Accessibility advocate to challenge Susan Guidry in City Council bid

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Jonah Bascle

Jonah Bascle

Susan Guidry, the incumbent representative for District A on the New Orleans City Council, has drawn her first announced challenger for her re-election: 27-year-old comedian Jonah Bascle.

But Bascle, confined to a wheelchair by muscular dystrophy, says he remains just as serious about making New Orleans accessible to people with disabilities as he was when he ran for mayor in 2010.

“It’s been four years,” Bascle said. “Stuff that I thought would be done by now still isn’t.”

One of Bascle’s most visible crusades — and least successful — has been trying to make the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line usable by people in wheelchairs. While the red streetcars that run on Canal and now Loyola Avenue are accessible, the green streetcars that run on St. Charles Avenue are not, and the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority insists that any change to them would run afoul of their historic designation.

“It’s still kind of a topic that a lot of people don’t want to talk about for some reason,” Bascle said, noting that the streetcar tracks have been under construction for years now without any improvements to accessibility. “They’re adding all this stuff without fixing what they need to fix first.”

More incremental progress has been made on wheelchair-accessible taxicabs — in a way. After multiple rewrites, the city has updated its taxicab ordinances, and permits for wheelchair-accessible taxis are now available. The problem is, no cab companies in New Orleans have purchased them yet.

“Permits are available; they just need people with enough money to purchase accessible cabs,” Bascle said. “People are just kind of avoiding it. They say it’s going to happen soon, but as of today, there are none on the street.”

On even minor issues, accessibility seems to be an afterthought, Bascle said. New curbs on Freret Street near his Uptown home were built at a sharp angle that wheelchairs can’t negotiate. New restaurant permits are issued on a regular basis to buildings that wheelchairs cannot get into.

“They say, ‘We’ve got these new restaurants — they’re great,’ but they’re not for everyone,” Bascle said.

Bascle considered running for mayor a second time, but said a City Council run will give him a similar platform — plus more leverage to do good if he wins.

“By running for City Council, if I could actually win, I could make a bigger difference that way than running for mayor,” Bascle said. “Even if you were to win mayor, it’s hard to get a lot of stuff done.”

Susan Guidry

Susan Guidry

District A is his home, he said, so his run is not necessarily directed at Susan Guidry, he said. She hasn’t been one of the primary council members involved in the committees where he has advocated for change, but as far as he knows, Guidry has done a decent job representing her district.

That said, Guidry’s lack of apparent challengers so far also played into his decision.

“It seems like should have some challenger,” Bascle said. “Having younger people on the city council would also be a beneficial thing.”

Guidry’s campaign, meanwhile, issued a statement welcoming Bascle to the race.

“Together, we have made great progress in rebuilding our city,” the campaign wrote. “But we need to keep up the momentum and continue improving, and that includes making New Orleans more accessible for people with mobility issues. This topic is close to Susan’s heart. That’s why we’re delighted that Jonah is continuing his crusade to raise awareness about wheelchair accessibility.”

Although he is a standup comedian, Bascle said he believes voters will take him and his message seriously. In fact, his experience on stage should help him communicate.

“I’ve never ran for office as a joke,” Bascle said. “The main thing is, I’m just being myself. When I run for office, I’m not being a comedian. I don’t think there are enough people here pointing to the spots that are ridiculous in politics, and where they could be doing more and helping more.”

23 thoughts on “Accessibility advocate to challenge Susan Guidry in City Council bid

  1. Good luck, ask her if every street light is now working. That project was suppose to end 8 months ago. AND SUPPORT JIMMYS

  2. I think Bascle is barking up the wrong tree with the St. Charles streetcar, both in terms of sheer cost and the historic designation. Also, when he staged a protest a few years ago to physically block the streetcars and inconvenience riders, he went overboard and alienated potential supporters. It was an immature stunt.

    There is much to be said for having wheelchair ramps at intersections with sidewalks and, within reason, enforcing mandates for handicap accessibility in public accommodations. Surely, we could accomplish much more for handicap accessibility with repaving sidewalks and installing proper ramps than we could with a staggeringly expensive scheme to retrofit the entire St. Charles streetcar line to ADA standards. If Bascle understood that, perhaps he could have more impact.

