Press Release: First Annual Briefing for State Legislators Held at The Independence Center

State Rep. Teri Carver speaks at the First Annual Legislative Breakfast at The Independence Center State Rep. Teri Carver speaks at the First Annual Legislative Breakfast at The Independence Center[/caption]
COLORADO SPRINGS, CO, September 29, 2015 – The first annual Legislative Breakfast occurred at The Independence Center (The IC) September 28, 2015. Six state legislators attended the briefing where eight specific issues faced by people with disabilities were presented and discussed. Presentations on each issue were given by staff members of The Independence Center. Discussions included input from staff, legislators and The IC board members. The briefing was moderated by Patricia Yeager, CEO of The IC.
Issues on the table were housing, transit, employment, community transitions (referring to transition out of nursing homes into independent living), home modifications/ assistive technology, emergency preparedness, rural issues and home health. Each issue was framed as an opportunity for the legislators to observe that cost savings to the state and independent living for those with disabilities are not mutually exclusive.
“If we can get in the door, if we can get on the bus, if employers will hire us, we will be taxpayers,” Patricia Yeager, CEO stated regarding the need for accessibility in buildings, transportation, and the private employment sector.
The briefing took on a notable tone of dialogue, with legislators often providing comments, asking questions, and providing status updates regarding certain issues. Current issues were raised in this manner such as the status of CDOT Bustang collaboration with El Paso County and the impending merger of the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation and the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

State Sen. Kent Lambert Speaks at the First Annual Legislative Breakfast at The IC

State Sen. Kent Lambert Speaks at the First Annual Legislative Breakfast at The IC

What became apparent during the briefing was the significant interrelationship between the issues, and that solutions to one issue may very well serve as solutions to other issues accordingly. For example, housing is interrelated with community transitions. Because the Pikes Peak region lacks affordable, accessible housing, oftentimes people with disabilities reside unnecessarily in nursing homes, costing the state thousands of dollars each month in Medicaid costs. Working to solve the problem of lack of affordable housing inventory will also help save money in Medicaid dollars to nursing homes.
The breakfast discussion remained largely non-political and incorporated facts as well as anecdotal stories. For instance, Rep. Terri Carver spoke of experience from her early work as a 19-year-old in home health care and Rep. Janak Joshi spoke of his experience as a physician treating patients with transportation needs in rural areas. The officials were clearly engaged, concerned, and expressed gratitude to The IC with an ovation at the conclusion.
State legislature attendees were Sen. Kent Lambert (R), Rep. Terri Carver (R), Rep. Janak Joshi (R), Rep. Pete Lee (D), Rep. Paul Lundeen (R) and Rep. Gordon Klingenshmitt (R).
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To Drive or Not to Drive

The report, “Transportation in Transition: A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America’s Biggest Cities,” is based on the most current available government data. It is the first ever national study to compare transportation trends for America’s largest cities.
Courtney Stone, a community organizer with The Independence Center, spoke at the media release of this report about her personal choice to drive less. She stated some ways that alternative transportation options serve the larger community, but more specifically, the population of people (with or without disabilities), who do not have the option to drive personal cars and rely on transit and other forms of transportation in order to fully access their community.
While some people are choosing to drive less, alternative transportation serves the greater need of providing choices to people with disabilities when other options may be limited. CoPIRG will be working on a state-wide level to advocate for more funding for alternative transportation; the community organizing department of The Independence Center will be partnering with them in the future to advocate for more accessible transportation in Colorado Springs.
The study found that cities with the largest decreases in driving were not those hit hardest by the recession. On the contrary, the economies of urbanized areas with the largest declines in driving appear to have been less affected by the recession according to unemployment, income and poverty indicators.
Quick Facts from the report:

