More MS news articles for December 2000

Snowfall blocks disabled woman

Monday, Dec. 18, 2000
BY MARGARET REIST Lincoln Journal Star

That beautiful white powder that blanketed Lincoln's streets and sidewalks last week can be, well, a hassle.

But an annoying molehill for most people is an insurmountable mountain for people such as Tracy Peck.

The 24-year-old University of Nebraska-Lincoln student, who has multiple sclerosis and uses a motorized wheelchair, lives in an apartment in the Haymarket. She's spent the week trying to find the right people to help her dig her way out.

Navigating that maze is just about as difficult as navigating the piles of snow blocking her paths to work or anywhere else she may need to go.

"I have been making a lot of phone calls and basically just getting the runaround," she said.

Peck's problem boils down to this: Each pile of snow seems to be somebody else's responsibility.

She's called the city, which takes care of the streets; she's called the Downtown Lincoln Association, which is responsible for the curb cuts and ramps; she's called her landlord and the building owner, who are responsible for the dock and sidewalks in front of her building.

And still Peck must rely on friends to push her wheelchair when it gets stuck. She already missed a week of work. She has two part-time jobs within a few blocks of her home.

"It's frustrating," she said.

Peck moved to Lincoln from Carter Lake, Iowa, in 1994 but, until August, lived on campus. There, she said, if she had a problem she called one person and someone took care of it.

"So this is my first snowstorm like this, and it better not be like this every time."

But Scott Opfer, manager of traffic and engineering operations, didn't offer too much hope.

"Unfortunately for the wheelchair-bound or visually impaired, they're just going to find it difficult until we get some weather to help us out," Opfer said. "I know it's frustrating."

The city leaves notices for property owners who don't get out their shovels and in some cases will hire a contractor to clear snow and then bill the property owner. And they are working as hard as they can to clear the streets, he said.

But for Peck, trying to find someone to listen is half the battle. She's left countless messages, talked to numerous people and the most definitive response she's gotten is "we'll check on it."

She doesn't think it should take a week to solve the problem. But here's the way it went:

On Monday, when Lincoln woke up to its first snowfall of the season, the ramp outside Peck's building was cleared. Unfortunately, she couldn't get the front door open because the dock leading to the ramp was still covered. On Tuesday, her landlord shoveled the dock but the small sidewalks along her building were still snow-packed.

By Wednesday night, the sidewalks were cleared, but not the alley crossing the sidewalk. And although the curb cuts were shoveled, she then confronted mounds of snow in the crosswalk left by the snowplow.

Friday night, a group of her friends cleared the sidewalk that crosses the alley. Saturday morning, she found someone had driven through it and left snow blocking her path. Again.

She's enlisted the help of Thomas Keefe, a staff attorney with ASUN student legal services. Although he realizes the difficulties the city has in trying to clear all the snow - and in dealing with high winds that undo their efforts - he'd like to find a solution for his client.

Like one person for her to contact, rather than the "impossible task" of having to call each business along her path. And maybe a policy to handle problems such as the snowpiles blocking the curb cuts.

"Someone needs to clean those out, and that's not getting done," he said.

Peck hopes if she puts a lot of effort into getting the problems solved the first time around, when the second snow hits it won't be so difficult. But sometimes it seems like a losing battle.

On top of everything, Friday afternoon the city towed her van from a 24-hour handicap parking spot. That would be the van she couldn't get into because of the snow packed around it.

"That just about drove me over the edge last night," she said.

Reach Margaret Reist at 473-7226 or