      • David,

        No, it’s not. You’d have to completely redesign many aspects of the streetcar line, especially the stops. In any event, I’m not necessarily talking about every single sidewalk, but you could certainly get more bang-for-your-buck with sidewalk improvements.

          • Mr. Owen Correges,

            I too like letter format because it makes me sound like I know what I’m talking about, even if I don’t, because that seems to be what you’re doing.
            Stop being so foolish dude, read how the ADA actually is and don’t just use it as an excuse to not get things done.

          • Frankie,

            I’m generally familiar with the ADA and I know what it requires. If you think anything I’ve said is inaccurate, feel free to explain.

          • That is not true. The RTA has said they could do some stops. The ADA in Washington has also said they can do some stops.

        • That’s also not true. You only need to add stops. It’s also not about getting bang for your buck in making a city more handicapped accessible. It’s about fixing the city’s problems and quickly to make the citizens that live in it have a better quality of life.

      • I’m all for making the St. Charles line ADA compliant, but it would be a massive undertaking. There is a lot more involved than just cutting out the sides of the cars and installing lifts. Very few stops along the St. Charles neutral ground have enough room to meet ADA spec. You would basically have to re-design the entire length of St. Charles to match Canal St with wide center stops and center light/power poles. Utilities and much of the track would have to be moved to accommodate the new configuration. The portion on Carrollton is very wide and would be easier to make compliant, and downtown is stops are in a wide no parking zone so those shouldn’t be a problem either.

        I’d be curious to see the cost of that project vs. running a companion bus alongside the entire route with similar frequency. It might make more sense to turn the St. Charles line into a true “guided tour bus” with less frequency and have the bus run alongside for commuters with the current ~8min headway.

        • RRod3,

          I personally think an alternative transit structure would be a better solution. I think we already have it through paratransit, and to the degree paratransit isn’t as convenient, it should be reworked. For example, I do think the paratransit fee should be lowered to the standard streetcar fee ($1.25) in the vicinity of St. Charles.

          • Alternative Transit Structure? It that some indie band? To take paratransit you have to book a ride 24 hours in advance. And the last time they do pick ups is at 11pm. Reworking the paratransit would be great but what do people that need services like this now do in the mean time?

    • Maybe you should confine yourself to a wheelchair for about a week and see what it’s like to really be “inconvenienced”. I’m very fortunate and not in a wheelchair, nor do I have any mobility issues, but I am aware of how difficult it is for someone who is to get around – even if you can afford your own transportation, much less if you rely on public transportation. And shame on the city if they are allowing new businesses to open bypassing the ADA requirements!

      • Dixie,

        I’m not going to get into this emotional appeal. The bottom line is that an individual does not have the right to illegally block traffic and intentionally inconvenience others by virtue of having a disability.

  3. “It’s still kind of a topic that a lot of people don’t want to talk about for some reason,”

    The reason is because RTA has a service called LIFT, which caters to people in wheel chairs.

    • Except for the fact that you have to call several days in advance for anything and they don’t run past a certain time. Sure, it’s great for planning going to the grocery, but if you want to do anything even remotely spontaneous you have the option to call a taxi and it will be there in an hour at most. Try never having that option?

  4. You’ve got my vote Jonah. New blood is always a good thing in politics. People have no idea how fortunate they are to be healthy and mobile. Every time I see a car blocking a sidewalk or a crosswalk, I’m reminded that while it might be an inconvenience for me, it is a huge obstacle for someone with impaired vision or confined to a wheelchair.

    All of our citizens deserve a completely accessible transit system. What if paratransit could be re-worked to function more like a taxi? It might cost less than rebuilding the entire St. Charles line and it would probably be faster for the few people that need it. The service should be 24/7 and it could be requested on short notice. The fare structure could be similar to the RTA: one price for all one-way trips inside the city limits.

  5. As a fellow Uptowner, I’m so excited that Mr. Bascle is running and am hoping that it brings some much needed attention to New Orleans’ infrastructure and how it impacts citizens with disabilities.

    Wheelchair accessible taxis and auditory pedestrian signals for those with blindness are some basic features that the city has yet to implement.

    I want my hometown to remain a major U.S. destination, but to do this, we need to prioritize accessibility more than we do!

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