The Cylindrical Psychosis

I had to psych myself up.  Take a deep breath. Work out if it was the most economical route or the quickest route or whatever but would it get me there, problem free.

Its not going by foot path nor bus – its tube – an arch-nemesis of the wheelchair user.  I’m going to use 3 different lines, change at two stations – to get to my train home.

Its not an impossible task – but its one that takes a little bit of judgement, a little bit of thought and a chunk of confidence.  And attitude – one of those that says “f*** you to people in your way.

I wasn’t alone either – I had my manager with me, so I had to do this properly or apologise in advance to him for the monster I know I can turn into.

Waterloo to Liverpool Street, peak Friday night rush hour.  Waterloo – Green Park – Kings Cross – Liverpool Street.  Flat access. I knew I could do it – I just had to go for it.

I kicked off on the Jubilee Line westbound for Stanmore.  Two stops up to Green Park on a mildly busy train.  It was warm but bearable.  Step free, totally.  Off at Green Park and up in the lift, my aim next was the Victoria Line.  Wheeling (keeping right) up the uphill stretch in the interchange tunnel to turn left to exit and the lifts – downhill.  This is at first gentle – for 5 metres – then steep for 5, then long and reasonable for another 150 metres.  I did the only thing any lunatic would do – I said excuse me to clear a way and ran humming the brakes down hill, hitting an easy 8MPH as my chair was allowed to succumb to the lure of Law of Gravity.  The Xenon rolls so much more quieter, smoother, neater than the old Quickie Q2 HP, less of a thump as I hit the gap between the tiles on the floor.

Slam the brakes on, turn left, roll through to the lifts – my manager had thankfully kept up.  On to the Victoria Line – the first train crammed and jammed and the second train little better.  But I got the second train – able to get into the wheelchair space and park too, a miracle in itself, as most people are surprised to find a wheelchair user outside of the Jubilee Line, let alone on the tube.

Jump off (not literally – flat access again) at Kings Cross and switch to the Met.  Using the long tunnels, people keep walking 6 abreast and slowly, causing me to get fed up – something I have to live with until a gap opens and I can get moving again, my chair taking little effort to get to speed to enable me to move swiftly to the lift, taking it to the exit and out to go to the Circle, Northern and Met.  Masses of people, most of whom don’t know where they are going.  Through the ticket halls and into the CNM, pushing now to get to the platforms, holding a position and letting others make their mistakes of walking into my path – that pre-meditated aim for the lift which takes me the lines where a Met train for Aldgate is waiting.

I rolled on board.  These trains are new. Flat access. Air conditioning. Success.  I took it to Liverpool Street – success bound for me as I am one train away from being on my train home.  And it all looked so easily done, written down.

But the pre-meditation, planning, thought, mental cajoling to get there was totally invisible.  But it was there.  Took me all of half a second to know I would go for it.  It was a round about way to get from Waterloo to Liverpool Street – but I did it. 

One small roll for me – one giant wheelie for my kind.

I got to Liverpool Street, my journey spend admiring how I could see the length of the train start to finish and rolled off, out and up the short slope to head for the exit gates – my train 10 minutes away and leaving me enough time to get something to eat and book my assistance onwards.

Proof too, that I have a new choice open to me instead of a bus or taxi.  Just like many others.

The Informed Travel Hypothesis

It’s all very well me getting a new wheelchair to improve my independence (but not the one shown here!).  I reckon although I’ll get further on my own, there is still something that is important, which is having confidence in getting somewhere in the first place.

Locally, I live in the peace of mind that Essex County Council is installing raised curbs at bus stops to improve access but when I want to travel further afield, what then?

Some people may recall that in the summer I took part in something called ‘Free Traveller’ where I carried out some journeys with Chris Parker of Loughborough University.  The idea is to combine both amateur (user) views on transport and the provider supplied information to offer the best of both.

free-travellerSo, with all the information that Chris gathered on the journeys from all the different users who took part, he put together a survey to find out what works, what doesn’t work and what is useful. 

However, now he needs to know what you think of the information.  By visiting www.freetraveller.co.uk you can take part in the survey and offer him your thoughts.  In return, there is £150 up for grabs in a prize drawer… think of all the bus journeys you could do with £150!

