People with disabilities are not provided access to roughly eight stations along the 31st Street bus route, according to protesters who staged a rally outside the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) headquarters Thursday.
After 15 years of being out of service, the No. 35 bus route was extended to include portions of West 31st Street in September, once again providing bus transportation to large portions of Little Village on the Southwest Side.
The original 31st Street bus route was discontinued in 1997 due to low ridership. But, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, a 2.6 percent increase in the number of passengers on the No. 35 route in 2011 prompted CTA officials to approve a trial period during which the bus would include extra stops on 31st St. The route’s extension stretches along West 31st Street between South Kedzie and South Cicero Aves.
Disability advocates say the extended bus route violates guidelines of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires equal access to public transportation.
“We’re happy we have the bus, but we need it to be accessible,” said Garcia, who submitted a letter addressed to CTA President Forrest Claypool during Thursday’s protest at the agency’s headquarters.
“Horrible” cracks in the sidewalk, large stretches of no sidewalk at all and an absence of ramps makes it impossible for people with physical disabilities to utilize the bus along West 31st Street, according to protesters.
“We need the CTA to take action now, to put this issue in CTA’s top priority list,” the letter reads. “Take action by temporarily moving inaccessible bus stops to accessible areas.”
Born with cerebral palsy, Garcia said majority of Cambiando Vidas’ members live near the 31st Street route. Adding that she regularly takes public transportation, Garcia says she is forced to take an alternative route when she visits the Little Village area.
Some of the bus stops on the two-mile stretch being targeted as violating ADA accessibility laws include West 31st Street's intersections at Homan, Kedzie and Cicero Aves.
Since November, representatives from Cambiando Vidas have been meeting with CTA and Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) officials to alert them of the bus stations’ poor conditions, but the group has yet to see any improvements.
“We’re tired of meetings. Everybody just keeps passing responsibility to each other,” she said, adding that she’s also reached out to Alds. George Cardenas (12th) and Ricardo Munoz (22nd). “Nobody tells us what’s going on and we haven’t seen any changes in the area, so we can only assume no progress is being made.”
Osbaldo Reyes, 32, said the delay in renovations to the bus stations shows a lack of empathy and compassion from agency officials. He, along with about half a dozen other individuals with disabilities, participated in Thursday’s protest.
“They don’t have to live with disabilities, so they don’t know how important accessibility is,” he said.
Reyes, who works as a community organizer with Cambiando Vidas, was paralyzed from the waist down following a diving accident 12 years ago. He spoke with Progress Illinois about the accessibility issues along the bus route:
“Hopefully today’s rally will open the door to action from the CTA,” said Gary Arnold, a public relations representative with Access Living, who added there are more than 500,000 people living with disabilities in Chicago.
Arnold said there are no plans for a lawsuit at this point, but mentioned that “going the legal route has been successful in the past."
In 2000, Access Living connected with Equip for Equality and nine people with physical, hearing and visual disabilities to file a lawsuit against the CTA. The lawsuit cited numerous ADA violations on CTA bus and rapid transit systems, including failure to inspect and maintain bus lifts.
The CTA settled the lawsuit in 2001 and pledged to keep a database of all ADA-related complaints and, among other things, implement Corrective Action Guidelines for disciplinary actions against CTA employees who violate procedure.
“Lawsuits are always a last resort,” Arnold added.
CTA President Claypool said Thursday’s protesters were targeting the wrong agency.
“Bus stations are the responsibility of CDOT, they’re at the wrong place,” Claypool said in an interview with Progress Illinois. “But CDOT is aware of it and they are actually going out this construction season to put renovations in place.”
CDOT spokesman Bill McCaffrey confirmed that construction should begin on West 31st Street bus stations in June, but did not disclose the cost or timeline of the project.
“We want to build ridership along 31st Street,” Claypool said. “We’ve worked closely with the community and part of the request has been to increase access for people with disabilities, to make that more successful. We’ve sat down with CDOT to put that plan in place, and construction season has just arrived so progress is on the way.”
Meanwhile, Adam Ballard, 32, said the lack of access to public transportation is an insult to all people with disabilities.
“The fact that there’s an entire section of Little Village that is not accessible to people in wheelchairs, or people with walkers, or even mothers with strollers, infringes on everyone’s rights,” he said, noting he was born with a disability that limits his mobility to a wheelchair.
Ballard, a participant in Thursday’s protest, said although ADA violations are not isolated to the CTA’s 31st Street bus route, that location is the worst he’s seen in the city.
Garcia agreed that people with disabilities confront limited accessibility situations at CTA bus stations across Chicago. She also said the problem exists at PACE and Metra Stations, but could not provide exact details on the problematic locations.
Garcia estimates that ADA violations are at every one out of five Chicagoland public transportation stations, with problems being at both bus and train depots. Majority of the problems, she said, occur on the city’s South and West Sides.
Ballard called the ADA violations an “affront to social justice.”
“This is an example of public city departments’ failure to provide for their residents,” he said. “To have violations of this level on a 23 year-old law says a lot about certain departments in this city.”