Wanting their right of way: People with disabilities to walk for pedestrian awareness

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PITTSFIELD — People with disabilities often set goals to live as independently as possible, even if it just means going on a walk downtown without an aide. When drivers blow through crosswalks without paying any mind to pedestrians, it can make reaching those goals feel impossible.

On Monday, members of the disabled community and officials will gather at City Hall in an attempt to raise awareness about pedestrian safety.

"We're trying to do more independent things, and one of the ways UCP [United Cerebral Palsy] is pushing, and I'm pushing for myself, is being able to go somewhere on your own without having staff there to assist you," said Brian Fitzpatrick, a quadriplegic who organized the event. "But if I can't cross the street because I'm scared to do it because someone is going to run me over, that poses a problem."

The group will gather on Allen Street at 10 a.m. before walking along North Street with Pittsfield Police Sgt. Marc Maddalena.

"We're going to be looking at the timing of the lights, as far as making sure people have enough time to get across the street," Fitzpatrick said.

Maddalena said the city held a similar event involving crosswalks over a decade ago in which members of the community were able to use wheelchairs to get a firsthand experience of what it's like to cross the street with a disability.

"Since then, the city has done a good job in its downtown redesign with the bump outs making sight lines of traffic better from the crosswalks," Maddalena said in an email. "This event on the 15th will not emulate the previous campaign, it will simply be a walk for awareness assisted by the Police Department."

The previous event was more focused on enforcement of crosswalk violations, with citations being handed out that day, according to Fitzpatrick.

"This is not a sort of `gotcha,' event," said Roberta McCulloch-Dews, director of administrative services for Mayor Linda Tyer. "This is really about letting drivers know that there are other people on the road who may not be in cars."

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McCulloch-Dews said that Fitzpatrick has taken the lead for the event, and the city's only role was connecting him with the appropriate resources.

It is an example of what a determined resident with an idea can accomplish, she said.

"He is an engaged citizen," she said. "He is someone who said, 'I'm going to make this happen.' "

Fitzpatrick said he hopes the event will take place every few years in the city, and spread to other cities and regions.

Disabled people should be able to live "as actual members of society" and not be segregated because of their fears of being run over, he said. Fitzpatrick said he only travels in his wheelchair on North Street during the city's Fourth of July parade, when the street is closed to cars.

From Jan. 1 to June 17, there were 21 car accidents involving pedestrians, according to Police Department data provided this month.

Pedestrians are at fault for a significant number of the crashes, Maddalena said. They often stroll out into the street without thinking about whether they are visible to a driver, he said.

For those with mobility difficulties, drivers need to give them enough time to cross, Fitzpatrick said.

"I've experienced people not being patient, people blowing through the crosswalk before I got there," he said. "People put up barriers and don't even realize the barriers are there."

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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