Wednesday, October 31, 2012

stay with it...

Tomorrow marks two full months since I contacted my Congresswoman, Donna Edwards regarding the complaint. I was told that a response usually takes 30-45 business days. I called a specific person in her Silver Spring office - as I was directed to do if I had any questions. That person was not in the office. I'll try again tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Our story so far...

It has been a while since I posted to this blog. Mostly because almost nothing has happened. Since sending my complaint to USDOJ, I have received no correspondence from them. No case number, no contact agent, no information of any kind.

Except one.

As a coincidence of living so close to the seat of government, it turned-out that the head of the Civil Rights Division for USDOJ has a daughter who played on my duaghter's lacrosse team last Spring. I spent the entire season nodding and saying "Hi," but I never sat and talked with him, for fear I would get too worked-up. It was only near the end of the season that I got-up the nerve to walk with him to his car and ask if he could tell me what was going on with my complaint. He was very kind and offered to help. He gave me his card and the next day I emailed him a copy of the complaint with a breif explanation. He returned my email with his assurance that he would forward it to the right person and have them follow-up with me.

That was three months after I filed the complaint. Now it has just passed six months, and still no word of any kind.

I decided to take this time to reflect on the situation, and to see just how much time would pass without any word. I have taken lots of photos and videos, but not posted anything since May 27th, until now.

On September 1st I decided to contact my Representative in Congress. Below is a redacted copy of the release form I sent them. I emailed this along with a copy of the complaint.

On another front, I had been in contact with Nancy Green from Montgomery County. We had emailed about meeting sometime. As we were both busy, we decided to try and schedule something over the summer. AS before, I decided to let things sit for a while to reflect on the situation. Ms. Greene has made no attempt to contact me. I guess I will continue to see just how long Montgomery County intends to ignore me. No one from DOT has had any contact with me since March.

I feel that perhaps this task is too bug for me. I feel like I am wasting my time. I feel frustrated and discouraged. I know things like this take time, but I am weary and I want to lay it down. Unfortunately, that may mean surrendering a part of myself that no one should be expected to give-up. Nothing replaces the feeling of being able to confidentially negotiate through your own neighborhood with dignity -- on your own. The constant fear of being led into a deadly situation strips-away one's dignity. Fear that could so easily be avoided.

But sidewalks have been an afterthought for so long. The people I talk with spend so much time in their cars that they are barely able to understand what I am saying to them. I am one of the most persistent pedestrian advocates in Montgomery County,  What chance does the average pedestrian have of getting through to them? About ZERO.

I am not alone. Everyday I walk by dozens of people just like me. Skipping over topsy-turvy tree boxes. Crossing in the middle of the block because the intersection is too dangerous. Tripping over things sticking-up out of the concrete. Tripping on broken concrete slabs. Walking in the street weeks after a snow storm because the snow was plowed-up off the street and deposited onto the sidewalks. Walking into fire hydrants, utility poles, and guy-wires.

Some are in wheelchairs, some with white canes, some with no car, some with no license. Many of them don't drive at all. They walk or take public transit because that is how they live - without owning a car.. They Bike. These people deserve to be served in the right-of-way just as much as the people flying-by in their personal vehicles. In some areas, they deserve MORE consideration than those in personal vehicles. Yet we suffer the torture of a thousand little cuts. Countless - and un-counted - flaws, barriers, dangers and risks.

How can I continue to live here and give-up on this? Should I just shut-up and start finding a way to get driven everywhere I go? If you have ever had to count on someone else for transportation, then you can imagine how it feels to do it full-time.

That is the story so far.I'll report when I hear from someone --- ANYONE?
It feels an awful lot like I'm losing. I had to scan the document to email to Congresswoman Donna Edwards' office, so I might as well let you see it.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Complaint

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Discrimination Complaint Form

Complainant:William Smith


City, State and Zip Code: Silver Spring, Maryland 20910

Telephone: Home:

Government, or organization, or institution which you believe has discriminated: Montgomery County Government (Maryland)


Address: Executive Office Building
101 Monroe Street, 2nd Floor

County: Montgomery County

City: Rockville,

State and Zip Code: MD 20850

Telephone Number:

