Few speak out on disabilities-related issues
As planning for the Central Corridor light rail transit line continues, questions are being raised about the issue of accessibility to the station platforms along the 11-mile route. Issues of access were raised during a series of public hearings on the light rail preliminary design plans, which wrapped up this summer.
The Central Corridor would extend between downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. The Metropolitan Council will submit preliminary plans for the $892 million line to the Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) in early September. FTA approval for the project is crucial as the federal government would pay half of the project’s construction costs.
Only a handful of people raised questions about accessibility at the recent municipal consent hearings, which were sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), Hennepin and Ramsey counties, Hennepin and Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority boards, and the cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
One of the issues that will affect access at stations is public art and how art is incorporated into each station design. During the hearings and at meetings of the Metropolitan Council’s Central Corridor Management Committee, much attention has been paid to public art. Elected officials have pushed hard for much public art to be added to station plans, saying that the stations otherwise will be sterile and bland in appearance.
But Metropolitan Council Chairman Peter Bell has told the committee he isn’t inclined to change the staff recommendations. He and project staff note there is a move nationally toward standardized station design.
Stations have to be accessible to the disabled and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), said Bell. He noted that Metropolitan Council advisory committees are pushing hard on the access issues. Members of the Central Corridor Community Advisory Council who represent the disability community have maintained a strong and unified position regarding the importance of station accessibility and continuity. On Hiawatha Corridor, community groups and artists were extensively involved in the station design process. Bell said that has resulted in stations that have different configurations. That has raised questions about access. “Every station on Hiawatha is different and riders have to figure out how to navigate in them.”
At one of this summer’s hearings, activist Darrel Paulsen pointed out that station design can play a key role in how usable stations are for riders. Paulsen is a wheelchair user.
“We want people with disabilities to feel safe and comfortable in stations,” he said. “When stations are laid out in different manners and fixtures are designed differently from station to station, it can be very difficult for transit riders with disabilities to use them.”
Anne White, chair of the District Councils Collaborative (DCC), said neighborhood groups along the light rail line also have concerns that stations be accessible as well as attractive. One red flag the DCC is raising is that at some platforms, rail riders have to travel down a sidewalk in the middle of the street. The DCC wants more marked mid-block crossings, saying those would be safer.
Here are the key issues tied to light rail transit access issues during station design and construction:
• Continuity is extremely important and each station has to have similarities in regard to location of ticket machines, benches, boarding areas and emergency help buttons should be in the same location on all platforms and easily accessible for everyone.
• Benches and accessible seating need to be provided at each station and need to be located both inside and outside of the sheltered areas.
• All routes leading to the station need to be fully accessible. If the station is elevated, or on a hill, consider all routes of access to the station. What is the safest route for everyone, including persons with disabilities?
• Additional space needs to be provided for the pay machines. People should not be standing on top of each other, waiting in line to use the machine.
• The gap between the station platform and car should be as narrow as possible, but measuring no wider then 2.5 inches at the widest point.
• Provide more efficient heaters at the stations that are accessible to people with disabilities and are powerful enough and designed so that the heat flow actually reaches the people in the shelters.
• Make sure art work does not obstruct the view on the platforms, not only up and down the track, but at the sides of the platform. It is also important that the shelter walls and other dividers have some markings on them, so that individuals with low vision will be able to see them and move around them accordingly. People need to see the connecting LRT and buses traffic.
• Make sure that connecting intersections have accessible pedestrian signals which will warn people with low vision or no vision when to safely access the platforms and train.
The list was developed by Rozanne Severance, Ken Rodgers and Margot Imdieke Cross who serve on the LRT Central Corridor Community Advisory Council and the Transportation Accessibility Advisory Committee (TAAC). Information was also provided by Access Press Assistant Editor Jane McClure