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Surveying Tulsa sidewalks for a safer city

Advocates of all abilities take to the streets during the 2018 Access Tulsa event.

Jared Buswell

It wasn’t until she had children that Rabyne Eckstein realized something wasn’t right with Tulsa streets. Pushing her kids in their stroller along her familiar jogging route drew the city’s access inequality into sharp relief. 

“I discovered how incomplete our sidewalks really were. … [They] would just end in grass, or there wouldn’t be a curb cut, and sometimes there was mud so thick on top of the sidewalk itself that the wheels would get stuck,” she said. “Trying to access Tulsa with my kids and a stroller made me realize how inaccessible our city could be for a person with a disability or a physical challenge.” 

The experience pushed Eckstein to reach out to Tulsans who too often struggle to access the city in ways many take for granted. “I have working legs and arms and I was able to physically get around those obstacles where other people might not have been able to,” she said. “So obstacles for me were just an inconvenience with my kids, but for other people, that’s not the case.”

For people with physical challenges, inaccessibility is more than an inconvenience—it’s a matter of life and death. “If they roll off an incomplete curb cut into traffic, they could die,” Eckstein said. “If they’re blocked by a sign, like a construction sign, it could keep them from getting their prescription or groceries or catching the bus to get to work.”

She started Access Tulsa as an awareness-raising program. The organization coordinates meet-ups during which groups take to Tulsa’s sidewalks to survey accessibility. “Basically we do a street view, like a Google street view, on the sidewalks and then we share that data with the city to help them improve accessibility,” Eckstein said. 

This year’s event takes place on Oct. 15 at 6 p.m. It starts at 2439 E. 11th Street, formerly home to Fuel 66. 

“I chose this year’s route because it is near the kind of the main hub of where all the services for people with physical challenges,” Eckstein said. “You have the Center for Individuals with Physical Challenges, the Murdock Villa, which is a home for people with physical challenges, all right there. And yet that corner, at 11th and Utica, all four of those corners aren’t even accessible.”

Access Tulsa has already changed the landscape of the city. In 2014, they fought to have sidewalks installed on both sides of Riverside Drive near the Gathering Place. Just last year, their event at Utica Square resulted in new sidewalks and curbs.

Beyond building awareness around the city’s infrastructure inequities, a big part of the project is to make sure people have fun. “A lot of people with physical challenges are kind of isolated,” Eckstein said. “I wanted to … get people with and without physical challenges together to get them out to have fun and go through the city … to be around other people and be a part of something that definitely has an impact, a huge impact, for people with individual challenges to help them gain access to our city.”