Meet the Cincinnati Wheelchair User Struck Three Times by Drivers

Photo:  Digging Cincinnati
Photo: Digging Cincinnati

Neil Kelly is just trying to get to work.

During a 10-month period, the social services worker, partially paralyzed since birth, been struck by drivers on three occasions trying to reach his downtown Cincinnati office. The drivers were found at fault in all three cases.

Neil Kelly was hit by drivers three times in Cincinnati over a 10 month period. Photo via Neil Kelly
Neil Kelly was hit by drivers three times in Cincinnati over a 10-month period. Photo via Neil Kelly

Hannah Sparling at the Cincinnati Enquirer first brought attention to Kelly’s struggle in the article, “Dear Drivers: This Man Would Like You to Stop Hitting Him.”

The tone of the article was lighthearted, but it has been serious for Kelly — even though he’s not the type to play victim. And it highlights a very serious larger problem for people who rely on wheelchairs to get around.

The federal government and local police departments don’t carefully track crashes involving wheelchair users. But a 2015 study found they face a 36-percent greater risk than pedestrians on foot.

Streetsblog got in touch with Kelly to talk about the situation:

Streetsblog: So are you okay? You were not seriously injured, is that right?

Neil Kelly: One thing I should mention, I don’t have any kind of feeling below my waist at all.

The first time I was hit was the most serious. I broke my left leg in two places. I was knocked from my chair, I scraped my face on the pavement.

The second one I just sort of tipped over.

The third time, the driver was going so slow from a stop sign. So I just kind of spun around, did a 90-degree turn when I was hit. 

I’ve been really lucky.

It’s funny to hear you say you’ve been lucky after going through all this. Where were you hit? 

The first one was October, 2017. I had just started a job a couple of weeks earlier. I was in a crosswalk downtown. I was down by our justice center/courthouse area. I was crossing in a crosswalk. It was one of the lanes where there’s two right turn lanes. The first one stopped, the second one the right turn lane just kept going. She was looking across not directly in front of her. That was the most serious one. 

Was she in an SUV?


I think she struck me more or less with the front of her car. That’s when I went tumbling into the street. I was out of work for probably three days.

So this all happened in the last 10 months since you started a new job working downtown?


What were you doing prior?

I work at Job and Family Services. I help people out with food assistance. 

Before that I was unemployed for a few years. Or underemployed. Doing grant writing. I was an intern in our Mayor’s Office. 

Are you traumatized by what happened to you?

I don’t want to use the word scared. I would say startled often. Always way more cognizant of everything around me. I take a lot of time to cross the crosswalk now. 

I really only have the use of one hand, when so when I really pay attention to my right side. Because I’d really be in trouble if something happened to my right arm.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt fear. 

What do you think the problem was? 

I don’t know. I think some of it was … since I’ve gotten an orange flag I use most of the time. I think part of the problem was that I’m lower than most adults. Not so low that I’m shorter than a kid.

I measured it. I think I’m I’m like 4-foot-7 from the top of my head to the ground.

All of the cars that have hit me have been bigger cars, like a mid-sized SUV. The third one was a church van. 

I’ve heard some people talk about Vision Zero or safe streets. I don’t have any knowledge about that. I couldn’t speak to that, about how that would affect me. 

It was a mixture of things in every situation.

How has this affected your life?

The headaches of dealing with insurance companies every month. The headaches of having to order a new wheelchair. [Editor’s note: The wheelchair that was totaled cost $50,00.] That wheelchair that was totaled, I actually ended up using it for another 10 months or so.

It was kind of crappy, it got crappier over 10 months and it just died. I had to get a new one on my own and I still haven’t been paid for that.

Were you worried about losing your employment?

Fortunately, no. My manager’s amazing. I have a union representing me. I never worried at all about my employment fortunately.

Do you think the environment in Cincinnati is partly to blame? 

I’m involved a lot in the buses conversation too. We’re trying together a levy going to improve service. [Streetsblog has written about the failure of Cincinnati leaders to properly fund Cincinnati Metro bus. Kelly wrote a great editorial for the Enquirer describing how important bus service is to his freedom, independence and quality of life.]

Cincinnati is just very driver-centric in ways that other cities of our size just aren’t necessarily. There’s a lot of cars, a lot of parking, a lot of empty unused space just sitting there waiting for cars

That has to make it harder to get around.

