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In Phoenix, a Light Rail Station Designed For, and By, People With Disabilities

The new 50th Street Station on Washington Street in Phoenix was built specifically to meet the needs of people with disabilities. Rendering: Valley Metro

In Phoenix, people with disabilities have an incredible resource called Ability360.

Hundreds of people with a wide range of disabilities go to the Ability360 center on Washington Street each day for recreational activities like wheelchair lacrosse or adaptive climbing. They can get physical therapy, or connect with job training programs.

But frustratingly, Ability360 always been just barely out of reach of transit. Phoenix's light rail has run past Ability360 since 2008, but the closest stations are about a mile away in each direction.

That's about to change, however, thanks to the people who use and work at Ability360, as well as Phoenix residents' decision to invest in transit.

Beginning in 2013, the Ability360 community began pressing Phoenix's Valley Metro to install an infill station at the site, lobbying the transit agency as well as local political leaders. At the time, the city had a newly elected mayor and City Council.

"We asked for a meeting to see if it was possible to have a light rail stop," said David Carey of Ability360.

That same year, James Rojas and his firm Place It! put on a workshop to imagine a station built for people who rely on Ability360. Learning first-hand from them about the challenges they face navigating the built environment was illuminating.

"Everyone has all these different disabilities, how they walk, how they feel, how they see," said Rojas.

The station design that came out of that process caters to the wide range of special needs for users of Ability360. The infill station will cost $23 million and is slated to open next year.

The new station will have a wider platform, to allow wheelchair users to maneuver around each other. There won't be any sudden changes of grade for people crossing the street or boarding the train. At the request of the community, it will also have ample shade.

"Many individuals don’t drive for a variety of reasons," said Carey. "That stop is going to make it much easier to get here. Right now you have to walk a mile or get on a bus."

Funding for the station comes via a 2015 Phoenix-area ballot measure, Prop 104, that will provide $31 billion over the next few decades to expand transit access. That money, and the support of Valley Metro and political officials, helped fast-track the project, said Carey.

The new 50th Street Station broke ground this summer, making it the first project to use Prop 104 funds.

"They were able to expidite it," he said. "Otherwise it would have taken years."

Carey said excitement is growing among Ability360 patrons as they begin to see the project they worked on being built right across the street from the center.

"It's going to open up a lot more opportunities for people," said Carey.

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