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RECEIVED Tue., July 22, 2014
Saturday, July 26 is an Independence Day celebration for more than 50 million American children and adults with disabilities. 24 years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law, eliminating discrimination in employment, transportation, and public accommodations.
In addition to the very important “breaking down” of physical barriers such as curb cuts, ramped access to buildings, automatic opening doors, and accessible public transportation, there is another legacy of the ADA. People with disabilities have equal rights and opportunities to pursue their dreams. Americans are increasingly looking beyond a disability – physical and cognitive – to see people like themselves, who each day seek the same opportunity for rewarding jobs and fulfilling lives.
Enabling people with disabilities to have access to education and assistive technology has expanded opportunities in the workplace. More companies are hiring people with disabilities and many have specific initiatives under their diversity programs. These companies have learned that hiring people with disabilities is not charity – it is smart business.
Many serious challenges still remain for the 52 million children and adults with disabilities. However, today please take a moment to celebrate the anniversary of Independence Day for Americans with disabilities.
RECEIVED Mon., July 21, 2014
On June 26th, the City Council passed Austin’s first urban rail line route. Public testimony was limited, but I would have pointed out three incontrovertible facts. The first is that the approved route terminates at the old Highland Mall, with no plans to extend any further. Every initial line, as part of any transit system, should have plans to be extended, but this one isn’t. Terminating Austin’s initial urban rail line there is proven illogical by no plans to extend it. And doubly illogical because, second, the entire proposed redevelopment is already served by passenger rail. The Highland station on the MetroRail Red Line is within a half-mile of the entire Highland Mall site – the distance passengers are willing to walk in a transit trip. Spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a tunnel, and placing new rail on Airport Boulevard (paralleling, only a few feet away, the already existing Red Line passenger rail) to reach a planned redevelopment already served by voter-approved (and funded) passenger rail is a very expensive double service. Third, the projected ridership for the Guadalupe/North Lamar light rail route, considered by voters in 2000, was twice what is proposed now. Higher ridership indicates overall success of a rail line, which means federal funding is more likely, with a likelihood of more voter support of the next urban rail line. Guadalupe and North Lamar is where millions of dollars were spent, in 1999-2000, in an already approved federal study determining rail should be.
Mayor Leffingwell has coined the phrase “rail or fail.” A November referendum will likely fail, because the mayor has unfortunately led a special-interest dominated effort that has not considered neighborhood and rail advocate voices, but instead a process where the data has been manipulated to a point where the result is anything but objective. Rail advocates like me hope that following a likely November referendum failure, we can immediately begin planning, and achieving, rail on Guadalupe/North Lamar.
RECEIVED Thu., July 17, 2014
I was interested to read the article, “Where the Sidewalks End
” [News, July 11], as it described in detail what many American cities are struggling with as we return to more urbanized living. I am a new Austinite coming most recently from Los Angeles, where I spent 10 years as a public health advocate for smart, safe, and healthy urban planning. Like many of L.A.’s communities, Austin is clearly struggling with a return to more pedestrian-centric living, but the drivers of the city haven’t yet caught up.
I walk with my two children everywhere in Austin. Often, I have people raising their eyebrows at me at the places I attempt to walk, but what I have found is that although the sidewalks are indeed a problem, worse still is the culture of drivers who appear unwilling to give up a few seconds of their day to let us cross an intersection safely – opting instead to cut us off to speed on their way. A culture shift towards the “walker” needs to occur.
In my work in L.A. bringing together community residents, city planners, public health departments and others, we generated the most important recommendations related to walkability by involving residents who know their streets. We used something known as the PEQI
(Pedestrian Environmental Quality Index), which is a walkability survey accessible to someone with limited education. Using PEQI, we both collected concrete data and also educated and involved residents about the issue. This helped the city in gaining support for where to target limited funds.
I applaud the city for taking on this important issue and encourage residents to stay engaged. I also encourage “outside the box” thinking, as it is only through a broad solicitation of ideas for solutions from residents that the best solutions emerge.