Thursday, August 31, 2006

Where the Cabs Are, II

Civil Disobedience -- Or Simple Force of Habit?

Since writing "Where the Cabs Are", the number of cabs waiting, when I have been at the train station, has gone from a solid six down to two or three. Today, at 9:20 am, there were two, and in the first cab space, there was a car with a placard instead of a cab.

I went around to make sure that they hadn't changed the signs again, and they hadn't; the car with the crip placard was parked in a "Taxi" stand designated space. It made me smile broadly and wonder if a fellow crip was sticking it to the "man", or if, by force of habit, they had parked there because that is where they always park at the train station.

There was no ticket on the windshield, and a sheriff's car cruised through the parking lot real slowwww, but didn't give anyone a ticket while I was there.

To Be Continued?

I sent WTCA to the editor and the reporter from the MountainView Voice, and to a honcho at CalTrain, but have yet to hear from any of them. I'll let you know what happens, if anything...

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Where the Cabs Are...

...At the Mountain View Train Station

Every weekday, I take the VTA light rail from my home in Sunnyvale to the Mountain View CalTrain station. In addition to being at the end of the Winchester-Mountain View line of the light rail, CalTrain stops here, and there is considerable bus service.

One of the things I always admired about this station was how they had laid out the disabled parking. It is right next to the CalTrain south-bound platform, near to the cross-over to to get to the light rail line and to the north-bound CalTrain platform. All of the crip spaces are flush with the platform/sidewalk, so one does not have to negotiate any ramps or curbs; all of the spaces adjoin the sidewalk so the path of travel is completely safe.

Last week, when I got to the station, I was shocked to see several cabs in parked in the designated crip spaces. I watched them -- the drivers were milling about the six cabs that were waiting -- in the half hour while I waited for the train, one person came up and took a cab. Another empty cab immediately took it's place.

I called the 800 number on the cabs and reported -- what I thought -- were illegally parked cabs.

All is Not as it Appears

When I got back to Mountain View that evening, the cabs were still there. I went up to a driver and said, "How come you guys are parking here now?" He looked at me blankly -- whether flummoxed by my question or my English, another driver interceded.

"In response to a complaint," he said, gesturing to the sign posted in front of the parking space.

"Doh", I thought. This was the first time I had observed the scene from the parking lot side of the signage. Low and behold, Taxi Parking had replaced several crip spaces, and they had the signage to prove it.

"Oh," I said. "Thank you." Glad not to have screeched at him for parking in the space that he was authorized to park in...

From One Extreme to Another?

After that, I started watching the cab situation every time I was at the station, generally between 10:30 - 11 am and between 5:30 - 7 pm. Six cabs always parked -- at most I've seen one cab taken in the time I'm watching.

In the meantime, I'm guesstimating that 4 crip parking spaces have been sacrificed. And yes, most days, all of the remaining crip spaces are being used, legitimately, by people with placards. Since gas prices have gone up, I've noticed that the parking lot is pretty full, until after 6:30 pm or so in the evenings, when people start coming home from work.

A sign next to the new Taxi Parking area says that there is additional "handicap" parking at the end of the platform, but when I went to look for it last week, I couldn't find it. I did see a new asphalt ramp -- there is a curb at that end, instead of being flush -- where they may be adding a couple of crip parking spaces, but they are the equivalent of a block or more away from where they were removed. This would be okay if you were taking CalTrain, but if you are coming to the station to catch the light rail or a bus, then you have considerably increased the distance to your public transit.

Where the original spaces were designated is as close as you can get with a car to both the light rail and the designated wheelchair/disabled waiting areas for either direction of travel on CalTrain. The location of the spaces to be added, as I understand it requires a lot more travel to get to either the CalTrain crip boarding areas or the light rail.

The additional distance wouldn't be a huge hardship for me, as I use a power chair, but it would matter if I was walking with a mobility impairment, or pushed a manual chair with difficulty. It is also further away from the bulk of activity, and would be creepier the later and the darker it gets.

Playing the Crip Card

In the article in the MountainView Voice by Daniel DeBolt (, mentions the difficulty of catching a cab "--even those with a disability or carrying heavy bags--" had to cross the parking lot to go to Evelyn Street where the cabs were lined up. He also quotes a Mountain View resident as saying, "The easy answer is for CalTrain to carve out a half-dozen spots for taxis."