  • The proportion of workers commuting by private vehicle—either alone or in a carpool—declined in 99 out of 100 of America’s most populous urbanized areas between 2000 and the 2007-2011 period.
  • In Colorado Springs driving miles per capita decreased by 6.0%. In the Denver urbanized area, there was a 10.6% decrease in vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) per capita from 2006 to 2011. The decrease in Denver was the 9th largest percent decrease among America’s 100 largest cities.
  • The percent of workers commuting by private vehicle in the Colorado Springs urbanized area fell 3.4 percent between 2000 and the 2007 to 2011 period—the 8thlargest reduction out of the 100 largest urbanized areas in the U.S. In Denver the drop was 2.8%, 17th largest.
  • The number of passenger miles travelled on transit per capita increased 13.5 percent in Denver between 2005 and 2010. In Colorado Springs, transit passenger miles per person increased by 4.2 percent. Measured in terms of the number of trips taken on public transit per-capita, Denver witnessed a 3.5 percent increase from 2005 to 2010.
  • The proportion of households without a car increased 0.7 percent in the Colorado Springs urbanized area between 2006 and 2011. This proportion fell in 84 of the largest 100 urbanized areas. Likewise, the proportion of households with two or more vehicles fell in 86 out the 100 most populous urbanized areas during this period, including Colorado Springs, where it fell 2.9 percent.
  • The proportion of residents working out of their home increased in all 100 of America’s most populous urbanized areas between 2000 and 2010, including in Colorado Springs which had a 1.3% increase.

Driving Is Declining and Non-Driving Transportation Is Increasing in Urbanized Areas


Guest Blogger: Community Organizing Take a Trip to Chicago

improvements in peoples’ lives by effectively strategizing issue campaigns on topics across the political spectrum.

[Courtney and Achini in Chicago for training]
The 26 organizers at the training spent 12 hours a day together and learned how to give people a sense of their own power by altering the balances of power that limit peoples’ potential. They planned, role-played, and deliberated – they even wrote a song! The training covered topics from storytelling and one-on-one interviews, to building coalitions and confronting decision-makers.
Ultimately, the process of change is a slow and long one, but the energy, knowledge, and relationships gained in Chicago will only propel The Independence Center towards creating a more accessible, engaged, and empowered community for persons with disabilities, their families and the community.
[Oct training in Chicago]
In addition to training in Chicago, the Organizing Committee on Transit (OCT) held an all-day retreat at the end of August in alliance with the Community Organizing department of The Independence Center. They received a short training on strategic planning and brainstormed about their goals to more accessible transit in Colorado Springs.
The group has incredible passion and truly believes that people with disabilities should be freely able to contribute towards and be involved with their communities by having convenient, safe, and accessible transportation across the city.

If you have an interest in working towards that goal (or if a lack of transportation has or does limit your choices), get in touch with the OCT by calling 719-471-8181 ext. 146. We’d love to have you join us!


What is the Organizing Committee on Transit (OCT)?

The Organizing Committee on Transit (OCT) is a group of Colorado Springs citizens who advocate for the expansion of public transit in the city. In 2012 the OCT advocated strongly for the top priority that was found in their listening campaign: restoration of evening bus service. As a result of their efforts, in conjunction with the work of several other persons and organizations across Colorado Springs, the evening bus service returned to the riders of Colorado Springs on April 1st, 2013. With this victory in hand, the OCT is now planning their new campaign for expansion of our transit system.
Contact Community Organizers Achini or Courtney at the Independence Center:
Achini Wijesinghe
(719) 471-8181
Courtney Stone
(719) 471-8181

Evening Service Returns

During the past two months the committee has continued its research on several fronts including individual interviews with candidates for City Council.  The intention of these interviews was twofold: to understand each candidate’s vision for the City as well as their positions on transit.  The interviews were also a first step in developing a working relationship with people who care about the city and are willing to dedicate their time to make a difference.  That last point applies to the members of the O.C.T. who have given a great deal of time and talent to achieve a successful outcome in their first campaign.
Committee members Sharon King and Frank Blakely were interviewed by Fox and KOAA news reporters and broadcast later that evening.  Both Sharon and Frank did a fine job of presenting informed opinions on the renewal of evening service and what it means to not have to live with a curfew. “It’s really exciting; to me it says we’re taking a step forward into the 21st century.” Frank explained “Without this expansion, I have no evening time except to sit in my apartment and watch television and read a book. Reading a book is probably good for me, but I like to go out sometimes!”  Sharon also spoke to the isolation that comes from not having access to good public transit and how the new service will help overcome the sense of being cut off from the wider community.
We celebrated with a ‘victory lap’ on buses #7 and #5 with a trip to the Citadel Mall where people gathered at the food court.  Congratulations to the O.C.T. on their good work that will benefit the entire community.


Transit Letter

Earlier in January, our CEO wrote a letter to City Council about the 2013 budget and the need to reexamine some of the ideas being proposed for people with disabilities and transit. One of the main concerns is a taxi voucher option for some Metro Mobility customers. Below is Patricia’s letter.  The Mayor’s Office Responded. See the Mayor’s response here.