When did the discrimination occur? Date: Ongoing. Began in 1994

Describe the acts of discrimination providing the name(s) where possible of the individuals who discriminated (use space on page 3 if necessary):
Montgomery County Maryland is in violation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, in that it does not manage the public right-of-way adequately to provide access for me and other disabled people in our community.
Despite my years of effort to work with Montgomery C0ounty officials to reveal the scale and scope of the pedestrian problems, the County refuses to voluntarily bring themselves into compliance with State and Federal laws, or to take the kind of proactive measures needed to make their public right-of-way accessible to everyone, not just to people in vehicles.
There are several parts to my complaint, but they all revolve around Montgomery County’s inadequate management of their public right-of-way.
1. (this point is covered in the complaint to USDOT)The Montgomery County Department of Transportation does not employ an ADA Compliance Officer, does not have a legitimate transition plan, and does not have a self-evaluation method. I believe that these things must happen by law.
2. The Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services does not employ an ADA Compliance Officer, does not have a legitimate transition plan, and does not have a self-evaluation method.
3. Montgomery County spends a disproportionally-small amount on making itself ADA compliant, removing barriers for people with disabilities in the public right-of-way, and enforcing laws equally.
4. The Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services does not adequately enforce Federal, State, and County laws intended to ensure that the public right-of-way remains both safe and accessible during construction projects.
5. The Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs did not comply with ADA guidelines in the design and implementation of pedestrian infrastructure on Fenton St. in Silver Spring. DHCA continues to replace infrastructure in ways that endanger me and other pedestrians.
6. DPS has no effective procedure for dealing with PEPCO and WSSC about utility pole and hydrant replacement. Inspectors have no training or experience in accessibility issues. Public utilities are replacing infrastructure that is in many cases 50-years-old, and leaving the barriers untouched. This forestalls removal of these barriers for another thirty years or more.
7. The Montgomery County Department of Police does not enforce laws equally in the public right-of-way. Deference is given to vehicles in the roadway. Businesses and contractors are allowed to park across sidewalks, completely blocking the way for pedestrians. These situations are often some of the most dangerous.
8. The Montgomery County Department of General Services does not comply with Federal, State, or County law as it undertakes the construction of the Silver Spring Library complex. Random construction often obstructs the public right-of-way, forcing pedestrians into the street with traffic in a confusing setting. Similar situations have occurred at other DGS sites in the past.
9. All of Montgomery County’s rehabilitation and accessibility efforts in the public right-of-way are based on complaint alone. No proactive measures have been taken or are planned to rehabilitate old infrastructure.

Have efforts been made to resolve this complaint through the internal grievance procedure of the government, organization, or institution?

Yes______ No______

If yes: what is the status of the grievance?

Has the complaint been filed with another bureau of the Department of Justice or any other Federal, State, or local civil rights agency or court?

Yes__X____ No______

If yes:

Agency or Court: USDOT # 2012-0081 I filed another complaint with FHWA in 2010.

Contact Person: Gregory Murrill
Division Administrator

Address: 10 S. Howard St. Suite 2450

City, State, and Zip Code: Naltimore, MD 21201

Telephone Number: NA

Date Filed: January 11, 2012

Do you intend to file with another agency or court?

Yes______ No___X___

Agency or Court:


City, State and Zip Code:

Telephone Number:

Additional space for answers:

I offer my blog, entitled Montgomery Sideways as evidence of my efforts and examples of my claims.
In addition, I am keeping a blog on this complaint DOTNADA

I am a person living in Silver Spring Maryland with a disability. I have macular degeneration, and my eyesight is worse than 20/400. My disease is degenerative, and I lose a little more of my eyesight each passing year.

I moved to Silver Spring with my family in 1994 because I was blind. In Silver Spring everything is close together. We bought our home on Sligo Avenue in 1997 for that very reason. It was close to the school, the church, Metro, the library, the corner store, the supermarket, etc. The only thing lacking in the equation – we soon realized – was the infrastructure and some enforcement. In short, the pedestrian infrastructure system was neglected, and walking was a dangerous proposition. As a Father with two kids in a stroller, I found-out just has inaccessible many sidewalks in the county are. I walked in the street many times because I had to.

I began reaching-out to Montgomery County government in 1994. While my contact with them has, at times, been seemingly productive, the real problems persist.

In 2007 I started taking photos of obstructions and dangerous practices I came across while walking and began reporting them to the County and keeping them on a website. In 2009 that website became a blog entitled Montgomery Sideways. Since then, I have taken thousands of photos and submitted more than 200 postings that chronicle the discrimination that I run into – literally – everyday at the hands of a system that is old, neglected, and determined not to change. I hope you will accept this blog as evidence of wrongdoing on Montgomery County’s part. Some of the content of this blog is not directly related to this complaint.

Both Sec 504 and Title II intend to ensure that old infrastructure be replaced with a systemactic way to eliminate barriers. County, State, and Federal laws also mandate that construction sites – both private and those of Montgomery County or their contractors, or third parties, like PEPCO and WSSC – be designed in such a way as to provide continued access for pedestrians and those with disabilities. None of this is not happening.
I cannot count on a consistent open right-of-way. Instead, I am constantly worried that my life is in danger when I walk down the street because of their neglect.