I’m the kind of person who doesn’t focus a lot on the negative. I don’t really know what the alternative is. 

I’m sure it does make it more difficult than in other places that care a little more about pedestrians, have considered them in how they draw up streets and their public policy decisions.

16 thoughts on Meet the Cincinnati Wheelchair User Struck Three Times by Drivers

  1. Meet a 62 year-old car driver, career truck driver, licensed single-engine private pilot, licensed watercraft operator for boats of up to 40 feet in length, who also has considerable time riding snowmobiles and motorcycles who has been rear-ended 11 times in my 4 million miles of driving, plus sideswiped 6 times, 3 of those times by people who tried to pass me in a 5-foot wide bicycle lane while I was trying to drive an 18-wheel truck in Chicago and they didn’t make it. One of those times it was a full-size freight 6-wheel truck who tried to roar by me in the bike lane on Elston, and he hit me and badly-damaged several parked cars too. I couldn’t get over as I had a city bus coming the other way.

    One guy in Chicago driving a hot-rod Beamer tried to pass me in-between parked cars in the 3200 block of South Ashland and he didn’t make it either. The cop told me that I had to learn to watch-out for that kind of stuff in Chicago. Another time in New Orleans some car driver lost-control after somebody swerved a lane over, forcing him to lock-up his brakes, and he ended-up under the right side of my trailer when I was turning left, with no way to see him.

    I once got rear-ended by a Indiana Hwy Dept snowplow during a blizzard on I-94 in Michigan City, IN during the winter of 1984-85 too. Just my luck, stopped in the right lane at the end of a line of traffic in blizzard conditions, with my 4-way flashers going, when a snowplow went by on my left doing about 35 mph, and then CRASH from behind. The lower left corner of my trailer tore a 3-foot diameter hole in the plow blade and the plow driver cut his face all up coming partway through the windshield, but my 4-way flashers still worked and it didn’t damage my cargo, a load of Keebler cookies from Grand Rapids. I still drove to Denver after the accident. .

    Heck, one time some guy impaled his car on the end of my trailer’s back bumper when I was trying to back into a street freight dock in Chicago too. Boy was he mad, as the back bumper impaled his right headlight and destroyed his car battery too. He was so mad that he called the cops. What was the first sentence out of that cop’s mouth when he showed-up? The cop said “Sir, what are you doing driving on the sidewalk?” It wasn’t just driving on the sidewalk it was actually driving the wrong way on the sidewalk between parked cars and a building. Almost all of us got a good laugh after that.

    So my advice if you are a pedestrian or someone in a wheelchair is to NEVER enter a roadway unless you make eye-contact with the car driver(s) to your left or right. Don’t depend on painted lines on pavement or the color of the traffic light to save you as they won’t make one little bit of difference if the car driver doesn’t see you, and/or they are in a big hurry to pass an 18-wheel truck while driving in the bike lane, between parked cars, or driving the wrong way on the sidewalk either!!!

    Somehow I have driven about 4.25 million miles in my life plus have 350 hours of private pilot experience, and thousands of hours in boats and on snowmobiles with only three minor chargeable accidents, one in a parking lot and another in a gas station trying to back-out of a service bay when somebody came flying in off the road, but my experience is the exception not the rule.

  2. “So my advice if you are a pedestrian or someone in a wheelchair is to NEVER enter a roadway unless you make eye-contact with the car driver(s) to your left or right.” This is not too helpful if you are trying to get anywhere. We need a better solution.

  3. “I might add that the scenario where a vehicle in the right lane stops
    for a pedestrian and another vehicle in the second lane doesn’t stop is
    fairly common.”

    I feel like we’ve been motor-splained. In any case, people who read this blog are well aware of the problem wherein a single driver stopped on a 4+ lane road coaxes a bystander into a dangerous situation. The solution is for drivers to stop trying to control non-drivers.

    On the plus side, Mr Richardson’s comment includes several examples of driver behavior that could be rendered impossible by a vision-zero re-design of streets. Improved streets can’t come fast enough.

  4. I try to offer some helpful advice and all you want to do is call me names? Take a hike bozo, would it surprise you to know that I had a 3.5 GPA in my Urban & Regional Planning Masters degree at the University of Colorado Denver focused on Regional Sustainability just in the last two years?

