Getting to the Green Line: Seen through the Lens of a Wheelchair User

No, I’m not in a wheelchair, but I’ve spent time walking alongside people who are, as we tested out walking and rolling routes to a couple of the Green Line stations. For me, and others who walk every day, the wheelchair user’s view offers a new lens that focuses on the challenges facing people who must navigate the walking terrain on wheels to get to the light rail station, or to any other destination.

Rice Walk - Margot Imdieke CrossIMG_1084

Top: Margot Imdieke Cross navigates a sloping ramp on the way to the Rice Street station. Photo by Harry Kent                                                                                                              Bottom: Two cars block the ramp as Rick Cardenas makes his way to the sidewalk. Photo by Carol Swenson  

Now the District Councils Collaborative of Saint Paul and Minneapolis (DCC) is preparing to release a new report on a 2014 Accessibility Survey that shines a light on a number of access issues that were not addressed in planning for the Green Line. Equally important, the report identifies improvements that can still be made, after the fact, for the Green Line. And it highlights issues that need to be considered as additional light rail lines are being planned.

Woman with walker crossing tracks

A woman confronts the challenge of getting across the light rail tracks with her walker. Photo by Harry Kent

The DCC report and documentary video – Making Strides: Last Mile to the Green Line 2014 Accessibility Survey — will be presented on Wednesday, March 11th, 6:00-7:30 pm, at the Rondo Library in Saint Paul. One of the conclusions drawn by the report is that “mobility barriers are widespread and pernicious.”

The presentation will be followed by a discussion of ways to take action and move the findings of the report forward. Some of the questions to be addressed include:

  • How does looking at the pedestrian realm through the lens of a wheelchair user change how we see streetscapes?
  • Why is it particularly important to focus on improving access to transit?
  • What can community members, organizations, and government do to address issues of accessibility?

Broken sidewalk

How would you manage this sidewalk in a wheelchair or with a walker? Photo by Carol Swenson

For me, the experience of walking and rolling together has been profound. Now, whenever I walk, I notice things I had never seen before. For example, on Saturday, as I walked up Fairview Avenue from south of the I-94 freeway to Episcopal Homes and the light rail station on University Avenue, I found:

Icy sidewalk Fairview s of FeroniaNo direct crossing from Episcopal Homes

Top: A drainpipe turns the sidewalk into a sheet of ice.                                                       Bottom: The Green Line station is directly across from Episcopal Homes, but there’s no crossing here.

View of station from Episcopal HomesEpiscopal Homes view toward Fairview

Residents of Episcopal Homes have to walk a long block east or west to get to the station. Photos by Anne White

So I invite you to come join the discussion at the Rondo Library on Wednesday, March 11th.

In the meantime, here are a few simple things you can do:

Take a look at the 2 ½ minute video —

Thabiso Rowan and Rick Cardenas

Thabiso Rowan and Rick Cardenas make their way to the Green Line. Photo by Carol Swenson

Share this post with your friends and networks.

Take a walk with a friend in a wheelchair and ask them to point out the challenges; then, whenever you walk, make notes and take photos of situations that would be challenging for less mobile walkers and wheelchair users.

Finally, I invite you to add your notes and photos to comments on this post. This will help the DCC  identify locations that should be prioritized for future improvements.*


*Disclaimer: I am the Vice-Chair of the DCC and one of the leaders of the Last Mile to the Green Line projects which began in 2012 with a walkability survey of walking routes to 16 of the Green Line stations — see summary report, Steps to Better Transportation Choices, here:

Anne White

About Anne White

Anne White lives in the Merriam Park neighborhood of Saint Paul. She is currently the Land Use Chair for the Union Park District Council (District 13) and serves on the Governing Council of the District Councils Collaborative of Saint Paul and Minneapolis (DCC). After moving to the Twin Cities in 2003, she retired from her work as a professional photographer and began working to ensure that community concerns were fully considered in planning for the Green Line LRT. Now that the line is up and running, including stations at Hamline, Victoria and Western, her main focus is on walkability, making sure that people of all ages and levels of mobility have safe, pleasant walking routes to LRT and other destinations. She was recently appointed to the St Paul Transportation Committee of the Planning Commission as the Active Living community representative.

12 thoughts on “Getting to the Green Line: Seen through the Lens of a Wheelchair User

  1. Wayne

    We have some serious accessibility issues around here for anyone in a wheelchair. I’m really amazed there hasn’t been a flurry of ADA lawsuits for the egregious things I see on a regular basis. The lack of enforcement on sidewalk shoveling, the ridiculously narrow sidewalks that are often over-filled with street furniture and decorations, the cars blocking crosswalks and curb cuts — all contribute to an extremely unfriendly environment for anyone trying to navigate it. I have difficulty even walking sometimes, and I’m an able-bodied person. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for anyone with mobility challenges.

    The one point of credit I’ll give Minneapolis is that they finally started clearing the corners of snow so we don’t have the snow-walls at crosswalks, but even that was spotty at best and probably seemed better than it was because of the small amounts of snow we got this year.

  2. Scott

    I imagine most of the residents of the residents of the Episcopal Homes do in fact navigate the block to the crosswalks, but I guarantee you, nobody else does. I see the young and able bodied hop the fence and run across University at the ends of the platform at that location all the time.

  3. Steve H

    March 11 is a Wednesday…is the discussion on the 10th or the 11th?