In urban areas of Montgomery County – such as my hometown - more importance should be placed on accessibility in the public space, especially ROW. Infrastructure is very bad in Silver Spring, and such a huge undertaking requires much more than Montgomery County seems politically-willing to give. It is for this reason that I am turning to the State and Federal governments for help. I can’t live here without help that is required by County, State, and Federal laws. Montgomery County must live-up to these obligations, but can’t seem to make that choice on their own. I ask you to insist that they do so in a real and meaningful way starting right now. I ask that you order all public utilities to comply as they practice commerce in public spaces, and that government enforces regulations to their fullest extent, immediately. I ask that you compel Montgomery County government to undertake a full assessment of their current ADA compliance and procedures, and update these immediately.

The government of Montgomery County Maryland, through several of its departments, and with intent, deprives disabled citizens access to the public right-of-way. As a blind person, I am persistently placed in personal jeopardy by the direct actions and inaction of Montgomery County government. Laws are not being enforced, infrastructure is not being properly replaced, contractors and public utilities are not being properly regulated.

These departments include;
Department of Transportation
Department of Police
Department of Permitting Services
Department of Housing and Community Affairs
Department of General Services
Of those listed above, with the exception of the Department of Permitting Services, I have made some attempt to contact them on these issues. In some case I have gone to great lengths to approach and involve Montgomery County officials to take action on these issues. I have tried a number of approaches without much success. I filed a complaint with FWA in 2009. I recently filed another complaint with the US Department of Transportation; I have not had any official word about the course of these previous complaints.

March 1st is the second anniversary of the complaint I filed with FHWA. I have no evidence that anything has changed, other than the word of Montgomery County Pedestrian Safety Coordinator, Jeff Dunckel. The original problems have yet to be finally resolved.

Montgomery County’s management of their public right-of-way is discriminatory.
I I have made every attempt to cooperate with Montgomery County to correct ROW issues. I have attended meetings, offered feedback, served n committees, written Councilmembers, etc. Regardless of my efforts the County’s neglect and mismanagement of their public rights-of-way is a consistent impediment that creates dangerous situations for the public. Montgomery County’s poor management dissuades me from venturing out of my home for fear of being killed or injured while in the public right-of-way.

Signature: _________________________________________

Date: ________________________________

Return to:
U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Disability Rights - NYAV
Washington, D.C. 20530


My original intent for this blog was to use it as a tool to develop my argument that Montgomery County is discrimination against people like me - people with disabilities who count primarily on County public rights-of-way. It has been very helpful in that way. I am working on the last draft right now. I plan to send it out tonight.

I had hoped to solicit some feedback through this blog, but most of my conversation on this topic have been in person, over the phone, or by email. I guess that figures. No one wants to go on the record about this, but I have had a lot of quiet consultation with many different people over the years. The pace of advice has quickened during this complaint process in particular. I have made myself available to anyone. I have shared my plans well-ahead and in detail. I have protected sources, gauged my words and actions, and tried to be respectful. I have tried desperately to collaborate with others around this issue. I have spent countless hours of my own time, energy, and money on this cause. I have organized, contributed, aided, advised, supported, and have tried to be straight and honest with everyone.

This complaint is nothing more than my last-ditch effort. I don't expect things to be decided in a few weeks, or even in a couple of years. It will take a lot more work before these wrongs are corrected. There is no magic bullet. It takes awareness, a plan, trained people, leadership, hard work, and some money.

It is important. It is a real presence in the lives of thousand of people. The disabled, the young, the poor, the immigrant, the homeless, the elderly. THE TRANSIT USER. It is a moral imperative, but it is also an economic, health, transportation equity, environmental, quality-of-life issue.

For a County where so many believe that these issues are important, Montgomery County has a terrible record of public right-of-way management. The lack of a clear plan to make the public right-of-way more accessible is the equivalent of saying, "Get in a car and things will be OK. Otherwise - you're on your own."

That's how I feel. On my own. I wrote the words my self. I got advice, but I typed everything on my own. My eyes are bleary. My back is sore. My legs are cramped. My "typing elbow" is killing me. I'm exhausted.

I sure hope this works...

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Point=by-point; Point 7

7. Montgomery County Police do not enforce laws in the right-of-way equally. Their enforcement generally stops at the curb. Vehicles illegally parked in the road are immediately dealt with. Vehicles parked on the sidewalk are ignored, even after a call is made.

I have the utmost respect and appreciation for Police Officers in Montgomery County. They generally do a fantastic job. But, facts are facts - and the fact is that Montgomery County Police are reluctant to enforce certain laws that affect pedestrians. For some reason - maybe it is the amount of time they spend in their cars - Police here seem not to see when people park across the sidewalk. Sometimes even the most outrageous violation goes seemingly unnoticed.

