scooterlife - photog's blog

Motorcycles. Scooters. Wheelchairs. Tape. Whatever rolls.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

It's about the curb cuts

I've ranted before about how clueless drivers will punt a scooterist into the curb--while said scooterist is doing the speed limit--just because they can. It's the illusion that a scooter will be slower that seems to goad people into aggression. I'm sure that's resonated with other scooter riders who ride in 35-45mph traffic where they can keep up, yet find themselves being passed aggressively for no real reason.

"YEAH!" you say. Darn Skippy!

Well, bear with me on this rant. Since non-scooterists don't understand the issues--and positive elements--of scootering, here's a little slice of life that people may not understand.

Prior to landing my butt in a wheelchair, I used to get uppity and self-righteous about people parking on handicapped spaces when the didn't have a license plate or hang tag that proved they were supposed to be there. I'd glare, point, and even confront these people as I walked by.

As I started using handicapped spaces, I found that they exist not just to shorten the distance between the car and the door, but there is a huge safety element: when I'm sitting in my wheelchair my butt is about 19" off the ground and my head is just above bumper-height of most SUV's and minivans.

Yup. Bumper height.

If I parked farther away, I'd be invisible as I wheeled past these vehicles, and I don't have the ability to sidestep one should it back towards me. The fewer cars you have to wheel behind, the safer you are. I'm not talking about the faint possibility that someone will back into me; any time I've wheeled behind a few cars, I've ALWAYS had a scare.

Oh, and those lines--the hash marks next to the spaces? They're so that lift-equipped handicapped vans can lower the lift. If someone parks there--whether it's car, motorcycle, or a bunch of lost shopping carts--the user can't get in or out of their van. It may look inviting as a scooter parking spot, but don't do it.

But here's the big issue. There's another component to handicapped parking spaces that reduce barriers, and that's the curb cut.

A curb cut is that little ramped spot on a curb that allows a wheelchair to roll up and down. It's a simple little thing, but for many of us in chairs it's the difference between going into a grocery store or sitting glumly by the curb wishing we could wheelie our chairs safely.

Those little curb cuts sit quietly outside the front of retail stores, grocery stores, post offices, airline terminals...just waiting to help someone get where they need to be.

They also tend to live in Fire Lanes.Sometimes they're hard to see--the paint has faded--but they're there.

Here's the problem. When someone pulls up to the Harris Teeter grocery store near my house and sits in the fire lane (to eliminate taking 20 more steps--why, that would be TRAGIC to have to walk 20 steps), they typically block the curb cuts that are placed near each door.

So even if I get into a handicapped parking space, I can't get into the store because some lazy fool is blocking the cut.

Last week, I watched someone pull over a curb cut and get out of their car--they were not only in the fire lane, but blocking my entrance. Ticked off, I decided to wheel down to the next one--which meant I was wheeling in traffic. No sooner did I get pointed in that direction that ANOTHER car parked in the fire lane in front of the curb cut. The college student--on her cell phone--lept out of her car and bounced into the store, without missing a beat in her conversation. Her activation of the car alarm punctuated her selfishness. It was mid-afternoon and the parking lot was not only nearly empty, but there were spaces next to the door just 20 feet away.

So while I'm not advocating that you confront someone who does not understand that parking their car in a fire lane AND blocking a curb cut is really, really stupid, I thought it was worth mentioning because I have done it myself many times as I thought I was politely helping a family member throw groceries in the car on a rainy day. I don't know how many times I've probably blocked a curb cut...while someone sat in a handicapped space and waited...and waited...for me to move so that they could simply go in the store. Curbside pickup is okay--we all do it--but I had no idea that by simply pulling forward a few feet or making sure I wasn't blocking a curb cut, I wasn't making someone sit and simmer needlessly--or worse, get stuck in a traffic lane because I had pulled in as they were exiting their car and making a beeline for the curb cut.

But know I know.

And so do you.