Pyke: Suburban transit better, but still 'miles to go' for disabled
A high-tech job at Bell Labs brought Ray Campbell to the DuPage suburbs in 1986. His greatest challenge, however, wasn't at his new workplace; it was getting there.
Campbell, who is visually impaired, was sure that public transit in the area would be readily available.
"The reality hit like a ton of bricks," he recalled. "The attitude was you have to have someone drive you or take a cab."
That's changed thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law July 26, 1990. The law's mandate requiring equal access to public transit for individuals with disabilities has transformed life for many with Dial-A-Ride service and paratransit, a pickup program for riders offered by Pace.
But although "we've come quite a long way, there's miles to go," said Kelli Brooks, executive director of the Lake County Center for Independent Living, which also serves McHenry County.
As an example, Manuel Garcia, a LCCIL intern with a physical disability, couldn't get from Waukegan to Lake Forest to see his doctor recently. A patchwork of Dial-A-Ride services operated by townships weren't extensive enough to cover his trip.
"I felt bad," Garcia said. Service "needs to be borderless so we can get from one end of Lake County to another."
Brooks agrees, but takes heart in the fact there are Dial-A-Ride programs in the suburbs. It's just a matter of stitching more together, she said.
Other signs of advances include tactile warning strips on Metra and CTA platforms, fewer steps on buses and improved ways of getting information out to visually and hearing-impaired passengers, disabled riders told me.
According to the Regional Transportation Authority, more than 200,000 Pace Dial-A-Ride trips were provided in 2014 and more than 63,000 riders in the region are eligible to use Pace paratransit.
So what's lacking? Paratransit is provided only within three-quarters of a mile of fixed routes. Dial-A-Ride services fill in some gaps, but there are still transit deserts, especially in more rural areas of Lake, McHenry, Will and DuPage counties.
Also, riders say more transit websites need to offer interactive software and paratransit service should be extended on weekends and holidays. Plus, some trips are downright marathons.
"Instead of going home, they go all over the world," said Beverley Hudson. The Naperville resident, who uses a wheelchair, said her paratransit van will pick her up in Oak Brook, travel east to Maywood, then head back west.
"Sometimes you're on the bus for two to two-and-a-half hours," recounted Vanessa Gonzalez, who is visually impaired and takes paratransit to her job as an independent living advocate at the LCCIL in Mundelein.
The state's current budget crisis is taking some of the shine off the ADA anniversary. On the chopping block is $8.5 million intended for Pace paratransit.
Testifying in Springfield to save paratransit funding was Campbell, who sits on Metra's citizens advisory board.
"I said, 'it's ironic, we're celebrating the ADA's 25th anniversary and you're making cuts,'" Campbell said.
Despite challenges, the disabled community is finding new allies as Baby Boomers age, Brooks said.
"They're starting to have more need for (transit) services and are joining with disability advocacy groups," she explained.
Got thoughts about the ADA anniversary and transportation? Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One more thing
As for airport accessibility, "I try to avoid O'Hare like the plague," Campbell said, adding Midway is much easier to navigate.
Airports could up the ante on services to the disabled, he thinks. What's needed? Offering more service animal relief areas, better audible and visual signage, and improvement in the quality of meet-and-assist airline employees, Campbell says.
Linda Lood said there's not much rest in Sleepy Hollow since O'Hare runways were realigned. "We now hear planes overhead from 6 to 8 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m.," she wrote. "(We) always considered ourselves lucky to have left that behind when we moved out this way from Rolling Meadows. Communities around O'Hare were built with noise-reduction building materials. Not true this far away."
Some big disruptions coming our way.
• Say goodbye to ramps connecting the Elgin-O'Hare Expressway (Route 390) to Gary Avenue and Springinsguth Road in Schaumburg starting this week and July 27, respectively. Closures last until fall to make way for ramp improvements. Detours will be posted.
• Expect temporary and overnight ramp closures at Barrington Road and the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90). The ramp taking southbound Barrington Road cars to eastbound I-90 will be off limits through July.
• IDOT's closing down the southbound Mannheim Road ramp to I-190 into O'Hare for a month.
Big bus on campus
Northwestern University students and employees will get a free trip on the CTA's Route X bus to campus as of Sept. 1 through June 30. The program is funded by Northwestern in cooperation with the CTA and replaces a university shuttle bus. The program will cost NU about $32,000 a month.