I called the police non-emergency number about a blocked sidewalk twice. Both times the dispatcher seemed incredulous. Once they sent no one, and the second time I spoke with an officer. The officer told me that they were not in charge of enforcing ADA. In both cases, my concerns were deemed unworthy of action. Hey, I get it. I have not called since.

I have actually talked at length with the 3rd District traffic Sgt, Tom Harmon. Sgt. Harmon is understanding of my concerns, but in the end was no rel help in making some changes.

Parked cars and service vehicles are a major problem in Silver Spring. It seems to happen most the closer you get to the 3rd District Police Station. The worst violations occur, and police squad cars go by one-after-another - never seeing the danger right in front of their eyes.

I am not sure what can be done about it. I will probably take some kind of purposeful program to raise awareness and increase enforcement.

Point-by-point; Point 5

5. DHCA, where it manages the right-of-way, does not follow ADA guidelines, and has no ADA Compliance Officer.

Even though it sounds unusual and surprises most residents, Fenton Street is run by the Department of Housing and Community Affairs -- I think. At least I know that they designed the street, including the sidewalks - and much of the design is wrong, dangerous, and obviously not in compliance with ADA requirements.

I have never had any discussions with anyone from DHCA, but I am fairly-sure they do not employ an ADA compliance person, or refer to anyone other person when making decisions about Fenton St. And as a result, the streetcape is decidedly unfriendly to pedestrians. There are slip hazards, trip hazards, and deliberately-placed barriers to pedestrians and people with disabilities. The 7-11 parking lot at the intersection of Sligo and Fenton has been closed to access except by its driveways - this because of a DHCA-designed and Montgomery County-installed decorative fence.

View Montgomery Sideways in a larger map

View Montgomery Sideways in a larger map

Tree boxes that have been placed in the sidewalks have pavers that come loose and trip people with vision impairments like me. They were placed so that several locations have very narrow passages. I walk this street almost every time I go out, but you have to be careful not to slip on the slippery bricks or twist your ankle stepping on a paver. It is a case-study of the incorrect way to plan an urban public-right-of-way. The designer obviously had no ADA training, nor a concept of what it means to be a pedestrian.

I don't know what other part of the public right-of-way DHCA manages, but I bet they do as poor a job of it as they do on Fenton St.

Fenton Street is a vital public right-of-way for me. It is the only street that goes downtown besides Georgia Avenue that has a sidewalk - such as it is. It is in bad shape - some by neglect, and some by horrendous design.

View Montgomery Sideways in a larger map

View Montgomery Sideways in a larger map

Point-by-point; Point 4

4. DPS and other departments that issue permits to construction project owners do not follow ADA guidelines, and do not inspect for compliance with site plans and ADA requirements proactively. DPS does not issue citations or wield punitive action to violators.

Honestly, I just spoke with someone from the Department of Permitting Services in person for the first time this past Wednesday. I met and talked with Chris , an Inspector for DPS during a site visit with PEPCO and Jeff from MCDOT. I really don't know much about DPS , but I have been told a few things, and these lead me to beleive that DPS is a major NON-player in this public right-of-way issue.

I have run into DPS before, during battles about the way construction sites take-over the public right-of-way and close it to public use, and don't make the proper accommodations for pedestrians and people with disabilities. These contacts were always by email or through Jeff from MCDOT. The outcomes were never satisfactory. DPS would go and talk with the project owner and let them know what they were doinjg wrong. The project owner would put-up a sign or two, move around some barrels, and forget about the whole incident in a day or two. Within two week some new danger would arise, and the whole process would be repeated. Meanwhile, Thousands of people endanger themselves at the construction site. Add this to the fact that there are several of these locations within a few blocks, and you begin to understand how difficult it is to be a blind man in Silver Spring.

DPS already does not have the staff to do the many jobs they are asked to do. These few, caring and talented individuals are giving it their best, but they need help. These Inspectors are obviously not experienced and trained in ADA issues. The Department - which plays a significant role in the management of the public right-of-way needs it's own ADA Coordinator.

Currently, the County's ADA Compliance officer, Nancy Greene, claims to be covering ADA issues for all County Departments. This, on it's face, is ridiculous. The idea that one person, or even one small office can adequately perform the gigantic task of erasing decades of discrimination and neglect is ludicrous.

When you go to the County's website, you find that Ms Greene has no clear information about any public right-of-way issues except for parking.

I have been heavily involved in County public right-of-way issues for years, and I have only talked to Ms Greene once, years ago. She has certainly never been a central character in any of my many public right-of-way battles.Is this my fault for not seeking-out here assistance? No. I have been dealing with Jeff Dunckel for three years, and I don't remember him referring me to her. What does that say?

