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Cities asked to help eliminate bus barriers

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City governments were asked this past week to help eliminate barriers — such as lack of sidewalks, no curb cuts, broken and uneven surfaces and inadequate waiting areas — that prevent people with disabilities from getting to bus stops.

Representatives of the Utah Transit Authority and the Committee on Accessible Transportation attended the monthly Salt Lake County Council of Governments meeting to ask for cities' help in implementing the Barrier-Free Bus Stop Program.

The program, which was established by the Committee on Accessible Transportation approximately one year ago, aims to identify and fix public transportation barriers.

"Our purpose was to educate those mayors and elected officials in the Salt Lake Valley about the program and the importance at this time to be a resource in identifying barriers at bus stops," said Sherry Repscher, Americans with Disabilities Act compliance officer for the UTA.

Repscher said UTA is ready to partner with Salt Lake Valley cities and that community development block grants, sidewalk improvement programs or other available city funds could fund the program.

"I think city government officials all want to do something that will benefit their town or municipality," she said.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law in 1990, serves as the main impetus for the program by requiring that all public facilities be accessible to people with disabilities.

Because UTA was "woefully" unprepared in 1990 for the legislation, CAT was established as a step toward compliance with the act, said Bob Bedont of the UTA board of trustees.

CAT, under the direction of the UTA, is made up of 15 volunteer members representing people who are blind or deaf or who have cognitive, mental, physical or mixed disabilities.

"There's already a big need, so that's why a year ago we started working on this project in order to fulfill the needs of those people who can't get to the buses due to the fact that the bus stops aren't accessible," said Lopeti Penima'ani, chairman of the CAT services subcommittee.

Goals of the barrier-free program include increasing independence, mobility and participation in the local economy, as well as achieving full participation in community life by all residents.

"By partnering with them (local city governments), we're working together," Penima'ani said. "Hopefully, there'll be a long-term solution, and I realize that things don't happen overnight; it takes time."

Raising community awareness that such barriers exist, along with sidewalk and other local government improvement programs, will help to remove bus stop barriers in communities, benefitting and serving all residents, said John Inglish, UTA general manager.

James Edwards, a member of the CAT services subcommittee, said he encounters many of the specific corners shown during the meeting where bus stop barriers exist.

The corners include 5000 South and 1300 East, 3600 South and West Temple and 3300 South and State Street.

"Accessibility is going to be paramount to the success of just daily life," Edwards said. "Businesses are going to need it, employers are going to need it, employees are going to need it, families are going to need it. This is not just for people in wheelchairs or people with crutches or whatever; this is a major, major issue."

E-mail: mrobertson@desnews.com