Which is exactly what they did -- six taxi spots in lieu of four crip spaces.

My Questions:

  • Did anyone do any sort of a survey to see what the actual need was for cab service -- as in how many cabs need to be parked in the station at any given time?
  • Collaterally, did anyone monitor the usage of the disabled spaces, and whether they were being used?
  • Did anyone consider the impact of the relocation of the disabled spaces that are supposedly being added at "the southern end of the platform"?

I'm not a fan of "task forces", but a judicious week long observation of the parking lot at key times, plus a few random times, should establish actual traffic patterns and not arbitrary numbers.

Of Note

At right angles to where the taxis are now parked, and where the flush crip spaces have been removed, there is a row of paid spaces. Did anyone consider converting those spaces to taxi parking instead of changing the number and designation of the disabled parking spaces? If the taxis were there, they are almost exactly as close to the train and light rail station.

First Impressions, and Second Ones

Before I heard about the article in the MountainView Voice that may have prompted this change, I thought, "somebody at the cab company" must have "greased" somebody at CalTrain or in Mountain View's government to get this put through.

Now that I know that this article appeared in the July 28th, 2006 issue of the Voice, I am amazed at how fast the change was made, having had some experience in how slowly the wheels of various governmental and quasi-governmental entities can turn. Which made me reflect on my first, erroneous impression.

I also wondered if any attempt was made to talk to any actual disabled commuters as to how this change might effect them.


When I arrive at the Mountain View station in the morning, and note that all of the crip spaces are taken, as well as the cluster of chatting taxi drivers around their stationary cabs -- it pisses me off.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The More Money You Have, The Better Off You Are -- Who Knew?

A friend forwarded this article to me, which is actually pretty interesting because it points up the fact that even moderate increases in resources can translate into measurable differences in amount of functional limitation. This also dovetails with my belief that the more you can accommodate someone's disability (which usually takes money), the more you can mitigate the functional limitations and increase quality of life. This is, for me, stating the obvious, but apparently the concepts are supported by controlled studies as well. disability.shtml

New study links higher income with lower disability rates
By Sarah Yang, Media Relations 16 August 2006

BERKELEY – Numerous studies have already established the link between extreme poverty and poor health, but a new study led by a public health researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, has found that health disparities exist even between those with higher incomes.

"What was unusual was that we found that people in the middle class were still at a disadvantage compared with those at just a slightly higher income," said Meredith Minkler, professor of health and social behavior at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health and lead author of the study, published in the Aug. 17 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

"The fact that there's a significant difference between people at 600 and 700 percent above the poverty level was a striking finding of this study."

Household income was categorized into nine levels, from less than 100 percent of the poverty line to 700 percent and higher. In 2000, the poverty threshold for a person living alone who was 65 or older was $8,259 per year, and it was $17,761 for a four-person household. A single 65-year-old living at 600 percent of poverty would therefore earn $49,544 per year in income while someone at 700 percent of poverty would earn $57,813. A four-person household at 600 percent of poverty would take in $106,566 per year, while the comparable annual income at 700 percent is $124,327.

"We have lots of evidence that wealthier people in society are healthier and live longer than the poorest, but less settled is whether you see this gradient with respect to disability, and whether it plays out among older people," said Minkler.

The researchers found significant differences in the rates of limitations even among those in the upper income brackets. Among those who were 55-74 years old, even those at 600-699 percent of the poverty line had elevated odds of having a disability compared to those at 700 percent and higher. For example, women aged 55-64 in the 600-699 percent category had 16 percent higher odds of disability than women in the 700 percent bracket, and men aged 65-74 in the 600-699 percent group had 44 percent higher odds than men in the 700 percent group.

Co-authors of the study are Esme Fuller-Thomson, associate professor of social work at the University of Toronto, and Jack Guralnik, M.D., chief of the Laboratory of Epidemiology, Demography and Biometry Section at the National Institute on Aging.

The researchers looked at data from 335,000 respondents aged 55 and older to the Census 2000 American Community Survey. They compared poverty level status with the rate of functional limitation, defined as a long-lasting condition that substantially limited one or more basic physical activities, such as walking, reaching or lifting. They chose functional limitation as a variable over death or illness, since many chronic diseases affect functional status.