    I also helped lead a walking audit during the St. Paul Healthy Transportation for All convening back in October, where we had two wheelchairs for people to use. As part of preparing for this, I took pictures of sidewalk/crosswalk conditions across other parts of St. Paul. Is there any interest in exploring accessibility in other parts of the city?

    1. Rosa

      if you posted something like this here, I would share it all over. Don’t know if that’s the kind of interest you mean.

      1. Steve H

        Cool. I don’t think I can post pictures in the comments (if that’s what you’re looking for), but if there’s an easier method I’ll happily share what I have. My pictures are mostly from Grand Avenue, Frogtown, Hamline/Midway, the area near MPCA/DNR/St Paul Police, and Railroad Island.

        1. Anne WhiteAnne White Post author

          If you send me some of your pix, I’ll use a few in my next post on accessibility, which should be posted Monday or Tuesday.

          The DCC’s work is focused on the area along the Green Line, but it’s intended to highlight access issues that are mostly ignored at the moment, so that people will begin to demand that more attention be paid to the needs of people with disabilities throughout the Twin Cities.

          If you send me some pix to, I’ll include some, with photo credit given — so please let me know your last name.

          Anne White

  4. UrbanDoofus

    This. One of my best friends is in a wheelchair and it has really opened my eyes to how he views streets. For 99% of his travels, he has no problems getting around. He even swaps out wheels Despite that, I think he would have a hard time getting around here. Cracked sidewalks, and people parking up to the curb ramps stick out in my mind. The general poor snow/ice removal conditions are the real kicker however.

    Glad to see this issue being discussed. What good are LRT and streetcars if people can’t access them easily?

  5. Annoyed Commuter

    As someone who walks with a cane, I am dismayed how often the elevators at the stations are out of service, and for how long. It takes a day to slap up a sign saying it’s broken, but sometimes upwards of a month to get it repaired.

    The elevator at the West Bank station by the Law School has been broken for two weeks now, forcing people using walkers and wheelchairs to enter/exit the station by going three blocks out of their way to use the one on the other end of the platform.

  6. Carol S

    Steve, Carol from the DCC here. Like the DCC’s 2012 Walkability Survey, implications of the 2014 Accessibility Survey reach far beyond the Green Line light rail corridor. We are very interested in gathering information and photos from neighborhoods and communities in both St. Paul and Minneapolis as well as the region. We’re working on our website to make it possible for people to upload and locate photos. Any volunteer assistance on this would be extremely helpful! Stay tuned our website is:

    1. Steve H

      Thanks Carol, this is very helpful! My job ends on March 13, and I’m looking for volunteer opportunities while I search for employment. I’m willing to do whatever is most needed to help further this work. I can go take pictures anywhere in the cities where pictures are most needed. Let’s talk about this more on the 11th; see you then!

  7. Monica Millsap RasmussenMonica Rasmussen

    It’s great to finally highlight some of the barriers for people who are using assisted devices for mobility. As Anne points out, some of these barriers can be changed, but even more interesting are the poor designs around the Green Line and University Avenue sidewalks, some of which Anne highlights in this post and other commenters have pointed out in the comments.

    I look forward to being able to add some photos to the DCC website as I have plenty. In the meantime, other issues related to University crossing accessibility in addition to those Anne mentioned:
    – there are actually some crosswalks that were designed with the Green Line at driveways where a driver would make a right turn right into a cross walk (This is displayed clearly on Google Maps at the driveway for the shopping areas of Walmart, Herbergers, LA Fitness, and others- there is a pedestrian waiting to cross on the street view map while a car makes a right turn). Yes, drivers should pay attention, but why set-up people (both the driver and pedestrian) for failure? Why not put the crosswalk in the line of sight for a driver? The cross walk would have made more sense on the left side of the driver at that spot.
    – who is responsible for shoveling snow in the crosswalk area of the Green Line stations? This winter, we’ve been lucky. Last winter, there were always piles of snow, even at Snelling and Univ right in the middle of a crosswalk because the plows can’t plow that median area. I saw a person with a walker just walk into the middle of the intersection to get around it. I wrote to Metro-Transit because it is because of their Green Line that the snow was there. They weren’t sure if it was their responsibility or the city’s or someone else, but would “try” to take care of those areas.
    – the concrete surrounding stations, especially those not at signalized crosswalks, like those near Episcopal Homes, aren’t conducive to putting pedestrians into the line of sight of drivers. I stand tall enough where I think at least my head and shoulders are visible when I want to cross and I feel comfortable leaning out to indicate I’m crossing. But, were I a child, a person of short stature, or a person in a wheelchair, I would feel completely blocked by the concrete and would not feel safe to cross. This one might have a solution other than knocking down concrete- hawk lights to signal that someone is crossing or about to cross.
    – the narrow sidewalks on University Avenue itself. We have shrubbery on one side and bricks with trees on the other side and a narrow piece of concrete for the actual sidewalk. If a person in a wheelchair were to meet a person with a walker, it is not likely either would be able to pass by each other easily and safely without one having to move into the bricks and trees area, which is not easy in decent weather, let alone snowy and icy conditions when the brick area likely doesn’t get shoveled.

    Most of these we’ll just have to put up with for a while as they seem more permanent than some of the problems. I recall meetings where advocates would tell us that these types of barriers would be “helpful” and be an “improvement” to our neighborhood, but obviously most are finding that not to be the case. As they cannot be changed, I hope at least these considerations will inform future design decisions, especially as Snelling is re-developed this year.

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