jesse_the_k: White woman riding black Quantum 4400 powerchair off the right edge, chased by the word "powertool" (JK 56 powertool)
[personal profile] jesse_the_k
Safer Rolling in the City

In the 24 years I’ve used a rear-wheel drive power wheelchair, I’ve made many mistakes. In addition to these hard lessons, I worked as civil engineering drafter and served on a city commission which oversaw vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycle facilities. I’m basically an infrastructure fan, and will shamelessly deploy that jargon. glossary at end

In the US, those of us who use power mobility for disability reasons are always “pedestrians” thanks to the ADA. This covers power wheelchair, scooter, and Segway users. We can’t be told to get off the sidewalk. We can’t get “driving under the influence” tickets, although every year some ill-informed traffic cop tries to issue one. Where bicycles belong – on the sidewalk, the roadway, or a separate bike path – is determined by each locality.

However, no explicit guidelines have been provided in the US Americans with Disabilities Act for accessible sidewalk design. There’s guidance, but the final regulations have been orbiting planet Fed since 1993. In this vacuum, some follow the specs for exterior entrance ramps (noted below).

This leaves sidewalk and curb ramp design up to individual localities, with sometimes disastrous results. Municipal boundaries, property owner disputes, and decades of changing design aesthetics mean that sidewalks aren’t always where we need them.

That’s why I’m very cautious, especially the first time I go anywhere.

Some curb ramps are dangerous.

Just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’s safe. In my first chair, I learned about bad ramps the hard way

  1. too steep overall (my chair tipped over sideways, dumping me in the street). ADA limits any ramp to 1:12 or 8.33% slope.
  2. too much cross slope, which means my wheels are not parallel to the ground plane thanks to side-to-side variation (My chair skews sidewise, circling back down no matter how I steer). ADA limit is 2% cross slope.
  3. too steep an angle between the street and the sidewalk, or too deep gutter (My front wheels and anti-tippers contact, but my drive wheels spin in mid-air) ADA is silent.
  4. too high lip between street level and start of curb ramp (It’s why I have 8“ front wheels, which help me mount 1” obstructions.) Legal settlements limit sidewalk displacement to 1/2" in some jurisdictions.

My Road Rules

I’m short in my chair, well below the front hoods of trucks and SUVs. I’ve been hit twice, when I was legally traveling the intersection of driveway and sidewalk. (While I wasn’t bodily damaged, both increased my car terror). These experiences have burned the following rules into my brain.

  1. Match Travel Direction with Vehicles. When the sidewalk network is continuous and accessible, I always travel so I’m moving the same direction as the closest street traffic. When people leave driveways they generally check traffic on the street they’re entering. By moving in the same direction as the nearest traffic lane, there’s a better chance drivers will see me.
  2. Signal My Intentions A single curb ramp that points out into the center of an intersection is cheaper than one for each crossing. The drawback is when I’m waiting at that ramp it doesn’t communicate which street I intend to cross. When there’s room, I’ll go down the ramp and wait in the street, headed in the direction I want to go. When a car hesitates in a turn-on-red situation, I’ll point in the direction I intend to cross.
  3. Only I Decide Where I Go. Although well-meaning folks will often wave me through an intersection, only I decide when and where to cross. Several times cars have waved me across and then sped up before I make it to the other side. (Maybe thoughtless, maybe malice but definitely more car terror.) To avoid after-you, no-after-you windmills, I fold my arms, shake my head, and turn my chair away from the ramp. In Wisconsin, road vehicles don’t have to stop, only yield to pedestrians. I strictly follow the ped laws in my state.
  4. Slalom through broken sidewalk networks Continuous and accessible sidewalks are ideal, but not ever-present. With dangerous or no curb ramps. I must zip in & out of driveways to proceed. I must see oncoming traffic: that’s why I travel against the flow–which is also the general rule on rural roads with no sidewalks

Increase Visibility with Lights and Clothing

Bicycle tubing and wheelchair tubing are different sizes, so it can be hard to attach standard bike lights. I have found a style of small bike light that attach with sturdy rubber bands. They don’t illuminate my path, but they increase my visibility even in the daytime (they are that bright).

