Family trips to Boston showed Macon City Councilman Frank Tompkins some of the difficulties the disabled face in just getting around a city.
My sister was a person who got around in a motorized wheelchair, he said.
Back home in Macon, Tompkins said he sees more and more chairs and electric scooters navigating city streets -- sometimes with trouble, due to a lack of sidewalks, and sometimes with indifference to traffic laws. Several constituents have contacted him about having to dodge wheelchairs in traffic lanes.
We know that many of the roads in Macon do not have sidewalks that are accessible for persons, in certain areas, that might be using these motorized wheelchairs, Tompkins said. Despite that, many of the chairs and scooters now in use dont have reflectors or lights to warn off cars.
As for the elderly or infirm who use motorized chairs regularly, Tompkins wants to make sure they have the power to shop downtown, and he hopes such aid spreads elsewhere in the city.
So he has submitted an ordinance to set basic rules of the road for wheelchairs and scooters, and to install four plug-in charging stations at four highly traveled spots in downtown Macon. The ordinance has been referred to councils Public Safety Committee for discussion.
In August, Macon-Bibb County was named the countrys first Age-Friendly Community by the AARP and the World Health Organization, intended to start two years of work on making all aspects of the community more accessible and welcoming to the elderly.
Tompkins said he consulted the AARP, among many others, in planning his ordinance.
Karen Cooper, the Georgia AARP associate state director, said the need for better safety for motorized wheelchairs has been discussed in the local age-friendly advisory council, of which Tompkins is a member.
One of the things mentioned was the scooters that would be crossing the street and going down the sidewalks, Cooper said.
Theres a need to make sure pedestrians and other drivers, as well as wheelchair users, have clear traffic rules to follow to keep all parties safe, said Myrtle Habersham, an AARP local key volunteer. That need will only increase as Maconites age and more people need motorized chairs and scooters, she said.
Cooper said charging stations make good sense for improving access for the disabled to downtown businesses, parks and other public facilities.
We just appreciate always having that age-friendly access at the top of minds when plans are being discussed, she said.
Tompkins ordinance says that Georgia state law doesnt say much about wheelchair regulations, allowing cities to set their own. It would specify that motorized wheelchairs and scooters should generally be treated as pedestrians: using sidewalks and crosswalks whenever available, obeying pedestrian signals and moving against the direction of car traffic when forced to use the shoulder of the road.
But on streets with speed limits of 35 mph or below, electric wheelchairs and scooters could be treated as vehicles, moving with other motorized traffic on shoulders or in bicycle lanes -- again, assuming no sidewalk is accessible.
The ordinance says the city would strongly encourage front, rear and side reflectors, brakes, and a sound alert of some kind, and authorize -- though not fund -- a discount program for reflectors.
Finally, it would authorize the Central Services Department to put in four charging stations: at Charles H. Jones Gateway Park, at the corner of Riverside Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard; in Rosa Parks Square, at the corner of Poplar and First streets; near the corner of Third and Cherry streets; and on the first floor of City Hall at 700 Poplar St.
Tompkins said Central Services estimates the cost of the charging stations at $344.01, taking advantage of existing electric lines.
They went and found places where there wouldnt be a lot of installation (cost), he said.
If those are well-used, Tompkins hopes more of them could be placed at popular locations such as Tattnall Square Park, or at Lake Tobesofkee after city and county governments merge in January 2014. That might encourage their installation on private property, such as at Macon Mall and The Shoppes at River Crossing.
My thing is to get it started, Tompkins said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines call 744-4489.