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: 'joseph.austin@ost.dot.gov'
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 [mailto:anderson@Access-Board.gov] 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.