Disability Pride Month: Making Madison Accessible via Transit
July is Disability Pride month, and this year marks the 31st anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a major turning point in the acknowledgement of the civil rights of disabled people. But I want to take a moment to reflect on a piece of history that occurred in July 1978, over a decade before the signing of the ADA. Over July 5th and 6th in 1978, a group of people with disabilities in Denver, Colorado, took to the streets to protest inaccessible public transportation by chaining themselves to buses at the corner of Colfax Ave. and Broadway Ave. This was a time when municipal bus systems did not have adequate wheelchair access, and before complimentary paratransit existed. In fact, this event and the District Court case (Atlantis Community, Inc. v. Adams, 453 F. Supp. 825 (D. Colo. 1978)) that accompanied it, were integral in prompting cities to provide accessible public transportation.
Transportation is one of the most fundamental access needs for disabled residents in any city, and Madison is no different. Downtown Madison Inc.’s Downtown Accessibility report highlighted this need as one of the most impactful barriers to accessing downtown. Transit is a critical piece of providing people with different abilities access to all our city has to offer. Over the last 40 years, Madison – like many other cities – has improved the accessibility of our transit system by improving our vehicles and building out a paratransit service. However, we still have a lot to do to make Metro Transit – and our city – work for people with mobility restrictions.
When the ADA was crafted, it did not intend paratransit services to become the standard. Instead, it viewed those services as a way to meet the need while transit systems developed their accessibility. The barriers disabled people face when it comes to accessing transit are numerous, and include inaccessible sidewalks, bus stops without appropriate accessibility features, and limited space for wheelchairs on buses. As we implement Metro Rapid, Madison’s BRT system, the City of Madison has an opportunity to expand our transit access and create a system that can meet the needs of disabled residents. Throughout the Metro Transit network redesign process, we have taken the needs of disabled Madisonians into consideration and worked to propose a system that balances accessibility and efficiency.
By improving the way disabled riders board and exit buses, securement features for wheelchairs, and accessibility improvements to new Metro Rapid stations, we hope to develop a system that helps disabled residents move more freely throughout our communities. In order to create fully accessible BRT stations, we need at least 8 feet of space to accommodate the elevated platform and ramp. The features of BRT stops are intended to foster independent travel and equal access to public transit, a goal of the federal government since the creation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Improved transit systems also take the burden off of other forms of specialized transit such as Non-Emergency Medical Transportation and Paratransit services, creating potential cost savings in other programs.
For the disabled community, the development of BRT, with more accessible facilities and larger buses, means the ability to travel freely throughout the City with greater independence. As we work to build out accessibility around Madison, it is imperative to implement a transit system that can support the transit needs of disabled people looking to enjoy our wonderful parks, vibrant downtown, and many festivals and events that make Madison a great place to live. Without an equitable transit system we will continue to perpetuate discrimination against our disabled neighbors.