I’ve already filled mine in… twice. Please share the link with other wheelchair users and encourage them to take part – who knows, this project could make the difference between wondering if a journey is going to be a nightmare and knowing that the nightmare can be avoided.

Auditing London

I think that as I have digested it all, I can talk about my thoughts around this experience.

Victoria is crowded, busy, almost difficult but somehow accessible. I think that by comparison to other London stations, its amazingly accessible. But yet, as I got on the 507 bus, the first thing of the driver not being there was a small hinderence. The next transaction though…

“Where does he want to get off?” the driver asked Shane, my colleague for the day.

“Waterloo.” Shane replied. He looked at me with the same questioning expression I had to him, our disbelief of what had just happened – the blatent ignorance and lack of any disability awareness.

This is no exaggeration. This really happened. Lovely airy bus, nice smooth ride. Terrible experience because of the most basic of all insults.

London Waterloo, itself a busy place, I have no conceivable opinion of. I’m immune to it and its way of working. Automatic barriers are inclusive. Lifts hot. Tube busy. I do what I do, make my way to the access point, park. Its full of people in the door who disappear by Canary Wharf.

Stratford has changed – gates removed, very busy as a location. But the busyness is a small part. Lifts exist, one DDA compliant, the other not – a victim to glass sided fashion and tiny buttons. Walkways identical, no way finding if you are visually impaired. Walking out, a guiding gully for the shutters big enough to catch a front wheel. Multitudes of paving types. It felt awful. All this time, I have been making notes, the whole journey.

I walked off to get a bus next. I was going to Bow Church to change for a bus to Islington. Through a shopping centre, out to a main street, crossing a road to a stop – no raised kerbs. None of the stops in London have raised kerbs.

On board, I spot the things I spot.

“Shane, what can you see? What not all buses have.” I ask. Its eye spy for geeks.

Shane, needless to say is flummoxed. “Don’t know,” he concedes.

I point at the mirror above his head, showing me where we were going.

The interchange was again hard work, a zebra crossing with dipped kerbs the size of mountains and difficult, rough surfaces.  Another bus, no mirror but a beautiful Scania Omnideka – glossy and functional.

Islington was our destination, a location with people, lunch and Police – officers out to reassure people. It was nice surfaces, horrible kerbs and a bus that turned up busy. It took me to London Bridge station, a place Ibam not fond of – the station designed with ramps over lifts, a and is difficult for wheelchair users to ascend alone. The gentlemen on the gate were clear about where I needed to touch in, the platform staff very helpful, polite. A short ride to Greenwich where the audit ended, but my journey didn’t. The platform staff were friendly, apologising for the lift outage, saying I was welcome back any time.  Good service from a company slated during the ice and snow by all.

I took the DLR to Canary Wharf, abandoning Shane with a handshake and jumping on a train to Stratford – jumping like any other person, not seeking assistance like I would on National Rail. jumping off at Stratford, heading for a train to Liverpool Street and home.

My day was good. If we had done lunch on the run, Shane would have smashed his record time for these audits. But it was tainted, for me, by that first transaction – and anyone else could well have just given up and gone home, such is the indignity.

I’m in Islington

I’m just having lunch and I wanted to blog about what I’ve seen. 

I’ve got the 507 bus from Victoria to Waterloo – the driver asked Chris where I was getting off the bus at.  I’ve got the tube from Waterloo to Stratford, which was hot and noisy.  At Stratford we discovered that there was duplications in the lifts – the duplication not highlighted to DDA standards like the other.  Pathways with differing paving textures within feet of leaving the station.  And then two bus rides – one where I could see where I was going and one… I couldn’t. 

It’s been busy – there have been steps, steep slopes, buggies, old people and smelly people.  Fortunately, Chris isn’t smelly.

The built environment though, does suck.  As does the “disabled” toilet at the weatherspoons on St Johns Road, Islington.  It’s too small and not very accessible unless you are a minute wheelchair user.  Pah.

More soon folks.

I messed up before leaving the office…

Tomorrow I am taking part in some research called “Free Traveller”.   I’ll be analysing access to public transport, in particular the built environment, to look at obstacles for wheelchair users.

I need to get there though… which is terrible when I found I have left my wallet at my desk. 

Thankfully, due to a quick call, a colleague picked it up and its now going to be at one of the stations on my route tomorrow…

I’m hoping it’ll be the only issue this weekend.