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Shepherdstown is finally accessible to everyone

By Staff | Apr 24, 2009

While I have not actually lived in the historic district since I was a college student, I have been an active member of the Shepherdstown community since 1987 when I returned to serve on the Shepherd faculty. In 1995 I began having heart trouble and neuromuscular problems. By 1997 I was forced to leave the faculty on disability. Also since 1995 I have been a volunteer greeter at the Shepherdstown Visitors Center.

As a greeter I have fielded my share of complaints from visitors about parking and sidewalks. Parking is a problem in many towns in America. Sidewalks? Well the sidewalks (and the lack of them) in Shepherdstown have been a nightmare for the frail, elderly and handicapped since well before the national movement to create access. Imagine the choices that greeters can offer visitors regarding shops and restaurants on German Street. Now imagine that a greeter in the visitors center was assisting a group with a friend or relative in a wheelchair. Suddenly the choices are much fewer and the trip up German Street could ever involve crisscrossing two or three times.

I am very fortunate because I can walk short distances. Confinement to a wheelchair in Shepherdstown used to be a terrible confinement. Friends who are in wheelchairs will tell you that there was no point in even trying to travel the German Street sidewalks. Those sidewalks destroyed the transaxles in two of my motorized scooters. Toddlers and the elderly have fallen on their faces on sunny summer days. A lawsuit has been waiting to happen for years.

Yes, it is true that tree roots can ruin sidewalks. Last week a writer to the editor suggested that root damage to sidewalks is no reason to cut down trees. Throw the bums out, he said. I disagree. I say thanks to the town leaders for working to solve an age old problem.

While it is true that some planners, developers, and contractors are too hasty to cut down trees, it isn’t the case here. From the beginning of this project there were people involved who insisted that we save every tree possible. There are also plans to include new trees in ways that won’t ruin sidewalks. Storm drainage has also been included in the streetscaping plans.

Some “plant boxes” are situated in “bottlenecks” that will slow traffic. Many adults have noticed how pickup trucks and larger work trucks fly down German Street between 7 and 8 a.m. every weekday.

It takes a sense of community to understand the decisions involved in the streetscape project. I think streetscape will help with access, inclusion, safety, business and even beautification. It’s time for all of us to stop bitching and bellyaching and to thank our Town Council and be grateful that the contractor has made a good effort to preserve access to our town businesses. I have been waiting since 1995 to go down German Street without the dread and fear of tripping and falling down or destroying my scooter.

Such a loud chatter! They rose up against the architect. Truth was, they just couldn’t see the worth in his creation.

Doug Kinnett