    I also took Urban Planning at Cleveland State in the 1980s where one of my professors was the former APA President and former Cleveland City Planning Director Norm Krumholz, whom I had 3 classes with including a 400-level Urban Planning core course I got an A in back in the fall of 1986 before many Streetsblog readers were born. I also have a Sustainable Land Use Planning degree from the Metro State Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences in Denver which I graduated from in 2013 with honors.

    I also have more than 30 years of experience in urban freight transportation planning and wholesale fresh food supply chain, warehousing, and distribution, and I also have a CDL-A, a private pilots license, as well as am licensed to captain ships and yachts up to 60 feet in length too. Just think, in another 5 months I will be old-enough to start drawing Social Security, and if you were one of my CU-Denver classmates you have quite a few years to work at it yet to get nearly as far as I have in my life too.

    Heck. my wife and I own an $800K house that is still rising in value by 7% per-year. It is our 6th house, we just bought it in December, 2013. We own two full-size 4WD SUV’s, mountain property in Gilpin County, a 27-foot travel trailer, and a club membership in Cancun. Though I used to ride a bicycle nearly every day I haven’t ridden one since the mid-1970s. I have owned a total of 19 cars and two 18-wheel trucks in my life as well as an 18-foot boat too. Would you believe that I attended the 1964 NY World’s Fair at Flushing Meadow more than once too?

    Now even though I took several of my classmates out to dinner and cocktails at the $40/plate Buckhorn Exchange and paid for it myself I can see that some of my 20-something classmates wouldn’t want to hang around someone as old or older as their parents either. Our youngest son of 3 was that way though he has grown out of it now that he is over age 25. I was even that way when I was in my teens and early 20s too.

    I even used to work in Cincinnati for Kroger’s meat supplier as a trucker back in 1981 and early 1982 when I still lived in Detroit in my mid-20s.

    What is the median driver recognition, reaction, and then stopping distance combined of a loaded 18-wheel from or even a loaded city bus from 30 mph? Just figure about 2 seconds median for recognition and reaction time and then another half-second for air-brake application time before any slowing occurs, which is 110 feet. Then it takes another 150 feet to stop.

    if you stop too fast in a loaded bus some of the passengers might get thrown through the windshield, and if you stop too fast driving an 18-wheel flatbed load of coiled steel those 25-ton coils will break-loose, roll right over the cab of the truck and then roll right down the street crushing anything in their way flat. Just remember that next time you are trying to play beat the truck or bus.

    As I said, don’t assume that anyone driving sees you. There are 1000 distractions and even without distractions just normal driving requires looking 8 different ways plus at the dashboard instruments every couple seconds or you will potentially miss seeing something that could kill or badly injure you or them. You probably don’t know that as it sounds like a lot of you don’t drive.

    The chance that central city car-haters will get rid of cars in your lifetime isn’t that great as the value of 80% of urban real estate in America is based on owning a car and being able to supply that real estate by car, truck, and bus.

    Did you know that right now despite a record hot economy with a 3.25% average annual growth rate for the last 7 years and a 2.75% average annual jobless rate since 2012 Metro-Denver’s local 7-County mass transit agency is on the ragged edge of bankruptcy, having to defer maintenance, facing rapidly-falling ridership, now below 5% of trips, in a rapidly-growing urban area of 3.2 million people, as car use continues to surge?

    Do you think that robot cars are going to take more than 15-20% of urban travel demand over the next 15-20 years? That is not what extensive graduate and PHD analysis at CU Denver has found, which has also found that robot cars will pull considerable ridership away from public transit too, perhaps as much as one-third.

    How much less than current taxicabs will robot cars cost? It depends how many there are on the street, and whether cities try to limit the number of operators and the number of such cars on the street in-order to maximize tax revenue and/or guarantee profit. Does your city allow an unlimited number of electricity, cable-TV, or natural gas providers or do utility monopolies control those? Let’s figure about $1.50/mile average for a robot car, more if your city grants a monopoly to a single or even a limited approved number of operators.

    We do however have a decent chance of getting rid of cars, buses, trucks, trolleys, light rail trains, freight trains, and ships and airliners too, as well as getting rid of cities and their populations over the next 30 or 40 years though, as by 2035 our entire remaining carbon budget will only be enough to supply a 2000-calorie average daily diet that is 50% lighter on meat, fish, and dairy products than today, and increase the size of the required water treatment and distribution infrastructure as well as wastewater treatment infrastructure enough to accommodate global population growth through roughly 2050.

