Visually impaired riders call on Metro to improve station lighting

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Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

A Metro advisory committee composed of disabled riders is calling for the transit agency to invest $24 million to improve lighting in the system's rail stations for the safety of visually impaired riders.

The agency's Accessibility Advisory Committee conducted its own survey of lighting in about two-thirds of the system's 86 stations and gave recommendations to Metro's board on Thursday. The committee estimates its prioritized list of improvements would cost about $24 million. But it noted that the expense would offset the agency's MetroAccess costs as visually impaired riders took more trains instead of rides on the shuttles that cost Metro $52 per trip.

Metro welcomed the recommendations and said it has been working on improvements already. "This has been a focus of the authority, and the report gives a lot of support to what we want to accomplish," said Metro board Chairwoman Cathy Hudgins.

Metro's top cop to retire this spring
Metro's police chief plans to retire this spring after more than 30 years at the transit agency.
Michael Taborn said Thursday he will be leaving after serving five years as head of the 420-officer department, as first reported by the Washington Post.
Taborn said he wants to retire by age 60 so he still has time to do something else. He'd mentioned his intention a few years ago to General Manager Richard Sarles, who told The Washington Examiner that he had asked Taborn to stay on longer.
Sarles hailed Taborn's personal integrity and ties to federal and local law enforcement. He credited him with bringing to Metro a crime-tracking tool made famous by New York police.
But Taborn's tenure has also been controversial. In Jan. 2011, the police department's union called for his ouster in a unanimous no-confidence vote. Crime on the system spiked in 2010, and though it dropped somewhat last year, it still outpaced the crime rate in five other major transit systems. Also, one of his police officers was charged with stealing some $445,000 in fare revenues under his watch.
Sarles said the agency will look at both external and internal candidates to fill the job. - Kytja Weir

General Manager Richard Sarles said some improvements are already in the next budget, though not separated out as line items. But he cautioned that the solution would not be immediate and would likely cost more than $24 million. "It's a long-term thing, and it will take a number of years," he told reporters.

The lighting problems are a combination of maintenance and infrastructure problems. In some cases, light bulbs just need to be replaced, or the fixtures themselves are broken. But in other cases, the lighting has never been sufficient. Sarles said the system was designed to have indirect light to highlight the architecture of the station tunnels. "It was very pretty, but it's very dark," Sarles said. Nine riders with various visual impairments told the board how the dim light caused them to struggle navigating the stations' dark tunnels and stairwells. They said emergency lighting was brighter in some cases than the light in the system.

James Vale, who has limited vision, testified on behalf of Vietnam Veterans of America about the importance of having good lighting for all of the veterans who need to use Metro. He uses Metro daily to commute to his job at the veteran's group and said he avoids Gallery Place because it is too dark. In 2009, a blind Rockville man was killed there when he was hit by a Red Line train after falling off the platform.

The advocates also repeatedly noted that better lighting would also help riders with full vision.

kweir@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kytja Weir

Staff Writer - Transportation
The Washington Examiner