After two years of discussions and meetings, Rockydale Lane has a paved path.
The lane, located half a block off of Lake Street, sits primarily unpaved — it gets graded every year but often develops large potholes and frequently floods in rainy months.
The weathered road posed an accessibility problem for Cloverdale resident Susan Verde, who was unable to get her wheelchair the 140 feet from her house to the next paved surface on Lake Street. Wheelchairs, she noted, need stable and level surfaces to operate; those who encounter rocks or bumps run the risk of the chair falling.
“If there was an event in town that we wanted to participate in … we’d have to get me in a vehicle, drive around and look for parking,” she said, adding this was the circumstance for some events that were only two blocks away. “Something like that could take us 45 minutes. Those things, it sounds like there’s a work around, but for most people it doesn’t take 45 minutes to go two blocks. That becomes a hindrance.”
Verde brought the issue up during a city council meeting in the summer of 2017, when she explained just how big of a barrier the rocky path was to her maintaining a way of life.
“I went down to city council and explained the circumstances — a lot of people, when you say you can’t get out, they don’t really know what that means,” Verde said, recalling the meeting. “It’s 140 feet separating me from being involved in my community, and that wasn’t an exaggeration — it was the truth.”
Verde and her partner purchased their house in 2013. In August 2015, she began to experience health problems that led to her being wheelchair-bound.
“When you’re walking and you can drive, you’re not aware that this (Rockydale Lane) would not sustain a wheelchair, walker, crutches or a cane,” she said. “I think that, for me, when this happened it occurred to us that this road was not going to be a functional road for being pushed down.”
After Verde brought the issue up to the city in June 2017, they agreed to form a subcommittee and begin the discussion of a possible fix. From there a subcommittee was created and a preliminary budget made, with a projected completion date of between fall 2018 and spring 2019.
Taking longer than anticipated, the project was completed on June 28.
As it sits, the paved path, which covers a little less than half of the width of Rockydale, is the extent of the project.
“There are no further plans to pave Rockydale Lane,” Assistant City Manager Kevin Thompson said. “Under Rockydale Lane are private sewer laterals that don’t meet city standards. Road reconstruction will require the upgrading of the sewer laterals, we don’t currently have funding for that large of a project.”
According to Thompson the project took longer than anticipated because of “contractor engagement and material availability.”
While the paved part of the road enables Verde to leave her house on her own accord, she emphasized how these types of improvements can better the lives of everyone in town. Having improved roads and more accessible areas can better the lives of those who may be aging in place, or those with kids who may have to push around a stroller.
“Sometimes it’s hard that both are true — the city is trying to deal with absence of income and how to balance money with projects — and the other side of it is that this is actually a human right, a civil right, a federal law. To me, the two weren’t exclusive,” Verde said.
The process of working through this has emphasized the global aspect of this issue — what happens when municipalities are faced with lack of money, crumbling infrastructure and addressing accessibility concerns, Verde said.
“My hope would be that everyone watching what I have gone through realizes this could happen to them,” Verde said. “No one wakes up thinking they’re going to become disabled, their lifestyle is going to change, their ability to be employed is going to change, their reliance on healthcare is going to change, they may have situations like this.
“Maybe just me bringing this to everyone’s attention will bring light to other things. Me being in this community saying ‘I want to be involved and out’ maybe will bring attention to things that aren’t as accessible. And maybe as time allows, those things will continue to be modified.”
Similar to the part of Cloverdale it’s in, Rockydale Lane often becomes enveloped in water when heavy rains hit Cloverdale. However, when winter comes, the city is expecting the pathway to hold up to the rain, Thompson said. In making the design, they accounted for rain and bad weather.
For the past couple weeks, Verde has enjoyed being able to independently explore the Cloverdale that has sat just beyond her fingertips for the past four years. Things that she once needed help leaving her house for — like patronizing downtown or going to her neighbor's house — she’s now able to do without help.
“I don’t have to strain, struggle, I don’t have to worry that I’m going to fall. I feel like I can do it on my own,” she said. “It’s so different when I go out there, it’s like night and day.”
“I have literally left my house every day, and it’s been great,” she said. “Having access has made a huge difference to me. A huge difference in just feeling like I can call the shot in my day — I can do what I want, when I want, not when somebody can get me there.”