Photo by AlbinoFlea on Flickr.

Do Metro executives know what the Metro is like for a person who uses a wheelchair?

When Deena Larsen, a wheelchair-using Denver resident, took the Metro from Union Station to Smithsonian to see the cherry blossoms, the trip was so frustrating that she cried.

First, I tried for 20 minutes to find an accessible elevator at Union Station. I was directed to a long hall and four stairs. I got my wheelchair down the steps, only to find that the entrance there was not accessible. So I had to scoot back up the stairs on my butt (a friendly stranger helped bring the chair up). When I finally got to Metro Center, I could not find the elevator, because the signs were wrong.

At the Smithsonian Station, the only elevator I could find was blocked — no explanation, no phone number, nothing. I pressed a call button, but no one came down. Finally, as I was crying in frustration, a nice couple located a guard, who explained that there had been a fire. He got my wheelchair and me up the escalator.

Unfortunately, this trip is typical of the problems faced by people who use wheelchairs and want to travel by Metro.

At Dupont Circle’s south entrance, for instance, there are no directions from the escalators to the nearest elevator, 2 blocks away. At L’Enfant, getting from the Blue/Orange platform to the Green/Yellow platform or the street requires 3 elevator rides. At Fort Totten, the elevator is broken, so Metro runs shuttles from two stations, lengthening the trip time for riders who need the elevator.

It took a court order for Metro to routinely include elevators in the station design, and the elevators in the retrofitted stations are not necessarily conveniently located.

And when the elevators break, they often stay broken for a long time. The same is true for the escalators, of course, but at least a broken escalator can still be used as stairs by people who are able to climb stairs. A broken elevator, on the other hand, takes you nowhere.

Metro is fixing some of the problems. All of the stations opened in 2004 or later have (or will have) redundant elevators (2 elevators for each necessary ascent). Rosslyn station is currently getting a bank of mezzanine-to-street elevators. And plans are underway for redundant elevators (and new escalators) at Union Station.

But there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Ms. Larsen concludes her letter,

I would be very grateful if just one Metro executive went through the system in a wheelchair. Just once. That is all it would take.

How about it, Metro executives? Any volunteers?