    After that we will have no remaining carbon budget left with the global food supply by then continuing to put out 30% of today’s carbon emissions, with up to a couple billion people looking for a new place to live that has a viable water supply. Do you like it hot? If not you are going to learn to like it or live deep underground.

    Before 2050 half of US and Mexican groundwater will be depleted and/or polluted with salt, brine, or toxic chemicals, as will the groundwater currently supplying several billion people worldwide, with a 50% to 70% loss of global nigh altitude snow cover, glacial cover, and annual runoff by mid-century too.

    At-least the cities of the Great Lakes region and those fronting on major northern rivers inland off the ocean shouldn’t have a problem with water supply unless too many refugees show up and half or more of global farmland is also rendered non-viable due to rising temperature, rising surface evaporation rates in dry regions, the loss of water supply, salinization of soils, loss of topsoil, and aridification.

    So how much food does it take to supply an average 2000-calorie daily diet on a per-population basis today and how much irrigated farmland and fresh water does it take to grow that much supply plus food system loss today including end-user loss? Would it surprise you to know that I figured-out a model to ascertain that as an undergrad? Clue: At a population of just 1 million people the answer is not walkable or even bikeable except by Tour de France types.

    The result of my model calculations horrified Colorado’s Governor enough that he ordered an end to allowing the practice of buying-up water rights from Colorado farmers, which was one of the leading reasons why huge amounts of farmland are getting taken for redevelopment in some places in America, a problem not nearly as bad in Ohio yet, though I hear that fracking and its permanent pollution of water supply is popular in Ohio too.

    You are right Kaye, it isn’t about me, It is about whether there is any such thing as sustainability or whether today’s young people are going to be forced to endure much more difficult lives than you or I have. Now I do have far more experience in certain aspects of urban & regional planning than most Streetsblog or City Blog readers. Lately I prefer the Market Urbanism blog as at-least there most of its readers are seasoned professionals. I also enjoy some of the APA blogs as well as climate science and sustainability science blogs too, in-fact I administer or moderate several.

    As of right now the fact is that there is no such thing as sustainability with a population of 9 billion people, in-fact at current first-world food supply chain, warehousing, and distribution technology there is no such thing as sustainability with an urban population any larger than 150K to 200K maximum as it just takes too much irrigated farmland to be sustainable. Why should I care as by 2040 I will be 83 years old if I make it that far? Perhaps because I have 3 sons between the age of 25 and 32 as well as 3 grandchildren in grade school already too.

  5. So where does your food supply come from? The grocery store? No. How about everything else you must buy living in an urban area? What hauls your trash away? How do you install, maintain, and replace critical infrastructure? Do you know anything about transportation productivity or how much transportation capacity is required on a daily basis to prevent 300 million Americans from rapidly starving to death?

    [Quote] In any case, people who read this blog are well aware of the problem wherein a single driver stopped on a 4+ lane road coaxes a bystander into a dangerous situation. The solution is for drivers to stop trying to control non-drivers. [End quote]

    If that is true, then why does that type of accident keep happening over and over and over in cities?

    To me, as someone with almost 40 years of experience in urban freight transportation planning as well as wholesale fresh food supply chain, warehousing, and distribution logistics planning and administration that your preferred solution results in a fair number of urban residents facing a lot less food and other critical goods supply as well as much higher prices than they enjoy today, as if we slow urban transportation down to the speed necessary to allow jaywalking anywhere without looking we would be forced to increase current freight transport capacity by 500% or more after cutting productivity by 80% or more.

    As a 40-year freight transportation professional I can tell you for a fact that Vision Zero is the just the latest in a long line of highway safety programs with zero chance of achieving its goals. It might reduce some fatalities and injuries but the trucking industry has already reduced its fatality rate per 100 million miles of operation by about 80% since 1979 but today there are 3 times as many heavy trucks on our roads as back in 1979 too. It sounds to me like you could care less whether there is enough of an urban food supply or not though.

  6. Mark, remember that time as a self-proclaimed transportation expert you contended that burying a massive stretch of interstate highway in Syracuse was an excellent use of tax money?

    That was another awesome story.