Planet Bike Spok lights http://ecom1.planetbike.com/3057.html

The light is the size of a big toe, and shines a super-bright LED in one direction through a clear or red lens.The control button is where the hair would grow: a gentle press once for steady light, again for flashing light, and again to turn off. The underside is permanently connected to a rubber strap which closes with a ball-headed stem.

It took a minute to install one on the tube where my armrest mounts. I put the red light facing back on my joystick side (left) and the white light facing forward on my right, rotating them down so the armrest pad doesn’t occlude the flash. Just to be super-visible, I’ve also hung reflective/flashing LED strips from zipper pulls on my always-there back bag. (They are also easier to grip!)

If Planet Bike products aren’t in your area, similar styles are “Knog Frog” and “Blackburn Click.”

In rainy weather, my hot-pink and bright-yellow waterproof-breathable cape makes me stand out (some say “visible from orbit.”) In cold weather I choose among my brightly-colored hats. While an orange flag is often shown on wheelchairs, I’ve found it’s a nuisance inside. If it’s high enough to be seen on the road, it’s taller than I am, and it’s too hard to incorporate into my body envelope.

Pedestrian Facilities US-UK Glossary

  • In the US, urban streets have a sidewalk on both sides for pedestrians, which is elevated above street level. In the UK, it’s a pavement or footpath.
  • The intersection of the street and the sidewalk is the curb, usually stone or concrete. In Wisconsin, the curbs are 6 inches higher than the road, creating the gutter to channel storm water, store snow, and support sleeping poets. The UK engineers create kerbs and channels
  • When a vehicle crosses the sidewalk to a garage or alley, they use a curb cut. The smaller driveways for wheelchairs are curb ramps (many US wheelchair users don’t make this technical distinction) In the UK vehicles travel through kerb cuts and wheelchairs use dropped kerbs.
  • Suburban streets may have no sidewalks at all, or only on one side. Rural roads have no curbs at all – ditches by the side carry away water (and hide snakes).

(no subject)

Date: 2017-11-18 06:39 pm (UTC)
monanotlisa: Profile shot of Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor on Doctor Who (Default)
From: [personal profile] monanotlisa
This is a great post, I'll signal-boost.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-11-18 06:50 pm (UTC)
brithistorian: (Default)
From: [personal profile] brithistorian
Thanks for sharing this. Since there's a better than average chance that A. will end up in a power chair someday, I've sent it on to her.

My small town is in the process of installing sidewalks on all the streets, but until they finish, we're left with nothing but odd situations. My street has sidewalks on 1 side only. The parallel major street 4 blocks away, from which one can reach the library and the grocery store, has sidewalks on both sides. None of the cross-streets between them have sidewalks at all. It'll be great once they get all the sidewalks in, but that's going to be a long time - it's been 7 years since we moved into our house and all the sidewalk construction during that time has been outside of our neighborhood.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-11-19 12:18 am (UTC)
lilacsigil: 12 Apostles rocks, text "Rock On" (12 Apostles)
From: [personal profile] lilacsigil
Great post! Most people in my very rural area use scooters because there's just no hope of getting a power chair (or even a lightweight scooter) around. In the rural town where I grew up, though, the footpaths were all beautifully paved on both sides...because the Queen came to visit once and apparently it was very important that the town had nice footpaths! It just goes to show how random all this can be, when it's life or death for people on wheels.

Re: Long Live The Queen!

Date: 2017-11-19 12:30 am (UTC)
lilacsigil: 12 Apostles rocks, text "Rock On" (12 Apostles)
From: [personal profile] lilacsigil
I am not a scooter user, though I work with a couple of people who are! Because of their much larger base, they are not as vulnerable to cross slopes, sudden drop-offs or other rough ground, but they are a bitch to back up and have a big turning circle.

Re: Long Live The Queen!

Date: 2017-11-20 01:36 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
How well they handle cross-slopes depends on how wide the scooter is, where the scooter+driver's center of gravity is, and whether the driver notices in time to slow down.

Colleen's travel scooter has a rather low ground clearance, so it can get hung up on high thresholds and such-like.

Re: Long Live The Queen!