DPS recently entered into the issue with PEPCO and utility poles in the public right-of-way. In a plan that I do not fully understand, DPS is supposed to inspect infrastructure replacement in locations where there are ADA issues. I have personally identified many of these, but Montgomery County has no record of there own that I am aware of. I have been asked to report these locations to them using a variety of methods, including 311, the internet, by phone, but many of them are poles or hydrants which are immediately denied because they are "too expensive."

There is no coordination between actors in the public right-of-way. The current ADA Compliance person is not endowed with the means or the authority to handle the task. DPS and there Inspectors are not given the means or the training to deal with ADA. DPS Inspectors do not wield their authority to compel project owners to meet certain minimum standards. These guidelines are also part of County and State law, as well. DPS Inspectors rarely issue citations. They NEVER pull permits, even when things are awful.

The Department of General Services, where it runs projects that take the public right-of-way and closes it down, does not consistently follow ADA guidelines or County and State law regarding temporary pedestrian facilities. They simply throw-up the SIDEWALK CLOSED USE OTHER SIDE signs and some barriers. Its easier and cheaper. It requires less thought.

Meanwhile, thousands of people like me are afraid to go out because they are unsure if things are safe. It is the same kind of cruel acceptance of things that keeps so many people down.

At 11 o'clock at night, a man in a motorized wheelchair rolls down Bonifant Street past the orange mudhole soon-to-be know as the Silver Spring Library. Beneath the burnt-out street light, he rides the-wrong-way down the middle of the street - moving as quickly as the motor and gravity will take him. A few seconds later, he pulls around the last barrel, past the jersey wall barrier, and beneath the corner of the ROAD WORK AHEAD sign and back onto the sidewalk. As he turns to cross Bonifant, a string of cars flies past. OK, Now it's my turn to risk the passage...

Having done so, do I take the time to see if anyone cares about this? Do you think the guy in the wheelchair will? Does he have the capability to follow-through? I know fitst-hand that it takes tenacity. I guess disabled people are often known for their tenacity. I also know from experience that the man in the wheelchair won't call. I know that if I don't call, nothing will happen. Just like I know that, if I don't file a complaint, nothing will change.

The bureaucracy is asking the people to pay for the neglect with their lives. This is no pun - people really do have to live different lives because of the inadequacies of the current system.

I can't accept that - even if it is "permitted."

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Point-by-point; Point 3

3. Montgomery County does not competently manage the right-of-way to address existing or future accessibility issues.

I can site numerous examples of different Montgomery County Departments deliberately doing things that make things difficult if not impossible for many people to pass on a sidewalk. Here are a few prime examples;

Just last month I contacted my Councilmember's office to ask about the paint indicating underground utilities on Sligo Avenue. It took a few days for me to actually tak to someone at WSSC, and they had no idea what I was talking about when I asked if they had spoken to the County about the hydrants in the middle of the sidewalks. They had not - EVER. I was the one who actually put the WSSC Customer Advocate in touch with MCDOT people. This, in effect, means that PEPCO and WSSC have been replacing infrastructure without any regard to ADA guidelines or the law passed 39 years ago. For decades, these and other operators in the public right-of-way have been able to do business with no regard for the law.

I see this as a basic responsibility of government, one that Montgomery County has been knowingly neglecting for decades, and will continue to deny even now.

Throughout the boom development years in Silver Spring, pedestrians have been asked to walk in the street past construction sites almost the entire time. No one checks to see if the contractors are doing as they should. If someone complains, an inspection is made and some advice offered, but the neglect goes on. No thought is given to pedestrians beyond the now-boiler-plate references to making all allowances possible for pedestrians, then evoking the sidewalk closure loop-hole. With no real information, and no coordination with other actors in the public right-of-way, obstructions pop-up randomly and often force pedestrians to weave back-and-forth down the street. Pedestrian approaches to trip-generators like the Civic building or CVS are constantly interrupted by construction. Also, just this month, opposite corners of Wayne X Fenton were closed at the same time. The signs directed you to cross on the other side, which was also blocked but not marked.

In March, 2010 I filed a complaint with USDOT against Maryland SHA and MCDOT. It weas about the dreaded utility poles. PEPCO contractors have the sidewalks blocked as I write this. They are just now - two years after I filed a complaint - finishing-up the project - I THINK. It has been a nightmare two years trying to get down my street, but it was worth it if we get an accessible street. The problem is, I think this is only going to happen on streets where strong pedestrian advocates can be found. I think they could possibly go on ignoring the law when they think they have satisfied me. I have really heard nothing from either of them about how they intend to go about paying attention to this vital issue. I am not sure the complaint worked.

