Sept. 7 2016 09:57 AM

People with disabilities worry about navigating the BRT

Moving the Route 1 Okemos Meijer stop from its current spot near the door closer to Grand River Avenue is one of the proposed BRT features that worries people with disabilities.
Lawrence Cosentino/City Pulse

CATA’s proposed Bus Rapid Transit system for the Michigan Avenue-Grand River Avenue corridor has many features meant to make transportation safer for people with disabilities, including platforms that are level with the bus and crosswalk signals with audio tones and other features.

However, Fred Wurtzel, secretary of the National Federation of the Blind’s Michigan chapter, has drafted a letter to CATA declaring that the group’s members “are opposed to the BRT on a number of fronts.”

Among Wurtzel’s biggest worries are the proposed elimination of Route 1’s Frandor stop and moving the Meridian Township Meijer stop from its present location, about 20 feet from the store entrance, closer to Grand River Avenue by about the length of a football field.

“Frandor Kroger and Okemos Meijer are essential grocery shopping venues for many of our members,” Wurtzel wrote in his letter to CATA.

Responding to questions raised at an Aug. 16 community meeting, spokeswoman Laurie Robinson said CATA will continue to “work with these businesses to find the best location for the stations as well as safe access to all businesses,” but she added a reminder that “the Americans With Disabilities Act does not require private businesses to provide public transportation” to their doors.

Wurtzel is also concerned about the BRT’s proposal to build new stations in a center median along Michigan and Grand River avenues, replacing the old curbside stops.

“It will decrease the number of riders who will not risk crossing active traffic lanes to reach the bus stop,” Wurtzel said.

Pat Cannon, a former CATA board member who retired four years ago as director of the Michigan Commission for the Blind, has never driven a car. He was legally blind by the time he reached his teens and lost his remaining vision in his 30s.

Cannon was on the CATA board for almost 25 years. He stepped down last year after moving to East Lansing.

“I am absolutely optimistic that the facility in Lansing with the BRT will be safer than anything we have in the community now,” Cannon said.

As an eight-year appointee by President Bill Clinton to the U.S. Access Board, recently re-appointed to the board by President Barack Obama, Cannon helps writes guidelines for the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 1997 and 1998, with Cannon as chairman, the board set down guidelines for public rights of way, including intersections, traffic signals and pedestrian crossings.

Cannon is satisfied with CATA’s plans to install Accessible Pedestrian Signals, or APS, wherever there is a boarding platform in the center of the road. The signals will be turned on at the push of a button, providing audible and tactile cues notifying when it is safe to cross.

Cannon said the whole community, including the disabled, will be better off with BRT than without it. “I’ve always counseled young blind folks to consider residing and working in a community such as Lansing that has good public transportation, because transportation is the key to independence for us,” he said.

Donna Rose, a retired social worker who lives in East Lansing and is blind, said the loss of the Frandor stop would be “a real hardship” for her and isn’t comforted much by the planned APS signals. She dreads crosswalks so much that she takes Route 1 to its eastern end, at Meridian Mall, where the bus turns around, rather than crossing Grand River Avenue, and is alarmed by the proposed shift from curbside boarding to stations in the median. Navigating crosswalks, with or without APS, has only gotten more dangerous in recent years, she said. “People are texting, talking on phones, not even looking,” Rose said. “APS is not a panacea.” CATA said designs for the BRT are preliminary and more curbside boarding is under consideration.