Wednesday, April 22, 2015

When Politicians Can't Bring Themselves to Do the Right Thing

In my hometown, Alexandria, Virginia, the local all-Democratic city council is proposing a big cut to their already-meager budget for Complete Streets: from $900k down to almost $600k.
If we put it in tiny, tiny print, maybe nobody will complain.

Local advocates have tried being polite, calm and respectful in arguing against a cut to tht portion of the budget that provides better pedestrian and bike access. Clearly, that approach has run its course. The proposal is still going forward, if only perhaps slightly less draconian.

That means it's time to get tough. When politicians refuse to do the right thing, advocates mustn't shy away from getting both more vocal and more organized.

In the spirit of the former, I've pointed out to Council how cutting the budget that, among other things, funds curb ramps at intersections for the disabled fits a pattern of behavior. As it turns out, this Council and other local Democratic officials make use of an office with absolutely no ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) access. I've personally witnessed a man in a wheelchair having to be carried down these steps. That humiliation is not something anyone with a disability should have to endure.
Remember, we're the party that advocates for the vulnerable.
Well, at least the steps have a railing.

If you're in a wheelchair, they'll be willing to carry you down like cargo.
To my knowledge, only ONE local Democratic candidate has publicly called for this condition to be remedied or have the office removed without delay. Interestingly, elections for Council, Mayor, and the 45th district Virginia Delegate seat are set for this year.

While the city's leaders have ignored their office's condition and plead poverty when funding Complete Streets, they have managed to scrounge up the millions of dollars necessary over the years to lure and accommodate large federal and quasi-federal institutions in Alexandria. These include the DOD's Washington Headquarters Service, the National Science Foundation, and potentially a new TSA headquarters.

Yet now the city argues it can't cough up a measly $300k gap to make Alexandria safe and accessible for those who:
1. Don't WANT to drive.
2. Can't AFFORD to drive.
3. Are UNABLE to drive.

Even if the proposed cuts are reduced ever so slightly, what does that say about the city's priorities? How progressive can an elected official claim to be when subsidies for development trump safety and accessibility for citizens in any way? And, of course, how can a city's leaders allow their own campaign office to send a signal of discrimination towards those with mobility impairment?

It's a sorry state of affairs, but it demonstrates the need for sustainable transportation and disability advocates to get tough. The easy stuff is all behind them. Now comes the hard part.

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