By Don Bluhm, Belleville
Having been a resident of Belleville for many decades, I have witnessed new buildings being constructed as well as watching some of the older buildings and businesses being removed, including the old water tower.
I enjoyed driving around the streets of Belleville, especially after Mayor Royce Smith had all the streets in Belleville changed from a dirt base to being new concrete streets in the early 1970s.
In March 2012 I was involved in an automobile accident (the air bag did not deploy) and after 22 months I came home. Due to my injuries, my mode of transportation has been reduced from driving and restricted to a power wheelchair.
The technology today allows people restricted to chairs to maneuver the chair through their blowing in and out of a mouthpiece, using the movements of their face, and other technical advancements. The one thing that has not been done is that the wheelchair does not have a suspension or shock absorber system such as we have on our cars. Consequently, when you have an uneven surface to maneuver over the ride becomes very harsh, jarring, and sometimes impossible, causing accidents and tip overs.
I believe that the Legion of wheelchair users would classify Belleville and say that the city does not realize how unfriendly the situation is in our town. I would like to point out a few examples and wonder if they can be taken care of to comply with the American Disabilities Act. I have asked the editor of the Independent to accompany me to take photos of these conditions that I have found using my wheelchair on areas of city sidewalks and streets.
1. My normal path is to walk the lakeside sidewalk at Horizon Park. I usually install an American flag on a four-foot shaft and put this in the back of my wheelchair, so the wheelchair would be more easily seen by motorists. You have to be careful when you cross into the park from Edison Street as motorists seem to either ignore or don’t see the stop sign and they go whistling through the intersection. Once you cross over into the park area at that location, you have to duck as the pine tree branches are extending out over the sidewalk hitting your face or head. New View.
2. The sidewalk to the gazebo structure provides a beautiful view of the lake and as you start to go to the Memorial, there is a row of bricks that have been laid on each side of the sidewalk; the row closest to High Street has sunken below the level of the sidewalk. When you have to go on them to allow other people to pass on the sidewalk it causes a most difficult time as the wheelchair does not want to follow the depression. And, when you try to bring it back up to the sidewalk, the wheels jump and pitch the chair awkwardly, endangering the occupant.
3. Several years back, I believe a grant was given to the city and the fishing pier and ramp was built in back of the Memorial. Today it is impossible for a wheelchair occupant to use this RAMP as the cement approach pad has sunken at least 3 inches below the wooden flooring of the ramp. I do not know who is responsible for the maintenance of this ramp, stairs, and fishing area, but in its present condition a handicapped person in a wheelchair cannot use it to get to the lake. Also, it does not meet the requirements of the American Disability Act. I was talking to another person who is confined to a wheelchair at this site one day when he told me that he had made a complaint to the city over several years ago and still nothing has been done. Who is responsible for the maintenance?
4. The driveway entrance into the city parking lot and the sidewalk by the Memorial is uneven, with holes that you have to maneuver around to get to the main street.
5. The northeast corner of Fifth Street, where the handicap ramp is located, has a very high curb at the north end and with one wheel going over that section and the other wheel going towards the center of the ramp, it causes the wheelchair to tilt in a very dangerous condition, possibly even a turnover.
6. As you take the sidewalk on the west side of Roys Street and get in front of the Baptist Church, there is a very bad groove completely across the sidewalk approximately 2-3 inches wide and the same depth. I’m certain that members of this church have made complaints about this condition, but it still exists.
7. If you’re going to the drugstore (Sav-on) on Main Street (remember, shop in Belleville), you come down High Street on the east sidewalk and be careful where the sidewalk has buckled, go past the Methodist Church, and cut through the city parking lot across the street from the library. This is what you will find: as you cross the street to go into the parking lot there are several giant potholes in the cement road you have to duck around and then you enter the parking lot and find the same conditions. The route is the one you want to take because there is a ramp in front of the alligator’s restaurant and you’re trying to use the shortest route, so as to use the shortest amount of electricity from your battery.
Well, I realize that wheelchair folks are in the minority and it’s not my position that every little thing has to be fixed for us, but some of these conditions I found to be interesting in my new view of Belleville.
I wish each member of the administration would use a wheelchair and ride with me so that they would know the conditions I have found. I’m sure that the American Disabilities Act covers these problems and I’m hoping that this small article will alert the administration so we can prevent liability lawsuits. I do not know of any specific program for city inspection of the roads or the sidewalks nor records of problems, repairs, and where or when the repairs have been made. Maybe it’s something that council would like for accountability.
By Don Bluhm, Belleville