During winter 2019 in Seattle, many disabled folks were trapped in our homes for weeks because property owners weren’t aware they had a responsibility to clear snow and ice off their sidewalks. This was my first winter back in the Northwest, and coming from NYC where it was socially unacceptable to leave your sidewalk uncleared, it was horrifying to me that there wasn’t that expectation here in the Northwest. Even big businesses like the Chase Bank located next to the train station in my neighborhood went weeks without clearing ice from their sidewalks.
We knew we wanted to change this, so we led a campaign with my team to change expectations for this winter. We started by collecting more than 50 stories from disabled Seattleites trapped by uncleared sidewalks, and produced a video (that ultimately got retweeted by AOC), to highlight Conrad’s snow experience. Ultimately, by working with the Mass Coalition, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, and Councilmember Lisa Herbold, we were able to pass legislation that created a public education program about the snow & ice removal responsibilities of private property owners.
This resulted in the City of Seattle hiring us to produce a video PSA, and sending a mailer in Seattle utility bills about the importance of sidewalk clearing. In press conference and on social media, Mayor Jenny Durkan and other Seattle officials emphasized the importance of keeping sidewalks accessible, a marked change from communications about winter weather preparedness the previous winter.
This victory represents an important change in our societal bias that only people driving cars have transportation needs. Many of us walk and roll to transit stops, and for us, accessible sidewalks are just as critical as roads. This year, we will continue our campaign to get the City of Seattle to step up efforts to repair cracked and crumbling sidewalks that pose access barriers.
We all have a right to to live in accessible communities and have access to transportation that gets us where we need to go. If you live in Washington State and want to join other folks from your community working on transportation accessibility, let us know!
Anna Zivarts is the program director of Rooted in Rights and a low-vision mom who can't drive. She joined the Rooted in Rights team from Time of Day Media, a digital media cooperative she co-founded in 2010. At Time of Day, Anna produced digital video for the Innocence Project and Fight for 15, and lead searches for the ACLU in Kansas and Wisconsin to find citizens disenfranchised by voter ID laws. Twitter: @AnnaZivarts