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Surviving the streets of Manteca

Handicapped deal with no space, potholes, steep ramps, oncoming traffic

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Surviving the streets of Manteca

Brad Peters of the Manteca Happy Wheelers and Manteca Bulletin Managing Editor James Burns share the road with traffic along Louise Avenue.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED February 8, 2014 1:34 a.m.

Brad Peters calls it “fanning his feathers.”

The quadriplegic puffs his chest out and widens his shoulders, making himself as tall as he can in his high-performance wheelchair. 

Then, with the throttle pinned down by his right hand, Peters jets onto Louise Avenue.

Into oncoming traffic … during the lunchtime hour … without the safety of a shoulder or bike lane.

Peters hugs the white line but still has two wheels firmly in the street, forcing a rush of cars, trucks and even a school bus to veer out of his path.

“That can’t be safe,” he says afterwards.

It’s not, but as he’s found navigating Manteca’s pathways for the last 30 years in a chair, sometimes it’s the only way.

On this particular stretch of road, between Garden Gate Drive and the alley at the Cardoza Shopping Center, there isn’t a shoulder or sidewalk for the chair- and scooter-bound. Just a dirt path chock-full of its own obstacles, whether it’s mud, glass, divots and holes, rocks or parked cars.

Instead, Peters, an outspoken advocate for Manteca’s disabled for the last 20-plus years, braves the roadways with a survival technique for the birds.

“It doesn’t affect me. It really doesn’t. I’ve been dealing with these kinds of issues since before the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) was put into place. I wheel in the streets,” he said. “But depending on your age, ability and chair, who wants to contend with that?”

Traveling the City of Manteca is risky business for those that require a wheelchair or scooter. Joanne McNabb, who suffers from multiple sclerosis and can no longer walk, was struck by a truck while in the crosswalk at Union and Center.

She suffered only bruising and abrasions. “I lucked out on that one,” the 65-year-old said. “It’s always good to remind people to keep their eyes open. We’re often there and you don’t even see us.”

On Tuesday, Jan. 28, an 83-year-old Merced man was thrown from his chair by a Honda Accord while crossing the street.

Safety and accessibility are real-life struggles among all disabled, said Peters, who has nearly been ejected from his chair by lifted sidewalks and toppled by ramps, too steep.

He considers himself fortunate. Where his chair can’t take him, his fully equipped van can. The 52-year-old says he speaks for the less fortunate.

“I’m representing anyone that is disabled. It’s not for me,” said Peters, who suffered a spinal cord injury during a diving accident at Woodward Reservoir in 1983. “I’m a tenacious guy. I really don’t know what gives me this passion. I’m not trying to be a butt. I’m just trying to get some action.”

 

Happy Wheelers serve as ears, eyes for city

When the phone in Cody Ross’ office rings he has a pretty good idea who and what waits on the other end – Peters with a problem.

Ross has developed a close relationship with Peters and the group he represents – the Happy Wheelers of Manteca, one of the more vocal ADA advocacy groups in the area. Ross once served as the City of Manteca’s ADA liaison, a position that has grown in importance since its inception a few years back.

As the point person for many of the calls and drop-ins, Ross was charged with bringing the city’s structures, streets and facilities within the guidelines established by the Americans with Disabilites Act of 1990.

“Happy Wheelers are the eyes and ears for us,” Ross said. “If they see a lift or a break in the sidewalk, it’s nice to have somebody report it instead of letting it sit and sit.”

Ross has since been transferred to the Parks and Recreation Department, but remains listed on the city’s website as the ADA liaison.

The calls for compliance continue to ring in his office – and he’s found that turning the page professionally is easier said than done.

For starters, he realizes the job has only just begun. Though Manteca has made considerable strides under his watch there is work left to be done.

Plenty of it, too. 

“There are a lot of cities and places not addressing anything. Then there are those that are on the cutting edge,” Ross said. “I think we’re doing a lot more than our neighboring cities. It’s a big undertaking, but it’s definitely worth it.