  7. “If that is true, then why does that type of accident keep happening over and over and over in cities?”

    The transportation geeks who hang out on this blog know that crosswalks on 4+ lane roads are dangerous unless all traffic comes to a full stop. The typical US resident doesn’t know this; we should expect them to. One shouldn’t need to become a transportation expert to be safe in our cities. This is why many, many people are asking that our cities to be designed to prioritize safety instead of motor-vehicle throughput.

    And, if you are truly worried that prioritizing safety instead of motor vehicle speeds will lead to mass starvation, I suggest that you advocate for higher-capacity freight transportation. By that, of course, I mean trains.

  8. But 80% of these accidents occur well away from crosswalks. We have put lots of pedestrian overpasses and underpasses up and still some people would rather take their chances running across 8 lanes of traffic than go 100 feet out of their way to cross a bridge or a tunnel that eliminates all traffic hazard.

    The trucking industry has repeatedly asked for higher trucks weights, longer combination vehicles, and multiple trailers and 18 States and Canada do allow some or all such heavier or longer trucks. The State I was born and raised in, Michigan, has allowed 11-axle combination trucks to gross up to 165,000 lbs since the 1960s. Most Western US States allow Rocky Mtn, doubles, turnpike doubles, or triple trailers on freeways and on major primary truck routes but they are impracticable for use in city delivery too.

    Where are you from, New York City or Chicago, the only two cities in America where more than 40% of commuting is done by mass transit? People living in those cities have a very skewed view of life in the rest of America. Trains today can’t haul fresh produce within the constraint of its shelf life more than a few hundred miles as our remaining national railroad network is congested as hell. Since the 1920s the US has abandoned about 70% of all railroad mileage that existed then. Today there are numerous serious bottlenecks in our freight railroad infrastructure without funding to take any steps to alleviate such bottlenecks,

    Right now there is a 3-4 day back-up of trains waiting to use a section of single-track in a narrow canyon near Lusk, WY. That problem has existed for a couple generations but there is not enough money to fix it. The same problem exists in Colorado in several places, as well as in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and other Western States. Right now there is a week backlog of railroad freight waiting to get out of the Los Angeles basin limited by the capacity of several major hills leaving the city, as well as a several day backlog of freight trains waiting to get through Chicago. The main reason that California just cut back its high speed rail dream is because of the ruinous cost involved trying to cross major mountain passes or tunnel underneath them.

    Here in Denver RTD is on the ragged edge of bankruptcy after trying and failing to build a voter-approved 155 miles worth of light rail and commuter rail track despite the fact that our economy is in better shape than it has ever been out here. They only got about 2/3rds of the promised new rail mileage done and today ridership is falling-off drastically even though the city keeps rapidly growing. RTD is so flat broke that they are having to cut bus service as they can no longer afford to adequately maintain their aging fleet of buses. Worse yet, RTD isn’t alone as CDOT is almost bankrupt too.

    The fact is that Metro-Denver has more than tripled in population since 1975, from 1 million to 3.2 million people, with an economy that has been in the top growth economies in America most of that time, and right now we are seeing close to 4000 miles of Level D or F road congestion for 6 hours 5 days per-week plus RTD is operating at near-capacity during rush periods, charging among the most of any city in the US at the farebox, and is 80% short of projected needs funding through 2040. CDOT is 70% short on projected needs funding through 2040 also, while our privately-owned freight railroads are running at capacity. And you want to slow everything down by 80% or more so that people no longer have to look both ways and yield to oncoming traffic whenever they want to jaywalk? What you want is another Great Depression.

  9. On the subject of I-390 in Syracuse that someone dredged-up:

    Massive stretch? What, that puny little 1.1-mile stretch of 6-lane freeway by the university and the hospital?

    That isn’t even as long as the Eisenhower Tunnel on I-70 in Colorado or even the Allegheny Tunnel on I-76 in Pennsylvania. It would be a whole lot cheaper to build than either of those two tunnels were as it could easily be built as a cut and cover tunnel, and would raise the value of the land there too.

    It sounds to me like you want Syracuse to stay poor. How do people south of there get to the airport or I-81 north? Go way out of their way or cut through the hood and clog up your surface streets? Great idea.

  10. that spot at Main st and the parkway is really bad for people driving through without paying attention to signage or the pedestrians. It’s a bad intersection in general.

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