb ramps, etc.Picture2

 

In another article: Technological Innovations in Transportation for people with Disabilities

It talked about using technological advancement to help people with disability, and other technologies that could provide board safety and mobility benefits for pedestrians. Also, target assistive technologies to improve accessible transportation for people with vision impairment and other disabilities. There are 6 topics:

  1. Triggering a Virtuous Circle of Self-sustaining Accessibility and Transportation.
  2. Environmental Awareness for People with Visual Impairments-Gaps, Challenges and opportunities.
  3. Getting there is you are blind: Synergistic convergence of technologies to improve wayfinding.
  4. Using robotic and artificial intelligence to improve mobility and navigation of people with special needs.
  5. Opportunities and innovations in ITS and mobile technology for accessible transportation.
  6. Making technology universally accessible for all users, including those with sensory and cognitive impairments.

Accessibility in urban areas is now of more interest to me. I will continue reading the handbook but also figure out how it applies in reality.

Putting all of this into practice, Nspiregreen is currently working with the  District Department of Transportation on a project called Inclusive Transit – accessDC. The study will identify ways to give people with disabilities and aging adults in DC better access to multiple transportation services, allowing for greater mobility with dignity and independence, and easier integration in the community. I am happy to be a part of a project to make transportation options better for disabled people.

 

 

 

Micro bus in Caracas, Venezuela

Safety and Public Transportation

Last week was the first time I felt the impact of Metro’s SafeTrack on my life. The large crowds and the tight space between people on the trains made me flash back to my experience using public transportation in my home city, Caracas, Venezuela.

My experience using public transportation in Caracas goes back to more than 8 years ago. Since then, the country has faced countless changes (some good, many not that good). Because it has been quite a few years since I’ve used public transportation in Caracas, much of my observations may be outdated; however, my experience growing up using public transportation in another major world city provides me with some perspective about public transportation in the nation’s capital.

Hold your bag tight!

In my experience, moving around Caracas using public transportation was often a dangerous adventure. For me, safety concerns and public transportation could not be separated. I felt completely exposed when I was surrounded by crowds in closed spaces which happened often on public transportation in Caracas. I felt exposed to all kinds of people, crowded in small and moving spaces (buses and Metro), and this often created uncomfortable situations.

Before leaving home and taking public transportation I used to prepare for it. I dressed accordingly, with low-profile clothes and comfortable shoes, no jewelry or fancy bags (not even fake just in case someone did not know the difference). In other words, nothing that called unwanted attention. Because of the massive crowds on public transportation, I always held my bag tight. Although I was never a victim of robbery, I heard many stories of people who had items removed from their bags without them noticing.

While the District’s transportation system isn’t the poster child for safety, the massive crowding during Safe Track reminded me that I do not take the same level of preparation and precaution when using the Metro system. Furthermore, the alternatives to Metro are often safer here than the alternatives in Caracas.

“Camionetas” – An informal transportation method

Unsafe micro bus loading

Passenger getting in a “camioneta”

Using “camionetas” was quite an experience. The space inside was tight and they were usually crowded.  To request a stop there was no cord or button, you had to yell loudly “LA SIGUIENTE PARADA POR FAVOR” (“The next stop please”), and hope that the driver heard you.Because of the rapid and exponential growth Caracas has experienced in the past few years, the public transportation has collapsed. To move around the city, I along with thousands of people, used “camionetas” as a main transportation mode. These micro buses were affordable and connected many areas of the city that were not covered by Metro and other public transportation modes. They were often overcrowded, dangerous to people and the environment.

Although they had established stops, they were not strictly enforced by their drivers or even police. Since they were smaller than regular buses, they moved faster in traffic and with more frequency; therefore, transporting more people to their destinations in less time. The amount of passengers they carried, as well as the uncontrolled and unregulated loading and unloading of passengers put many lives at risk. People used to jump to get on the micro buses while they were moving. Bus drivers also let people jump out in the middle of the street instead of waiting to get to the next stop.

Unsafe micro bus unloading

Passenger getting off a “camioneta” in the middle of the street in Caracas

Camionetas were also a significant source of pollution because the majority of the microbuses were old and produced large amounts of exhaust. In addition, the particularly loud honks contributed to the noise pollution on the streets.

Since I have been working at Nspiregreen in the District, I greatly rely on Metro to commute to work. Next week, my commute will be significantly impacted by SafeTrack; however, it gives me great relief and comfort knowing that there are safe alternatives for public transportation. While I still have to be vigilant, I am more comfortable here than in Caracas using my electronic devices to get me through what might be a frustrating commute to work.

 

Fabiana I. Paez has a background in Geography and Cartography. She is passionate about creating visual designs to communicate and engage people in social and environmental causes.

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Transportation Safety Means More Than Crashes: Beginning to Heal

See Part 1 of this blog discussing the issue of international and domestic transportation safety for women.

“Pink Transport” is a gender-segregated bus or train car that currently operates in over fifteen countries as a solution to personal safety for women. However, these gender specific mode options do not provide the capacity or service that make for equality and safety for women. Women entering the general boarding cars of trains-  which are now referred to as “men’s cars”- are targeted and harassed for not using the women-only cars. Women in cities like Beijing are even advised to dress more conservatively, and avoid wearing so-called “provocative” clothing like miniskirts. However, all of these transportation interventions and messaging puts the burden of personal safety solely on the victim of harassment.

With the goal of sustainability and the movement toward a greater non-auto mode split, the perception of safety on and around public transportation is paramount for success. People, especially women, will not travel on alternate means of transportation (bikes, bus, rail, etc.) if the system lacks the proper measures to protect personal safety. There are steps that agencies, the community, and women can take to help with this problem:

  1. Transit operators need to have the knowledge and practical steps to better deal with this issue. Sensitivity training, knowledge of proper actions to deal with crises, and a streamlined method of reporting these offenses to transit or local police could be implemented.
  2. Women should be encouraged to speak up or report offenses. Women need to feel empowered to recognize when harassment is occurring and how to report it. Public awareness campaigns in transit systems as well as on television and radio media could be used to increase awareness of the issue, provide easy information on reporting offenses, and help women to understand that they will be heard and action will be taken when they report harassment.
    Women are feeling more and more empowered to speak out and tell their stories of injustice, harassment, and sexual assault. Groups like the Collective Action for Safe Spaces DC and HollaBack help give women a platform to share their stories and avoid the isolating effect that harassment in a public spaces can bring. In the District, WMATA has a platform to submit instances of harassment on the Metrorail and Metrobuses but often this is after the fact.
  1. Harassment is everyone’s problem. The public must realize that everyone has a hand in making transportation systems safe. According to HollaBack, all it takes is harassers to have the mindset that their behavior is acceptable or will go unnoticed, and a community around the person that are unwilling to intervene. Everyone has the opportunity to make transportation systems safer for all users. 

Everyone can and should take part in ending harassment and violence against women both locally and globally. Harassers need to be confronted about their behaviors and made to understand that it is not acceptable, nor will it go unnoticed. It takes a community of allies to help stop this behavior and help defend women that may feel- in the moment- embarrassed, alone, and helpless.

No one has to do everything, but everyone has to do something”- HollaBack

 

Christine E. Mayeur is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and interests. She has been called a “renaissance woman” by her coworkers and is interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grass-roots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems that meet the needs of all users. 

 





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