I fractured a bone in my right foot on July 7 while backpacking along the Pacific Crest Trail in the Granite Chief Wilderness. I initially thought it was a tendon problem, because I’d had some discomfort with the tendon before, however, in stepping on the outside edge of my foot on a rock, the pain level increased manifold. I walked out on it. On Friday, I went into the doctor, got an x-ray, and now have a lower leg cast. What does this have to do with transportation? Well, I’m now getting around with a knee scooter, rather than walking or bicycling.
It has been interesting, and here is my take on it so far. The knee scooter has small wheels, about eight inches, so it is less stable than a bicycle, or a wheelchair. Because it is somewhat unstable, I use a lot of energy maintaining balance. Though I’ve noticed, now that I’m paying more attention to people using wheelchairs, that the unpowered ones are not all that stable either. But it does move along quickly, faster than walking though not as fast as bicycling.
I’ve been to the store (two blocks, six blocks, and seventeen blocks), the library, two farmers markets, to have a beer, and some just “walking” around. I’ve used buses and light rail, more than I normally do when I’m commuting on my bike. I’ve made one trip outside of midtown/downtown so far, out to Rancho Cordova to pick up the knee scooter. I went out on crutches, and back on the scooter, using light rail, bus, and “walking.”
I’m paying much more attention to sidewalk quality and mobility challenges than I normally do, and here are some comments:
- The sidewalks are in pretty good condition in midtown/downtown. There are cracks and root heaves, certainly, but so far I haven’t found any with a displacement that I couldn’t maneuver. Every corner I’ve visited so far has had ADA ramps, and they make a huge difference.
Where alleyways cross sidewalks, they are usually asphalt rather than concrete, and the asphalt is in poorer to much poorer condition than the sidewalk. I’m not sure why the sidewalks are not constructed so that they are continuous rather than being broken, but in most cases they are. This would be an easy though not necessarily inexpensive problem to fix.
- Some of the roadways in midtown/downtown, particularly the major east/west streets, have such a strong crown that it is really an effort to get up and over the hump. I had never noticed this before.
At a number of intersections in midtown/downtown, there are intersections without crosswalks on one or more legs. I don’t mean where the crosswalks are not marked (painted), but where crossing is prohibited. In most cases, there is no valid safety reason for the prohibition, but they have been signed for the convenience of motor vehicle drivers so they won’t have to really stop before turning, and won’t have to wait so long for the green. In the example at right, one has to cross three legs of the intersection instead of just one, on order to continue east on P Street. Why? To maintain the free flow of traffic. There is no justification for this to occur anywhere. If the intersection is truly to dangerous to be crossed, it should be fixed, not just signed to discrimination against pedestrians. Traffic engineers will often claim that prohibited crossings are intended to keep pedestrians safe, but extensive and detailed discussions lead me to be certain that what is really meant is: “We are unwilling to slow down or control traffic enough for it to be safe to cross the street at this intersection.”
BNSF railroad tracks though midtown are rough to very rough to cross. This is not necessary, as it is easily possible to make smoother crossings, but BNSF has not. The only one I really notice on my bike is I Street, which is rough enough to almost throw you off your bike, but they are all pretty rough. The light rail tracks are much easier.
- There are relatively few driveways in midtown/downtown (as compared to the suburbs), and the sidewalks are detached/buffered, so that the few driveways there are have the slope between the sidewalk and curb, with little to no slope in the sidewalk. However, the one trip I took outside my neighborhood was a serious challenge. In Rancho Cordova, and this is true of much of the area that is or was the county, sidewalks are severely cracked, ADA ramps are missing from many corners, and because the sidewalks are not detached, the frequent steep driveway slopes cross the sidewalk and are very challenging to maneuver. In some cases I had to walk on adjacent lawns because I simply could not deal with the cross-slope on crutches. By the time I got from the bus stop to the medical supply store, just two blocks away, I was sweating heavily and had leg cramps. Even with the knee scooter, I had difficultly getting back to the reverse bus stop.
- Buses are easy to get on and off with the fold-out ramps, and the drivers have been professional and friendly.
- Light rail works OK with the concrete boarding ramps, but the front of the train can get quite crowded with people who have mobility devices, have mobility challenges, or are carrying loads (and some other people who don’t need to be there at all). If light rail had level boarding, the entire train could be used by people, instead of just one door and one area.
As a result of these experiences, I am so thankful that I live in midtown. If I lived in the suburbs, I would be having to depend upon friends or taxis to get me everywhere I needed to go. My independent mobility would be zero.
I strongly feel that the livability of a place includes the ability of anyone to get where they need to go, by whatever means they have to or choose to. Midtown/downtown meets this component of livability. The suburbs fail. I will have much more empathy now for those individuals with disabilities that I see trying to maneuver the pedestrian-hostile and car-friendly suburbs. Why has the county created, and why do they allow to exist, an environment that activity discourages some citizens from living a regular life? The cities of Citrus Heights and Rancho Cordova, which were carved out of the county, have made efforts to correct these problems, but they are still largely stuck with what the county passed on. I know in the case of Citrus Heights, the county still gets all the property tax collected in the city, but spends zero on fixing the problems they created, while the city gets no property tax but has to fix the problems. I had always wondered why the residents of Citrus Heights had made such a deal, to forgo property taxes for 15 years, but I now come to understand that it is worth almost anything to get out from under the county.