Strategies to Enable Mobility for All

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Tompkins Weekly 9-2-13

September is a transportation month for Get Your GreenBack Tompkins. With this in mind, here are some personal reflections on transportation in Tompkins County. I get around pretty easily; I race all over town in my powerchair: whether I’m off to work, off to the library; going to sit at the Creek Walk along Six Mile Creek and bask in the sun while reading a murder mystery, I get around without too much hassle and enjoy what the city has to offer. I’m pretty lucky, all things considered, and there is a lot to consider.

I asked a few friends, most of whom use wheelchairs, what they think of getting around in Ithaca and Tompkins County.. I wasn’t surprised:

Sidewalks are important but there are problem because either we live where there aren’t any or in Ithaca many of them are in bad shape; sometimes traffic is a problem because drivers don’t watch out for pedestrians; bicyclists sometimes don’t watch where they are going, and too many bicyclists ride on the sidewalk (often where they could ride safely on the road). At a higher level, one of my friends pointed out that if streets and sidewalks were designed for all the people who needed to use them then a lot of things that discourage people with disabilities would disappear. A name for that is Universal Design. If we remove barriers for one group of users, such as bicyclists, then everybody benefits.

The other thing that we all said in one way or another is that we do like to be able to get around whether it’s getting from place or being able to just be outside in nature. There’s something about being able to get outside and something about being able to take part in community events such as Groton Old Home Days or the Ithaca Festival, that makes a difference. Whether we use powerchairs, manual chairs, crutches or a cane or don’t use a mobility device but have trouble walking, like most everyone else, we do take part in community life, because we want to.

I grew up in Danby and when I was in school at DeWitt Middle School I started to go to physical therapy after school and used Gadabout to get to my appointments at Cayuga Medical Center. I’ve been riding Gadabout for a long time and find it incredibly reliable. It’s crucial to my independence. Just the other day riding Gadabout my husband and I went to my mom’s house in Danby and we stayed the night and came back home. The other week I went with a friend to see a movie. This time I didn’t use Gadabout. I just got on TCAT’s Route 70, saw the movie with my friend (I had a medium popcorn), and took the bus back, getting off at the Seneca Street stop. Easy as pie. Gadabout and TCAT are important to my independence, my ability to live my life in Tompkins County. That being said, we do need more fixed route transportation in Tompkins County. TCAT does a fabulous job providing what it does, but it needs the resources to do more. Lots of people who use wheelchairs live in rural areas and in villages and towns that don’t have enough bus service. Strong support for more bus service benefits everyone, and will make the county more accessible to people with disabilities.

Streets Alive! is coming up in a few weeks. On Sunday, September 22nd, Plain and Clinton streets in Ithaca’s Southside will be closed to cars and open for people. I’m excited about it, mostly because it’s right in my neighborhood, , but also because it’s a celebration of the many ways people can get around, the ways we can live, work and play in this beautiful place lots of us call home. And now I’m off with my murder mystery novel to sit by the creek and enjoy the day.

Go to for more information on the street festival, and to learn about ways to save energy and money.

Larry Roberts is program director at Finger Lakes Independence Center

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