Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Accessibility
American cities and towns are places where humans fear to tread. (Photo:
A few months ago, we had a discussion in this space
about the question of whether
mobility is a basic human right. Many commenters expressed concern
that framing the issue this way was counterproductive, leading to the
impression that people in our society should have the right to jet
anywhere they want at a moment’s notice. Here’s what commenter Mark
Walker had to say then:
I would argue that we’re already hyper-mobile and need to
reduce the need for mobility by building walkable communities served by
efficient and sustainable transit. Telling Americans mobility is a human
right is like telling the morbidly obese that Doritos are a human
Several other commenters suggested reframing the argument to
emphasize "accessibility" rather than "mobility." And that’s exactly
what member blog A
Place of Sense, in Indianapolis, is talking about today.
The blog’s author, Graeme Sharpe, writes that it can be
instructive to keep the Americans with Disabilities Act in mind when
considering how much access people have to the amenities and
opportunities of their towns and cities:
[T]he Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Title
III, clearly defines universal accessibility as a right.
Architectural barriers to access are not permitted in open
establishments, transportation, or public places.
It is well known that the layout of a city shows the values of
its citizens. Seen through the lens of the ADA, our street design
policies are upside down. Accessibility is a prime concern for any new
project, but other than a few laudable street designs (Cultural Trail!), most
cities cede the public right-of-way to automobiles without a second
I’m not arguing for a city closed to traffic (which would
present a barrier to access by itself), but certainly our cities need a
better balance. If we believe that universal accessibility is a civil
right worthy of our highest levels of protection, then why are there
barriers to access at nearly every street corner?
Why indeed? Why are so many of our towns and cities designed in
such a way that you need a car to cross a street safely (a situation I
experienced recently in Pahrump, Nevada)?
I personally have no problem with the term "mobility," if it is
understood as the ability to move about the public space safely and
freely. But whether you call it mobility or accessibility, people should
not be prisoners of municipal infrastructure that disenfranchises
anyone who is not driving an automobile — whether for reasons of age,
health, ability or personal choice.
More from around the network: Discovering
Urbanism on the preference young families show for auto-dependent
Go Ride a Bike on evolving bike etiquette in a city (Chicago) with
booming ridership. And Spacing
Toronto on the politics of biking in that city.