Electric-powered wheelchairs are a common site motoring down the center of Perry’s streets because the city’s defective system of sidewalks leaves the motorists no alternative for routes.
Now a close call has led a Perry resident to urge the Perry City Council to mandate the use of lights on motorized wheelchairs. Ron Whelchel of Perry even brought along a flashing light to illustrate his point when he addressed the council in open forum Monday night.
“As a longtime resident of Perry, Iowa” Whelchel said, “I have great concerns about what’s going on in the streets of Perry after dark. There are people walking, riding, skateboarding, rollerblading” and engaging in other activities after dark, and they are hard to see.
“The most serious concern I have are the people in electric wheelchairs,” Whelchel said. “I almost hit one.” He said he came around a corner, and a wheelchair popped out from behind a parked car. The near miss led him to call for mandatory safety devices.
“I suggest that these wheelchairs have a flashing yellow light mounted on the wheelchair so that one could see them after dark,” he said. “So I’m asking the council members, please, let’s get something done, or someone’s going to get killed.”
Perry City Council member Dean Berkland took up Whelchel’s remarks for discussion, noting that LED lights used on bicycles can be seen for a distance of two miles. Berkland asked Perry Police Chief Eric Vaughn about the current state of city ordinances.
“We really don’t have anything specific towards wheelchairs themselves,” Vaughn said. “Electrical chairs have become popular here just within the last few years. We’ve been fighting this issue, as you guys know, every year for the past five or 10 years, every spring and fall with regard to the skateboards and bicyclists.”
Vaughn said Perry Police Department officers have worked with some success in recent years to enforce the city ordinance requiring lights on bicycles. He said bike riders “seem more cooperative and receptive to our contacts than anybody else.” He said joggers and skateboarders have been more reluctant to don reflective vests.
But the state of the city’s sidewalks are at the heart of the problem for wheelchairs, Vaughn said.
“Some of our sidewalks are in the condition either where they can’t gain access, or they’re just not in good shape for them to be on them,” he said.
Berkland asked Vaughn whether they council should consider an ordinance requiring lights specifically for wheelchairs.
“It’s something that we could look at,” Vaughn said. “We’d have to look at regulations. Most of those people are handicapped, and they have rights to be on the roadway, but we could look at that.”
The council members then shared stories of encountering slow-moving wheelchairs on the city’s streets.
“I would encourage those people not to travel after dark just because of the slow pace they are taking in the roadway,” Vaughn said. “I really hope that they’d be home before that happens but even at dusk, when the sun goes down, it’s probably the worst time. We can look into that and maybe somehow address that issue.”
For their own safety, we should probably pass an ordinance that requires lights,” Berkland said. “It would be a terrible thing. A guy in a wheelchair that gets hit by a car is not going to make it. It would be a blessing if he did make it, but I’d be scared to see that.”
Council member Dr. Randy McCaulley asked Vaughn whether the city could legally prohibit wheelchairs from using the streets.
“I think we’d have some problems with wheelchairs and handicapped access,” Vaughn said. “Either that or we’d have to spend a lot of money fixing sidewalks. That’s kind of the problem that we have right now.”
Perry Mayor Jay Pattee noted the city’s sidewalks have been the subject of numerous studies over the years, and recommendations have been made but ignored.
“I think it does come down to the money, and it constantly get put on the back burner,” Pattee said, acknowledging Perry’s sidewalks “leave a lot to be desired.” He also noted the city’s ordinance requiring sidewalks be built alongside all new residences has been ignored.
The question was ultimately referred to the council’s Public Safety Committee for further study. The committee is composed of council members Barb Wolling and McCaulley.