In a meeting with the Bloomington City Council Monday night, Connect Transit board chair Ryan Whitehouse pledged the public transportation service will become completely ADA compliant by 2024.
Whitehouse’s comments came during a council update presented by Connect Transit general manager Issac Thorne. The presentation was part of the council’s committee of the whole meeting held via Zoom.
In response to calls for expanded accessibility along transit routes, Thorne and Whitehouse cited the lack of city sidewalks in some areas as impediments to ensuring bus stops are in compliance with the American with Disabilities Act.
Mayor Tari Renner acknowledged that poor infrastructure in certain areas made improvements difficult, particularly along Alexander Road.
Renner said while surveying the area during his re-election campaign, “I was embarrassed to be the mayor, to be honest.”
Council member Jenn Carrillo urged Connect Transit to do a better job of holding the city accountable, saying she didn’t want to hear the “sidewalk excuse” any longer.
“I get a lot of constituents who reach out about accessibility at the bus stops. That continues to be the number one issue that folks bring to me,” said Carillo, acknowledging the city has to do its part and asked Whitehouse to “hold the fire to our feet” in order to get the necessary sidewalks in place.
“We will do our part with a partnership with City of Bloomington to make sure that we are 100% ADA compliant by 2024,” Whitehouse said.
“Well, that is way more than I was asking for,” Carillo responded. “So, thank you.”
Connect Transit has faced complaints about accessibility in the past and Whitehouse, in particular, has been criticized for not representing the interests of the disability community.
In additional comments, council member Scott Black said he would like to see the current fare suspension that is slated to end Aug. 2 become a permanent program.
“Connect Transit should be entirely free,” Black said. “Maybe we can use our upcoming weed money to fund that,” referring to tax revenue the city receives from the legal sale of cannabis.
Black’s statement seemed to draw some initial support. Carillo applauded while council member Julie Emig suggested that COVID-19 has created a “natural experiment” in a fare-free system.
“It might be worth studying how this plays out,” she said.
Juneteenth council initiative
In another matter, council member Mboka Mwilambwe proposed the idea of making Juneteenth a city holiday. He began his remarks, stating: “I don’t always submit council initiatives, but when I do, it’s about Juneteenth.”
Juneteenth is an annual celebration that marks the end of slavery in the United States that has been observed by African Americans since the late 1800s.
Mwilambwe said the idea of proposing Juneteenth as a city holiday was inspired by his realization that most Americans were unaware of what Juneteenth represented. The holiday received unprecedented media coverage this year partly because it coincided with nationwide protests following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.
“It took George Floyd dying on the streets in front of the whole world for many to be awakened to the concerns of African Americans,” said Mwilambwe. “And it took something like COVID for people to be awakened to the disparities, particularly related to health, experienced by many African Americans.”
“Pairing an observance with some really impactful programming,” Mwilambwe believes, would create an opportunity to learn not only about the history surrounding Juneteenth, but also the contemporary struggles faced by the Black community.
“If we’re going to live and work and play together in this community, I think it’s important that we understand what matters to each other,” he said.
The initiative won unanimous support and will be addressed at a future council meeting.