Of the respondents surveyed, 80,791 had functional limitations. Not surprisingly, the prevalence of functional limitation increased with age. Among men aged 55-64 years, 16.2 percent reported some level of functional limitation compared with 47.5 percent for those aged 85 years and over. Among women who were 55-64 years old, 17.2 percent had functional limitation compared with 57.9 percent for those 85 and over.

The researchers found the biggest differences among the younger age group, those aged 55-64. In that group, people who were living in poverty were six times more likely to report functional limitation than people in the same age group who were living at or above 700 percent of the poverty level, with very little difference between men and women.

"These findings underscore that poverty is one of the major risk factors for disability," said Fuller-Thomson.

The study authors point to a number of possible explanations for the social gradient in health. The upper class has lower rates of smoking, and may have less stress, better access to health coverage, and healthier environments, including safer neighborhoods that encourage walking and have less pollution, even when compared with those living comfortable middle class lives, according to the researchers.

"We know that Americans 55 and above today are relatively health conscious compared to prior generations, but it may be that the wealthiest Americans have the greatest edge in acting upon their motivations to stay healthy," said Minkler. "For instance, wealthier adults with problems walking can afford to renovate their homes to make them more accessible to wheelchairs. This could include widening doorways and installing ramps in the home's front entrance."

The researchers point out that while the rate of disability has been declining slowly but steadily over the past two decades, the aging of the baby boomer generation means that the sheer number of people with disabilities is going to increase.

"There are now almost 8,000 people turning 60 every day in the U.S.," said Minkler. "It's therefore important for us to understand all of the factors that affect disability rates. Social class is a badly neglected determinant of health and illness. This study highlights that socioeconomic status operates independently of such factors as race, ethnicity and health behaviors. Although researchers often control for social class, it warrants much more focused attention."

The study was funded by a grant from the Retirement Research Foundation with additional support from the National Institute on Aging, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Smooth as a Baby's Butt...

(Not that I have any personal experience with babies or their butts. One hopes, however, that their butts live up to the smoothness fabled in story and song...)

...Pavement, That Is

Last weekend, my sister and I went to have lunch with the Units (parental units). As we turned onto the freeway, sis exclaimed, "Oooo, new pavement. They haven't even painted the lines yet."

Which reminded me of this blog I've been meaning to write.

The Ground Beneath my Wheels (not to be confused with the wind beneath my wings)

Since I spend approximately 10 hours a day in my wheelchair -- from leaving my house in the morning to get on the light rail to begin my commute, to the return trip in the evening -- in any given day I experience driving over a wide variety of surfaces:

  • asphalt (blacktop)
  • concrete
  • bricks (decorative and regular)
  • decomposed granite
  • dirt
  • low pile carpet
  • wood flooring
  • vinyl or linoleum
  • polished stone (as you will find in some shopping malls)
  • sand or gravel (rarely)
  • decorative concrete (you know, the kind that has little rocks mixed in -- medium bumpy)

I have solid inserts in my tires because I don't want to have to deal with getting a flat, so my ride is a little bumpier than it would be if I had air in the tires. The tradeoff of no flats is more than worth it. (Some people who have disabilities which make them more sensitive to the jarring of the ride can't really take advantage of this no-flat option.)

Sidewalks -- Repaired and Not -- The Bad Patch

At the beginning of the summer, some bureaucratic body (I don't know who has jurisdiction over this stretch of sidewalk) finally repaired a stretch of sidewalk that has been problematic for as long as I have used it, which is about 10 years.

It is on the route to downtown from Ivy West University, as well as from either downtown or IWU to the train station. The sidewalk was rendered dangerously uneven by tree roots, displacing slabs of concrete a good six inches up and then down again. It had been patched -- badly -- with some laying on of asphalt some time back. It was far worse than crossing the train tracks, which I have to do several times a day.

Go, Speed Racer

When I am coming from work to catch the train, I am going full-out in my chair (around 5 mph), allowing for traffic, bicycles, pedestrians and pavement quality. When I came to TBP, I would come to a full stop, and then ease over the displaced sidewalk. Now that it is repaired, I don't even slow down until I reach the pedestrian tunnel -- where there is a 2 inch bump where the sidewalk transitions into the tunnel. It is as smooth as a baby's butt. And, since I'm unaccustomed to it as yet, it gives me a little thrill of pleasure every time I go that route.

It's the little -- and, one hopes, smooth -- things in life.