In conclusion, I have recorded numerous examples of what I just wrote about on my blog Montgomery Sideways. This is a complex issue that I have tried to illuminate by keeping track of the events over a few years. I have not kept a complete record. I have not reported on every instqance, but examples, or places where change is taking place, or should take place. In 99% of the cases, the things I have recorded were come across without intent. In other words, I was on my way to do something else and came across this situation and took a photo. I rarely went looking for evidence. I wasn't looking for trouble - trouble came to my doorstep.

Montgomery County has many departments and third-party contractors doing a lot of work in the public right-of-way. Almost none of them are considering ADA seriously - except to acknowledge that they have tried SOMETHING.They don't communicate with each other. They don't coordinate with each other. Their ignorance is intentional. They don't want to ask the tough questions because they already know the tragic answers.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Point-by-point; Point 2

2. DOT spends a disproportionally-small amount of its budget addressing accessibility issues.

Is it true? How much is spent on pedestrian infrastructure? How many pedestrians are there? How equitable are our distribution of funds and effort?

The fact of the matter is, if we don't know the answer to any or even most of these questions, how can we say we are working for progress?

I recently emailed my Councilmember and asked the questions listed above. The answer I got back was predictable - "We don't really know." I have spent considerable time looking for information that will back-up or refute this point, without much luck. if it is true that as many as 30% of people in Silver Spring don't drive, it seems to me that budgets should reflect that fact - where is the proof that DPS, DHCA, DOT, and other County departments are devoting the appropriate amount of attention to pedestrians and access for people with disabilities?. Not knowing comes from not finding out, and not finding out is a sign of neglect. I believe that County departments avoid the issues surrounding accessibility as much as possible.I believe they are embarrassed about their record, and are reluctant to do anything that may expose their decades of neglect.

Pedestrians are marginalized in budgets and efforts throughout Montgomery County. We are the forgotten - until someone gets killed or injured. In much of the decision-making process, Montgomery County pedestrians are casualty numbers and little else. The County only count us in two ways - as collisions, or as complainers. They count cars, but pedestrians are ignored. MCDOT can tell you how many people did not die last year, but they have no idea how many crosed Wayne Avenue and Fenton St.

In what they describe as a "data-driven process," Montgomery County chooses not to collect any data - other than collision data that is collect by the police. There are conveniently no numbers or data that will illustrate other problems - such as barriers for pedestrians with disabilities, like me. Proactive measures are deemed too-costly and actively worked against. DOT is proud to say that their sidewalk construction budget is more than $2 Million, but they budget almost three-times that amount every year in snow removal and storm cleanup. Money slated for new sidewalks is lost in a huge DOT budget. The issues of accessibility on County public right-of-way is just as important as the small role it plays in the overall transportation scheme.

So, I am ignored in so many ways by Montgomery County - until I get hit or complain. I am not important on the budget, I am not important in the statistics, and I am not worth the expense of accommodation. Montgomery County would have me leave it at that and do the best I can to survive their neglect. The same old barriers will keep going-up, again and again.

I am just not willing to accept that. It is unjust to neglect me or the thousands of other people who access public life through the sidewalks on the public right-of-way. I want to know how much Montgomery County spends on pedestrians, but I guess here is no answer to that question...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Point-by-point; Point 1

I presently have eight points to my complaint. Here is number one.

1. DOT does not have procedures required by ADA in place.
a. No self-evaluation plan for sidewalks, and
b. no ADA Compliance Officer employed.

This point is covered by the complaint I filed with USDOT .

It seems to me that an assumption is made here that pedestrian infrastructure is presently inadequate, and must be systematically repaired and renovated to provide access to people with disabilities. This situation demands a proactive approach - a plan - that includes a system-wide evaluation of pedestrian infrastructure, as SHA has already done.

MCDOT and other County Departments fully accommodate vehicles in the ROW as they execute their responsibilities. Pedestrians are often treated as an afterthought, if not completely ignored. We are people with lives and a need to use the ROW that is as urgent and real as any motorists'. There are thousands of us, and yet our needs are never fully considered, and often totally forgotten.

Our County is behind other neighbors. For all of our talk about how progressive and caring we are, we still ignore those who don't own something in the ROW. At sea, the least maneuverable craft always has the ROW. On Montgomery County roads, the slower and less-maneuverable better beware. County agencies definitely DO NOT have your back.

At least they used to pretend. The Blur Ribbon Panel was an honest mostly-successful attmpt to define the problems with pedestrian safety in Montgomery County.Like a lot of the newer laws (Forty years), the intent of the law does not always drive the change. It needs a complaint and threat of enforcement to bring the actual changes needed to remedy a wrong. The wrong needs to be unveiled. Someone needs to say enough, and inconvenience themselves to make the change happen. Something like Freedom Walkers, I guess.

