A friend of mine is wheelchair bound. Because work is a few blocks away from where she lives, she travels from home to work and back in a wheelchair using our city sidewalks and roadways. However, once the snow and ice arrive, she can’t use the sidewalks. Anchorage, and cities across Alaska, do a very poor job of clearing snow and ice off the sidewalks, making them unsafe to travel for any pedestrian, in particular those who live with disabilities. The horrible conditions of our sidewalks cause many to risk traveling on sometimes clear but busy and icy roadways. “The most common cause of cyclist injury and death is with motor vehicles. For pedestrians being hit by a car is the third most common cause of death and injury,” according to Kelly and Canterbury LLC.
Our largest city in Alaska has seen 72 pedestrian and bicycle accidents with automobiles between 2014 and 2017. Though my friend was not hit by an automobile, she had a horrible incident just the same. The uneven conditions caused by snow and ice caused her to lose control of her wheelchair. She was thrown face first to the street. Shockingly, no one stopped to help her.
For those of you who don’t know, her doctor described this incident as similar to being thrown out through a car window. Although seat belts keep us safe in our cars, in this instance wearing a seat belt would have pinned her under a 300lb plus electric powered wheelchair. She was injured and had to miss a week from work. Her injuries included cuts and scrapes to her face, missing skin from her hands, knees, and ankles, and muscle spasms and other issues due to the fact that she has Cerebral Palsy. She even had whiplash brought on by the way she fell on her face.
Like many Alaskans, my friend really can’t afford to miss work. Though employed full time, she needs the paycheck to meet rent, utilities, food and other essential living expenses. This is a whole other issue, which I will not get into about workers salaries and compensation. For now, why are our cities throughout Alaska not doing a better job of clearing sidewalks? People need to use them! All kinds of people, including those in wheelchairs and individuals with visual impairments using walking canes or guide dogs, MUST and DO use the sidewalks, but in winter it’s impossible. There are no safe options. Both sidewalks and roadways are dangerous when sidewalks are not plowed, or not plowed correctly. When using the roadways, ice can be more dangerous than snow as well as the added danger from automobiles.
This is not just a municipality issue. This is also a state of Alaska issue. Many individuals are at the mercy of public transportation and foot, bicycle and wheelchair transport. Others use municipal sidewalks for exercise or because they embrace an eco-friendly lifestyle. It’s time we make access to our sidewalks safe and usable for everyone, even in winter.
• Dana Dardis is an Anchorage resident. She is a small business owner, artist, poet, writer and activist. She holds a M.Ed., and a B.A. in literature with minors in business and education. Annis Killen lives in Anchorage. She has a M.A. in conflict mediation and resolution. She volunteers for organizations that support human rights, especially women and disabled individuals.