On Friday afternoon, the Sonoma City Council toured portions of the plaza and wheeled down Broadway as far as the Sonoma Post Office propelled by their own arm muscles. Each councilmember was in a wheelchair as part of a disability-barrier awareness tour.
The city council, after two hours, appeared humbled by the wheelchair experience.
It was organized by Jeff Stuhr.
“Only a few months back, I saw in the newspaper that issues pertaining to ‘wheelchair curb cuts’ and ‘truncated domes’ would be on the agenda for the Sonoma City Council,” Stuhr recalled. “So I wheeled right in and spoke to the council…. And that’s how this whole thing got started.”
Stuhr explains that this whole thing, as he calls it, actually got started when he suffered an injury to his spinal cord and became wheelchair bound in February of 1973. He fell asleep at the wheel of his car while driving alone and became injured after driving off a large embankment.
It wasn’t far into the Sonoma wheelchair tour that the city council got to see an actual “truncated dome” and why it is such an important issue.
The “truncated dome” is a detectable warning in locations where pedestrians who are visually impaired do not have a definitive cue to the end of the pedestrian way – like from a sidewalk into a vehicular thoroughfare. It’s required by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
With no sunshine, an overcast sky and temperatures hovering only in the 50s, the wind made the city council’s wheelchair tour a bit nippy, especially when gripping the push rims on the wheels needed to propel one’s self when wheelchair -dependent.
“I know, it’s cold,” Stuhr said as he noticed councilmembers going for their gloves. “The push rims on the wheels of these chairs are somewhere between 7 to 9 degrees colder than the temperature out here, but you’ll get used to it – let’s keep movin’.”
When the city council wheelchair tour was preparing to make its first major street crossing, councilman Ken Brown asked, “Do you get more respect than I do when crossing here?”
Stuhr said, “You’ll see.”
As the council barrier-awareness tour was making its wheelchair way southbound across the intersection of Napa Street and Broadway, the councilmembers suddenly created a wheelchair pile-up as each member began to reach the safety of the other side as they escaped the busy Friday afternoon Sonoma traffic.
Only being able to access the safety of the southbound sidewalk at Napa Street and Broadway one wheelchair at a time, city council members witnessed first-hand just how long it took to cross a busy Sonoma street and the dangerous implications someone in a wheelchair faces every day, such as attempting to get from a congested street up onto the sidewalk across the humps and bumps of the curb-cut ramp and just how steep the ramp of the curb-cut actually is.
Among other things, Stuhr pointed out to the council how the many bulging tree roots and even the normal settling of the earth seemed to be the chief culprits that continue to cause the un-evenness of Sonoma’s sidewalks.
But that un-evenness of the sidewalk causes not only havoc, but real hazard to one who is wheelchair-dependent. Stuhr demonstrated how easy it was for one of his front or back small balance wheels to become lodged in the cracks of the sidewalks.
Sporting a bicycle helmet, Mayor Cohen was quick to pen the precise Sonoma City locations that were missing t the required “truncated dome” as he was made aware of them.
Mayor Cohen also took note of other potential violations that may pose a safety risk to the public at large regardless of wheelchair status.
When the wheelchair-bound city council reached the driveway of the Sonoma Post Office, there appeared another case on point – a man driving while talking on his cell phone. Oblivious, the driver hardly noticed the wheelchairs as he drove right through the tour.
Stuhr then directed the council carefully across Broadway and then back to city hall with a total of four major street crossings during the tour.
Stuhr pointed out what he contended to be an engineering problem.
“The problem is where the ‘curb cut’ meets the street and…a ‘V’ shape is formed,” Stuhr said. “The real problem is when it is raining and the water does not properly drain. Then it causes even more detrimental problems to a person visually impaired or bound to a wheelchair.”
When the tour ended at the front doors of the Sonoma City Hall, it began to sprinkle a bit of rain.
“You should try to hold an umbrella and navigate one of these wheelchairs,” Stuhr said to the newly empathetic city council members.
Mayor Pro Tem Joanne Sanders pointed at a map provided by Stuhr and said, “Just let us know about any spots of issue that need our attention other than what you have indicated for us here on this map and we will go from there.”
Councilman August Sebastiani tried his navigating skills in a couple of different models of wheelchairs available at the tour.
“Man, this is faster than the one I wheeled around town,” Sebastiani said.
Stuhr replied, “Yeah, that’s my everyday chair you’ve got there.”
Although Stuhr is able to drive his own car with hand controls, he was accompanied by his wife, Lynn, who told the Sun how pleasantly surprised she was by the quick response of the city council. “You know, it was only a few months back when Jeff asked the City Council to do this wheelchair tour and the thing that took even this long was coordinating everybody’s schedule.”