AS an individual I have asked a lot of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation over the years. I took 15 years to discover that there really is only onr thing to complain about, and that it that Montgomery County government has not yet fully embraced Federal laws when it comes to their management of the ROW in their jurisdiction. The lack of a plan to deal with their deficiencies is the first indication of this violation.

The existence of an ancient transition plan from the late-80's is not proof of an attempt, it is evidence that it has not been considered since then.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mail from USDOT

I received this letter on Friday, January 13, 2012

Email to USDOT

From: William Smith [mailto:wsmith295@
Sent: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 2:46 PM
To: ''
Subject: FW: ADA in Montgomery County Md.
I am a blind man in Silver Spring, Maryland. I have been working of right-of-way accessibility issues on Montgomery County ROW foe several years. After many years of trying, I now think it is impossible to work with the County DOT to improve their approach to ROW management. In addition, other County department embrace discriminatory practices in their management of ROW issues. These practices negatively affest thousands of disabled Montgomery County residents everyday.

A few weeks ago I was advised by someone who should know that Montgomery County DOT should have a self-evaluation plan for pedestrian infrastructure, and should have hired an ADA compliance officer some time ago. DOT has not done either of thiese things, and is refusing requests to develop a self-evaluation plan. I was told that no real self-evaluation and no person overseeing ADA compliance meant that DOT was vulnerable to an ADA complaint. I would like to pursue such a complaint. Can you advise me?

William Smith
Silver Spring MD 20910

From: Anderson, Melissa [] On Behalf Of Row
Sent: Monday, January 09, 2012 6:06 PM
To: William Smith
Subject: RE: ADA in Montgomery County Md.

Dear Mr. Smith,

This is a question for the Department of Justice. The Access Board develops the guidelines and the DOJ adopts them as Standards and interprets the law.

Sorry I can’t give you a more direct answer.

Melissa A. Anderson, PE
Transportation Engineer
US Access Board
1331 F Street NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 272-0045

(the email below was forwarded with the email above, and has been edited - is not in its entirety.)

From: William Smith [mailto:wsmith295@
Sent: Saturday, January 07, 2012 12:46 AM
To: Row
Subject: RE: ADA in Montgomery County Md.

About a month ago I sat down for a lengthy discussion with BR, ADA Coordinator forr XXX. He told me that every transportation entity needed three things ; a self-evaluation method, a transition plan, and an ADA Compliance person. He indicated that failure to do any of these three things was outright violation on ADA. Is this true?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Personal motivation

For me, blindness is a gradual process, not a state of being. I lose my vision in almost imperceptible increments. I started losing my vision at about 14. Back then, I could shoot a target with a .22 from 100 ft with accuracy and consistency. I could name and show you most constellations in the night sky, and make out distant bouys at sea. By the time I was 16 I could still see well enough to pass the driver's test. I drove for 8 years.

I spent some time ignoring what was happening to me - because I could. As time went by the symptoms of macular degeneration made ignoring the problem impossible. I had to look for new ways of doing. What is the alternative - doing nothing at all? Whenever faced with an obstacle, I have to find a way through, over, or around it, or turn back and avoid that place from then on. It is a process that brought me to Montgomery County to live and raise a family.

I have to plan my excursions into the world. I have to map things out and consider things like weather, or traffic patterns. I have to know where the obstrustions are. I have to understand the signals, and listen to what's going on. I still have vision, but I can't see the pedestrian signals at many crosswalks - so I listen for the traffic and watch the vehicles.

Next year my daughter will go to college. In just a few short months my kids will be gone for weeks at a time. I have really come to depend on them over the years. With no car, we all learned how to survive - even thrive. They leaned how to take care of themselves on these streets, and how to take care of me. Now I need to learn how to take care of myself, again.

My son still says "white" when the light turns, even when I am not there. I expect my daughter will say "Go" or something like that forever, too. But when they are gone, I will miss hearing that from them, and I am wondering how I am going to make it alone. It is not just a matter of missing my children, it is a very real matter of not being able to navigate safely through my own home town without help. It is a real psychological barrier to participation in public life.

I can already sense the isolation lurking just past graduation. I am going to have to face some fears, again. Part of facing fear is addressing the source. Unfortunately, the source for this fear is Montgomery County government. There are importan things the Montgomery County government can and should be doing to make their right-of-way accessible to everyone. They are not doing most of them.

Until that is resolved, it really doesn't matter what I complain about.