Date: 2017-11-20 04:05 am (UTC)
lilacsigil: 12 Apostles rocks, text "Rock On" (12 Apostles)
From: [personal profile] lilacsigil
Yeah, in these specific cases the scooters were chosen for width and stability, because of the poor conditions.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-11-19 01:00 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
Thanks!! My wife uses a scooter, so this is immediately useful. (I can still walk, but I'm 70 and things can go wrong suddenly.)

Re: Thanks

Date: 2017-11-20 01:50 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
Hmm.

* Steep cross-slopes can be handled by leaning far up-slope and taking them slowly. It helps to have a two-functional-legged companion as a spotter.

* Try to take curb-cuts directly up or down hill.

* Remember where the driveways are in case you have to turn around and take to the street.

* Larger wheels mean you can handle higher obstacles.

* With higher curbs and thresholds, back up and get a running start; momentum will carry you over it as long as it's not high enough to get hung up on (only a problem in a scooter, which has a longer wheelbase).

(no subject)

Date: 2017-11-19 06:57 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
A couple of terminology corrections from the UK viewpoint (as well as me being a chair user, my dad was a civil engineer specialising in roads and drainage).

The UK engineers create kerbs and channels

Kerbs and gutters or drains - I've literally never heard 'channel'. You may occasionally hear gully for gutter/drain from the professionals. Drain and gully can cover both the surface gutter and sub-surface surface water-drain (what the US would call a storm drain). Technically I believe the gully is the chamber connecting the gutter and the surface water drain.

In the UK vehicles travel through kerb cuts and wheelchairs use dropped kerbs.

We use both dropped kerb and kerb cut for the wheelchair cuts. While most driveways will have a dropped kerb, most people just use 'driveway' or 'entrance' and don't actually refer to the kerb. Part M of the Building Regulations (which specifically covers disability access), uses 'dropped kerb' to define dimensions for them. OTOH, at least some local councils use 'dropped kerb' to cover driveways. So at best 'dropped kerb' has the legal standing, but we use both terms interchangeably for both uses.
Edited Date: 2017-11-19 07:14 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-11-19 07:38 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
Thinking about it, 'channel' might come from 'drainage channel', which is the product used to create a drain, but you don't really get 'channel' used on its own.
Edited Date: 2017-11-19 07:56 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2017-11-19 07:36 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
We can’t get “driving under the influence” tickets, although every year some ill-informed traffic cop tries to issue one.

OTOH you can in the UK (though the prosecutors have to be feeling particularly petty). Powerchairs and mobility scooters aren't considered road vehicles (they're 'invalid carriages') and don't come under the drink-driving laws, but they do count as 'carriages' and you can be convicted under an obscure Victorian law about being drunk in charge of a carriage.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1205967/Drunk-charge-carriage-Pensioner-convicted-Victorian-law-drink-driving-disability-scooter.html

too steep an angle between the street and the sidewalk, or too deep gutter (My front wheels and anti-tippers contact, but my drive wheels spin in mid-air)

The powerchair using friend I was with in my meeting with the council about dropped kerbs on Thursday said this is a particular problem with her six-wheel, centre-wheel drive chair. Front and back wheels on solid ground, drive wheels spinning in mid-air.

Re: Ugh.

Date: 2017-11-19 08:24 pm (UTC)
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
From: [personal profile] davidgillon
Oh, don't know if it's a terminology issue or just didn't come up. The fall away in height on either side of the crown of the road is the camber. Part of the problem we have with Rochester High Street is that the gutters (while horribly cobbled) are roughly level, but the camber is so significant you're at a marked down angle when facing the kerb, and anti-tips will hit the roadway before you've wheelied far enough up/back to get your front castors on the footpath. And similarly a kerb-climber will hit the kerb, and a centre-drive chair will end up with drive wheels in the air.

Checking the Building Regs, they use cross-fall where you use cross-slope, for the gradient across a path rather than along it.

Re: Ugh.

Date: 2017-11-20 01:38 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
I had the same confusion at first.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-11-20 02:16 am (UTC)
sasha_feather: Retro-style poster of skier on pluto.   (Default)
From: [personal profile] sasha_feather
Good post :)

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