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Houston, I Have a Problem: Lack of sidewalk endangers wheelchair users

Posted at 8:51 PM, Aug 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-30 20:51:13-04

CINCINNATI -- Margaret Long was shot in the neck in 1991, two days before her 20th birthday, paralyzing her from the chest down and forcing her to adjust to life in a wheelchair. She refused to let the change steal her spirit or her independence.

However, Long, who has made a career of speaking to youth groups about the life-altering consequences of gun violence, can only control her actions -- not her surroundings. Her commitment to getting outside and doing things for herself, including going to the store to get groceries, sends her several times a week down a stretch of Reading Road with lots of traffic and no sidewalks.

"I'll turn around and be like, ‘Oh my god,'" she said. "I didn't know (cars) were that close to me."

A person with full use of their legs might walk on the grass and gravel, but wheelchair users such as Long are safest on flat, paved surfaces. 

When the only such surface available is the road -- and the alternative is not being able to roam at all -- she takes her chances and places her fate in the hands of drivers. 

Most are mindful. Some are helpful. Long still wishes she didn't have to gamble.

WCPO contacted the Ohio Department of Transportation and spoke to Brian Cunningham, whose District 8 oversees the street on which Long lives. He said he'd submit a request to put a sidewalk there, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will happen.

"(There are) utility poles that would have to be moved, a hydrant that has to be accounted for, so we're looking at two years or so if we receive the funding," he said.

It's a big if, especially considering the struggle others, like fifth-grader Madelyn Gerker, have faced trying to get sidewalks put on dangerous stretches of road.

Long said she's willing to wait, but her life could depend on it.