Monday, January 9, 2012

8 points

Montgomery County is in violation of Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. While the majority of my complaint is with the Department of Transportation, I also beleive that the Department of Police, The Department of Housing and Community Affairs, and the Department of Permitting Services are in violation of the same laws. In addition, I beleive that these departments are also in violation of state law.

The core of my argument centers on how these departments manage their portion of the right-of-way. The focus is on vehicles, as expected. It will take more time to develop the specifics of the complaint, but here is a brief synopsis;

1. Montgomery County does not have procedures required by ADA in place.
a. No self-evaluation plan for sidewalks, and
b. no ADA Compliance Officer employed.

2. DOT spends a disproportionally-small amount of its budget addressing accessibility issues.

3. Montgomery County does not competently manage the right-of-way to address existing or future accessibility issues.

4. DPS and other departments that issue permits to construction project owners do not follow ADA guidelines, and do not inspect for compliance with site plans and ADA requirements proactively. DPS does not issue citations or wield punitive action to violators.

5. DHCA, where it manages the right-of-way, does not follow ADA guidelines, and has no ADA Compliance Officer.

6. DPS has no effective procedure for dealing with PEPCO and utility pole replacement. Inspectors have no training or experience in accessibility issues.The problem with managing third-party contractors in the right-of-way has not been resolved.

7. Montgomery County Police do not enforce laws in the right-of-way equally. Their enforcement generally stops at the curb. Vehicles illegally parked in the road are immediately dealt with. Vehicles parked on the sidewalk are ignored, even after a call is made.

8. All Montgomery County Departments are working on a complaint-based system. None of these departments move on accessibility issues until a complaint is received, and then their response is weak. They depend on complaints, and then marginalize the complainers. These agencies are so oblivious to pedestrians - people with disabilities, the young, the elderly, the poor, that it has become outright neglect.

As a person with some experience with the issues and people involved in this topic, I say that ADA compliance in Montgomery County is not good, and getting worse. County departments are not doing what they should to make urban areas equally accessible to everyone, even if they can't drive. We can't wait another 40 years. DOT, in particular, is guilty of putting-off improved accessibility. DOT actually has a negative opinion of Complete Streets efforts in the region, and is fighting change and ducking responsibility.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Email the US Access Board

(This email is reposted with permission)

Dear Mr. Smith,

It is always best if the these issues can be resolved at a more local level and it sounds like you have tried working through the City and FHWA. The State of Maryland has a Civil Rights complaint process and it looks like they even provide mediation. Here is a link I found for them –

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has been tasked with enforcement of transportation in the public right of way. You can file a complaint with the DOT under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act which requires public agencies to make their programs, facilities and services accessible to all people. Here is a the contact information for the DOT –
Mr. Joseph E. Austin, Chief
External Policy and Program Development Division
Department of Transportation
Office of the Secretary
Departmental Office of Civil Rights
1200 New Jersey Avenue S.E.
4th & 5th Floors - East Building
Washington, DC 20590
You may also file a complaint with the US Department of Justice. Information on complaints through the DOJ can be found at the following link –

Please let me know if you have additional questions,

Melissa A. Anderson, PE
Transportation Engineer
US Access Board
1331 F Street NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 272-0045

From: William Smith
Sent: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 12:39 PM
To: Row
Subject: ADA in Montgomery County Md.

I have been working on ROW accessibility issues in Montgomery County for a few years.

I filed a complaint with FHWA concerning utility poles and contractors in both County and State ROWs in 2010. There has been some progress on certain issues as the result of that complaint, but there are other serious issues that remain unresolved. I am reluctant to file a complaint, but I feel that County agencies are no-longer cooperative. The Director of Transportation suggested that I file a complaint with USDOJ if I was unhappy.

I need some advice before taking my next step.

William Smith

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A brief explanation

I am beginning this blog for one reason - to chronicle my attempt to compel Montgomery County (Maryland) government to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In my opinion, the County is currently in violation of the law in several important ways. Perhaps more importantly, the County knows that it is in violation, and yet continues to forestall important changes to policy and procedure that keep thousands of County residents from equal access to public life.

I am one of these disabled residents, and I intend to file a complaint with the US Department of Justice on March 1st, 2012. I do not take this step lightly, and I was advised to file by several people - including the Director of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation, Art Holmes.

In the meantime, I am developing the content of a complaint, and exploring the issues. I will post updates with information about this effort here. I encourage you to offer your comments and questions. I want the process to be open and transparent. Nothing would please me more than to have these issues resolved before a complaint, but I don't expect that to happen.

I am on my own here. I don't have any person or group working with me. I don't have a lawyer - or money for one. This is a personal issue for me. I also don't have an editor. As I blind guy, I often miss typos. If I tried to be perfect, it would take me twice as long, so please, be kind and overlook the occasional typo.