Oak Ridge ought to sort out disability points, ETHRA service

A local organization is calling for the city of Oak Ridge to be more accessible for people with mobility issues and for better transportation services.

Members of the group, Strong and United’s Transportation and Mobility Committee, spoke to the Oak Ridge Urban Planning Commission Thursday. Strong and United is a local organization that discusses various Oak Ridge issues.

Member Marian Wildgruber gave a lecture accompanied by her service dog Farrah.

“There are a lot of people in Oak Ridge who would be out and about if they could,” said Wildgruber.

She recommended that the city invest more money in zebra crossings, sidewalks, and signals to make it easier for people with disabilities to travel to Oak Ridge. She described the current sidewalks as “crumbling” and “unsafe”.

She said the city doesn’t need to raise taxes but could move money away from other priorities. She compared the city’s current spending of $ 100,000 a year over 30 years to fix what she called the “worst” problems of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to a planned spending of $ 200,000 a year to replace lighting fixtures in parks and ball fields.

She also said the city’s contract with the East Tennessee Human Resources Agency (ETHRA), which provides bus services, should include service on Sundays and evenings. She also pointed out that the buses do not allow people to leave Oak Ridge on Saturdays. In her presentation and a subsequent interview, she pointed to other weaknesses in the city’s ability to provide public transportation, including the end of the voluntary myRide program, where volunteers provided ridesharing for older adults, and the end of a taxi program beforehand. She also criticized the current ETHRA system, which only makes public transport available to people on demand if ETHRA is contacted within 72 hours as needed and not on the same day.

Both in her lecture and in a subsequent interview, she stated that mobility issues for people with disabilities are personal. She said she was blind but hoped she could walk to Oak Ridge Unitary Universalist Church. However, she said the lack of signals or zebra crossings at certain intersections and the lack of a sidewalk near the Summit Medical Group of Oak Ridge, 809 Oak Ridge Turnpike, prevents them from traveling.

“There is currently no way to get to my church safely without a car,” she said.

“We hope to reach people in Oak Ridge who have a disability or know people who have it,” she said.

She said people could contact her at mwildgruber@comcast.net. At this email, people can contact her who want to “be part of this effort to improve transportation and infrastructure in Oak Ridge,” as well as those who have “mobility needs or concerns.”

Oak Ridge City Planning Commissioner Charlie Hensley said in response he would “certainly” recommend funding to help people with disabilities in the capital improvement program called CIP, a list of funding priorities drawn up by the planning commission. However, he said it was sometimes difficult to find funds.

“It’s frustrating from that side too,” he said.

Wayne Blasius, director of community development at Oak Ridge, described the inquiries from Wildgruber and her committee member Tom Burns as “reasonable.”

In addition to Wildgruber and Burns, the committee also includes Bill Moore, James Lewis, Linna Nicholas and Heidi Brenner.

Ben Pounds is a reporter for The Oak Ridger. Call him at (865) 441-2317 and follow him on Twitter @Bpoundsjournal.

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