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...