Sunday, July 29, 2012

Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation reports on 10 most accessible U.S. cities

from Journal Register News Service:

A city that's walkable may lure college grads and retirees, but urban areas that are accessible to even those who can't walk are more convenient for everybody.

The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation has long advocated for increased access for people with wheelchairs and has taken an interest in how cities are improving access and complying with the Americans With Disabilities act. Recently, it looked at 100 of America's largest cities and ranked them based on wheelchair access and quality of life for people using wheelchairs.

The group took climate into account and tried to avoid cities with extreme temperatures or snowfall that pose major obstacles to those living with paralysis. It also took into account air quality, number of physicians, rehab specialists and rehab centers, accessible fitness and recreation facilities and transit for the disabled.

If a city contained large numbers of physically disabled people and those people were able to get jobs, that was considered a plus. The age of the cities was also considered, especially since older buildings are tough to upgrade, as was each city's spending and eligibility requirements for Medicaid.

10. Lubbock, Texas

The home of Texas Tech is on a simple grid, has a Citibus bus system that recently deployed hybrid buses specifically equipped to accommodate full-sized wheelchairs and averages high temperatures near 60 degrees in the middle of February. It's a fairly sprawling urban center, but that climate and ease of navigation help shrink the distance from here to there.

9. Orlando, Fla.

Yes, it's in hurricane country, but it also has average temperatures in the 70s from November through March. Combined with the Lynx bus system that's wheelchair accessible, modern construction courtesy of Orlando's boundless sprawl and a vast health care network, Orlando's climate is pretty friendly to the wheelchair bound.

8. Winston-Salem, N.C.

There's certainly some overlap between cities friendly toward retirees and wheelchair users. Winston-Salem attracts both with help from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and Novant Health facilities, but the new construction that's accompanied the city's more than 50% growth since 1990 certainly makes it easier to manage.

7. Birmingham, Ala.

The city's been shrinking since the 1970s, but it still has winter temperatures in the 60s and vast health care resources thanks to the University of Alabama at Birmingham and HealthSouth(HLS). The biggest perk, however, comes from the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority, which operates nearly two dozen paratransit buses throughout the city.

6. Chicago

Old, snowy, vertical: How did Chicago get considered for this list? Part of it stems from the Chicago Transit Authority, which made more than 90 of its 145 rail stations ADA compliant and offers discounted fares to wheelchair users. The city's extensive health care infrastructure comes in handy as well, but the Healthy Community Mapping System that the University of Illinois is creating for the city to track the actual accessibility of buildings, fitness centers, sidewalks and stores will be a bit more helpful. The system will tell users where amenities are best and where obstacles such as steep lips on sidewalks or narrow doors will be a problem.

5. Portland, Ore.

The Legacy Health System, Oregon Health & Science University Hospital and other health care facilities give plenty of options for care, but the myriad means of reaching those facilities is what makes Portland so accessible. The city's buses, MAX light rail trains and streetcars all accommodate wheelchairs, but the TriMet transportation system's Lift service provides riders more than 250 minibuses and more than a dozen cars to take them around the city.

4. Denver

There was a time Denver was a big, sprawling, transit-deprived mess that was tough for just about anyone to navigate, but that time has long since passed. The Regional Transportation District has expanded its bus and rail offerings and made all of it wheelchair accessible with priority seating. It also offers an Access-a-ride program that takes wheelchair riders anywhere within a three-quarter-mile radius of its transit system.

3. Reno, Nev.

The Biggest Little City In The World can get pretty cold in the winter and windy all year long, but there's very little precipitation and very little to keep folks from getting around. The Regional Transportation Commission's wheelchair-accessible bus and bus rapid transit lines only helps by offering reduced fares for passengers with disabilities. RTC Access buses help shrink the city a bit as well by providing paratransit service in the city's center as well as some of its outlying areas.

2. Albuquerque, N.M.

It's tough to argue with those 50- and 60-degree temperatures in the winter, but Albuquerque's got a lot more to offer its wheelchair-using residents than pleasant weather. It's home to the best health care New Mexico has to offer and counts University of New Mexico Hospital, Presbyterian Hospital and Lovelace Women's Hospital among its premier facilities. The city's ABQ Ride bus and bus rapid transit services also chip in by being 100% ADA compliant, offering discounted fares and providing SunVan curb-to-curb paratransit to any point in the city.

1. Seattle

The city is synonymous with rain and is so hilly that some of its first roads were created in areas where loggers slid trees down to the waterfront. Fortunately, Sound Transit's bus and light rail lines (pictured) are wheelchair accessible, discounted and supplemented by paratransit van service. Metro Transit, meanwhile, offers a shared ride program, a map of accessible downtown routes and reduced fares. This not only helps improve access in a city that's notoriously tough to navigate, but opens up clear lanes to facilities such as Harborview Medical Center, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Swedish Medical Center, University of Washington Medical Center and the VA.