"Rewriting the Myths, Redefining the Realities"
by Homer Page
On January 17, members of the disability community and the Colorado Mobility Coalition (CMC) met with representatives of RTD and Transit Alliance to learn more about the RTD plan to create more accessible transit in the metropolitan Denver area. The Statewide Independent Living Council
(SILC) and CMC organized the meeting. Chris Quinn, a planner with
RTD, presented the plan, and Lauren Martens, Director of the Transit Alliance and Kelly
Nordini, Associate Director, discussed the political dimensions of implementing the plan.
Participants agreed that the build-out of the transit system would aid persons with disabilities to live more independently. Accessible transit is consistently identified, along with housing and health care, as the highest priorities for the disability community. George Roberts, a representative of the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition (CCDC), recalled the struggle that ADAPT waged to get RTD to make its buses accessible. “We surrounded the bus and chained ourselves together – right in downtown Denver,” he said. George is one of the persons who took part in that historic action. He noted how important accessible transportation is for persons with disabilities, and how the current initiative can increase the mobility of the disability community.
The RTD initiative includes light rail, commuter rail, buses, HOV lanes, and improved traffic management. “We are not anti-highway,” said Mr. Quinn. “The build out of the transit system will help everyone, including the auto drivers. Rapid population growth in the metropolitan area will keep highway construction at full speed just to handle projected growth, never mind the effect on air quality, the stress level of drivers, or the parking problems that will result from many more cars being in use.” The transit build out can help with all of these issues, according to Mr. Quinn. Here is a good example of the interests of the disability community coinciding with those of the community at large.
The RTD plan calls for a commuter link from Arvada to DIA running along I70, a light rail track from Parker Road to I70 running along 225 and connecting the southeast corridor with the commuter rail line, a light rail connection running west from downtown Denver to Lakewood, commuter rail, bus rapid transit and extended HOV lanes from Denver to Boulder, and HOV lanes along I25 extending north to 124th Avenue. In addition, improvements in signal lights and intersections will enhance the flow of traffic.
The price tag on this plan is estimated to be $4 billion to be financed over a 30-year period. A 4/10’s of a cent sales tax is to be sought from the voters to pay for the plan. Currently the RTD tax is 6/10’s of a cent. If the RTD voters approve the sales tax increase, the total sales tax will be one cent on each dollar.
It is not a simple matter for the RTD board to place a sales tax issue on the ballot. Before that can happen, the legislature must authorize it and the Governor must sign the bill into law. Currently all transit districts, with the exception of RTD, can take an issue to the voters upon their own initiative, but legislators have not given RTD that much independence.
Legislation is being introduced by Senator Windells and Representative Swenson to permit RTD to ask district voters for a tax increase. Transit Alliance, made up of local governments, chambers of commerce, and other civic groups, has been working on the passage of this legislation and then will work on the campaign for the tax increase. Lauren Martens and Kelly Nordini coordinate the work of the Alliance.
Transit Alliance has invited the disability community to join the effort. This is an exciting opportunity to advocate for system change in a high priority area. Judy Neal, co-director of Denver Center for Independent Living (DCIL), says, “We want to get involved. There are many transit issues that we need to address, and this is a good place to start.”
Ms. Neal is currently working to get the RTD route to come down the street upon which DCIL offices are located. The current route goes down a street, which is without sidewalks. She says, “The bus stop is really inaccessible for people using wheel-chairs and blind persons.”
Participants in the January 17 meeting mentioned less frequent weekend service, excessive commute time, and unserved areas as priority improvements that would address the needs of the disability community. The system build out promises to address these priorities.
2002 is an election year. The office of the Governor will be on the ballot. For this reason, many feel it would be wise to wait until 2003 to ask the voters for a tax. There is a bill, however, sponsored by Senator Ron Tupa of Boulder that calls for a 2002 vote. Senator Sue Windells of Arvada and Representative Bill Swenson of Longmont sponsor the bill that seeks to create parity between RTD and the other transit districts in Colorado. The effect of this legislation will be to allow the RTD board to make the decision about when an election requesting a sales tax increase will be placed before the voters.
Before legislation can become law, it must have the Governor’s signature. Dan Hopkins, Press Secretary for Governor Owens, told The Colorado Quarterly. “While the Governor does not take a position on specific legislation until it comes to his desk, he favors RTD having parity with the other transportation districts in the state. His only caveat is that any plan set forth must be consistent with the Colorado Department of Transportation Comprehensive Plan.”
Lauren Martens says, “We are really pleased with the Governor’s position. The bill sponsors are still working on some details with the Governor’s staff, but we are very hopeful that everything can be worked out.” The details being negotiated revolve around how complete the RTD plan must be before it goes to the voters, and what the timing should be for the development of the CDOT State Plan. While there are details that must be worked out, it appears that there is a growing consensus on the approach to the creation of expanded, accessible transportation in the Denver metropolitan area.
The creation of accessible transportation for persons with disabilities began in the streets over twenty years ago. Now the action has moved to the legislature and, in another year, it will move to the polling booths. The struggle for independence takes many forms but as the transit issue demonstrates, we’re winning the battle.
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Copyright 2002 A&H Publishing Corporation