“That’s why the position was formed – to eliminate the headaches and problems. To show people that stuff was getting done,” he added. “There are still some things that need to be done.”

The city has contracted with the Disability Access Consultants (DAC), a nationwide company with an office in Oroville, to take stock of its problem areas.

A field officer with DAC began combing the streets and sidewalks on a scooter in September, Ross said, taking note of the various obstacles and issues affecting the disabled. 

To date, DAC has completed four of about 12 zones, canvassing the area from Union to Highway 99 and Louise to the 120 interchange.

“They’re creating a database,” Ross said. “This way the city can 1) use it as a master list for inventory of streets and 2) if we find issues, the city can prioritize and budget for those areas.”

 

City has done a lot but there is still a lot to do

By all accounts, the city has had a field officer all along.

Peters doesn’t keep a list, per se. Instead, he has documented the city’s needs with his camera. 

During a recent Happy Wheelers gathering, Peters asked fellow Wheeler Ronnie Schaapman to reach into his backpack.

Schaapman produced a photo album nearly a decade in the making. Pictures captured right-of-way issues, such as poles in the middle of sidewalks; raised and badly cracked sidewalks; sidewalks devoid of a ramp; and long stretches of roadway without shoulders, bike lanes or hard paths. 

There are areas that the city has addressed, such as the shoulder and sidewalk ramps at the Cottage Avenue overpass. About a half-mile away at the Louise overpass, a temporary ramp was poured and divots along the shoulder filled.

A foot path and ramp have also been installed near the corner of Atherton Drive and South Main Street, helping connect Woodward Avenue with Bass Pro and the Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley. 

In a highly publicized renovation, the City Hall and its surrounding infrastructure were brought into compliance with ramps and handrails. 

The city also added an ADA-compliant sidewalk near the Social Security Office on Commerce Avenue, a lift at the Lincoln Pool, re-did a parking lot and installed a transition ramp at Woodward Park, and continues to renovate the bus stops.

“A lot of credit goes to the city. We don’t want to dog them in any way,” Peters said. “They’ve done some great things.” 

McNabb agrees, but noted that the Wheelers won’t let the powers that be rest on their laurels.

“The city has done a lot so far,” she said. “The Wheelers are keeping them on track. … We point out the (areas) that are the biggest problems for us.” 

The underlying issues are time and finances, said Joe Kriskovich, director of human resources and risk assessment, as well as the city’s ADA compliance officer.

“We’re trying to address the biggest things and the ones the most people will benefit from,” Kriskovich said. “It’s difficult, because it comes down to finances.”

The city is in the process of creating a to-do list, but Kriskovich warned that these projects won’t be completed over night.

Much less, several nights.

“It’s expensive to redo sidewalks and streets. The first thing we need to do is develop an inventory to know what we have out there,” he said, “so that we can take steps to prioritize.

“That’s a few years down the road. … It’s a project – and a long-term project.”

 

Connectivity issues exist

Still, Peters remains persistent.

He points out connectivity issues throughout the city, the product, he suspects, of poor planning by the city and developers.

A lack of ramp, or curb cut, on either side of the Union Pacific railroad tracks on West Louise Avenue means the Foxfire and Mayors Park neighborhoods are accessible only by road. To make matters worse, the bike lane disappears in an area where the traffic moves at 40 mph.

There is no connecting sidewalk or footpath – and very little shoulder – along the southbound lane of South Main Street, just beyond the 120 overpass. 

The bike lane on Industrial Park Drive that many use for safe passage to Wal-Mart or the Burlington Coat Factory suddenly stops at Vanderbilt Circle. There is no shoulder or sidewalk on the opposite corner, just a parking area or oncoming traffic.

There are other concerns, all of which he keeps contained in an album and envelopes in the backpack that hangs from his chair.

“It’s a real issue. It is about safety and connectivity and accessibility,” he said. “Accessibility implies safety. Without it, our safety just isn’t there.”


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