This was the scene yesterday morning at the 59th Street Metra Station–the one distinctively marked “University of Chicago.” I could have picked more dramatic pictures of senior citizens struggling on the stairs, or of people slipping in sleeting rain. These are pictures from a nice sunny day. This departing passenger happens to be wearing a heavy cast on her foot.
On the sunniest day, Hyde Park residents with disabilities, a 12-year-old Laboratory School student who uses a wheelchair, a University of Chicago visitor, student, staff member, or faculty member with impaired mobility cannot use the nearest train station marked “University of Chicago.” My 84-year-old mother might want to see David Axelrod or other University luminaries who speak at International House, which is right next door to the station. She couldn’t do that, because she couldn’t handle the stairs.
My mom and everyone else would need to find less convenient alternatives. The 57th Street station is not at the end of the world. Still, it’s a brisk walk away, much further from many University of Chicago buildings and amenities. President George HW Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act more than 25 years ago. Because 59th Street is not deemed a “key station,” there is apparently no legal requirement for full accessibility.
As it happens, the 59th Street station is an eyesore. Renovations now underway might make it less of a blight on the neighborhood. You can see the outward signs of this work in the pictures below the fold. The cosmetic surgery is beside the point. The City of Chicago, Metra, and the University of Chicago need to get this right.
We might be making progress. A Metra representative Meg Thomas-Reile, emails that:
The work that is now going on at 59th St. to replace the platform and head houses does not include the addition of an elevator.
However, Metra does have plans to do a more extensive renovation of the station that would include the addition of an elevator. We expect to begin design work on that project soon.
I read this with hope, Then my heart sank to read the remainder of her email, which includes the classic Illinois catch:
The timeline for the work, however, would be dependent on funding. We are currently planning to use $3.5 million from the state bond program to help pay for the work. That funding is now on hold due to the state budget situation.
Like everyone else, people in wheelchairs are waiting for our fair state’s political budget gridlock to be resolved.
There’s really no excuse that we’re still talking about this issue in 2016. Metra should certainly pay for this. But if there is a glitch, the University should make sure this gets done. We’ve had more than a quarter-century to secure proper disability access at the train station that bears our name. Our multi-billion-dollar endowment is certainly used for more costly investments in real estate and neighborhood infrastructure than one long-overdue train station elevator. There’s equally little excuse for our student activists–ready to demonstrate about a myriad of national issues–to be so passive about boring yet basic issues of inclusion that hit much closer to home.