Jarvis DeBerry did a good follow-on column to Da Paper’s recent story about access advocates suing NORTA over the awful state of the city’s bus stops. With 95% of those stops being inaccessible to wheelchairs, it’s time NORTA got a smackdown.
While I agree with Jarvis in his column, some things there need clarification. Jarvis writes about the late Jonah Bascle, comedian and disability advocate:
One of the things Bascle complained about was the impossibility of people in wheelchairs boarding the Uptown streetcars. But that’s only one part of the accessibility problem. Our sidewalks are in such disrepair that people who use motorized scooters are routinely forced into the roads. And a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court claims that almost 95 percent of the city’s bus stops are problematic for those who use wheelchairs.
This graf references two totally different issues. Streetcar access is a totally different animal from bus access. DeBerry references a 2013 story in The Gambit, quoting Jonah:
One of Bascle’s most visible crusades — and least successful — has been trying to make the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line usable by people in wheelchairs. While the red streetcars that run on Canal and now Loyola Avenue are accessible, the green streetcars that run on St. Charles Avenue are not.
Jonah interviewed me for his vlog back in 2012, and I explained this to him then. The red streetcars are all post-1990, meaning they all came about after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. When Riverfront began service in 1988, the equipment used on the line were three ex-NOPSI, 900-series arch roof cars, that left the city in 1964, when the Canal line was converted to buses. To augment these three cars, NORTA also used two Melbourne W-2 cars, which had center doors, making wheelchair access possible. When the line was totally re-worked in 1997, NORTA had to make entirely new streetcars, all with wheelchair access. ADA is clear–it’s an all-in proposition when it comes to access. Two out of five wasn’t going to cut it. Same for the return of the Canal line, in 2004, and the Loyola extension, in 2011.
At the risk of repeating myself over and over, here’s where St. Charles is problematic: it’s grandfathered in with respect to ADA. Because of its status as on the National Register of Historic Places, the green arch roof streetcars do not have to be modified for access. From a historical/tourism/nostalgia perspective, this is what people seem to want. It’s a big upraised middle finger to those who need wheelchairs to get around, however.
ADA doesn’t leave room for compromise, though. Were NORTA to run accessible equipment on St. Charles, in addition to the 1923 vintage arch roofs, there’s a very real possibility that access advocates could sue the Authority, forcing them to run 100% accessible equipment on the line. I told Jonah point blank: because access advocates want everything, they get nothing.
All that said, it’s time New Orleans has a serious discussion about the green streetcars. St. Charles is the busiest transit line in the city. Yes, modern LRVs/Trams wouldn’t be the same as the arch roofs, but St. Charles moves people. That’s more important than history.
Oh, and I miss Jonah.