To City Council Members
Re: 2013 Budget
I am writing as the CEO of The Independence Center located on South Tejon. One of the reasons this location is so perfect for us is that there is a bus stop on the corner. It is a symbol of the independence we work hard to help people with disabilities of all ages achieve. While we appreciate the Mayor’s proposal for limited expanded evening service, Colorado Springs really needs a better public transit system across the region. The Mayor’s vision of giving people with disabilities taxi vouchers could completely strain the City’s budget. With 60,000 people with disabilities (2000 Census), if even 20,000 came out of the woodwork to use these vouchers, this is an expensive way to go. Door to door service, while desirable by every resident in the city, is the most expensive option. How will we cap this service? People will only be allowed so many rides; only to certain places? Such an arrangement is charity of the worst sort. Able-bodied people saying when and where people with disabilities can live, shop, and work in the city. A robust public transit system provides independence not only for seniors and people with disabilities but all those individuals who choose not to have or drive a car. Public transit makes for a livelier and certainly a city with a much healthier air quality.
A separate but very related issue is having accessible, affordable housing located in those transit corridors. As more and more people see that they can get to work or shop or play without using their cars, this need will grow. The Mayor has proposed to cut planning fees by 50%.  Rather than cut those fees, why don’t we use them as incentives for developers to build housing in the transit corridors? Additionally, the City could expedite projects meeting the objective of accessible, affordable as well as  upscale housing in the transit corridors.
While I understand all of this cannot happen in 2013, let’s agree to work toward these six goals to improve our transit system:

  1. More frequent bus service during the rush hours (30 and 60 minute intervals don’t work for the employed)
  2. Expanded evening hours across the system
  3. Transit service to the Powers corridor so that people can take jobs there
  4. Transit to the bases  for job access (we can work with the military on security issues)
  5. Save those planning fees for housing development incentives in the transit corridors.
  6. Create a real transit plan that meets the needs of more than the 4000 individuals who currently ride the bus, according to the Mayor (October 31 joint Council/Mayor meeting)

I do not believe it is in the economic best interests of Colorado Springs to be a city where you must have a car to live here. That policy has poor health consequences and attacks the diversity of our region. The current policy suggests that anyone who needs transit must move downtown is the beginning of a ghetto right in the midst of our tourist area. A vibrant, economically healthy city must include public transit options.
The Independence Center and our transit leadership team look forward to working with the Council and the Mayor on this issue.  We aren’t going away.
Patricia Yeager, CEO
The Independence Center


Letter to The Gazette about Transportation

To the people who run the city

Re: Retirees seen as economic engine. (Feb. 24)
I wonder if local policymakers and taxpayers are paying attention to the report on the number of senior citizens in Colorado Springs expected to triple in the next 30 years as baby boomers and others retire in large numbers?
One of the resulting needs stated as an economic engine is public transportation. Say what? Isn’t the Springs on a campaign to reduce and dismantle its public transportation? Currently, seniors and people with disabilities who don’t drive, those too young to drive or can’t afford a car, and those who choose to be environmentally conscious are out of luck when trying to get across the Springs. People who would like to work at the bases or up north where there are more jobs but don’t drive, are also out of luck when it comes to those jobs.
Rather than cutting back on public transportation as happened during the passage of the last county budget, we need a vision of public transportation across the county that is inclusive of riders of all ages, functional limitations and reasons for not driving. We also need the funding to make sure that cost-effective public transportation is available to all. After all, who knows what the price of gas will be over the next 30 years. Hope the 250 people who run Colorado Springs are paying attention.
Patricia Yeager, CEO, The Independence Center
Colorado Springs


Bell's Response

Give officials a bus ride

People with disabling conditions in Colorado Springs often have very low incomes, but place a very high value on social and financial independence. Yet for many, the biggest barrier to securing and maintaining employment, attending school, seeing a physician or getting together with family and friends is lack of accessible and reliable public transit.
I could not agree more with Patricia Yeager’s comments in her Mar. 7 letter to the editor. The need for high-quality public transit is going to drastically increase as the boomer generation grows older.
Isn’t it odd that the frugal and business-minded elected officials of Colorado Springs will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on contracts for big real estate projects (read, the USOC building downtown) and swimming pools (which should have never been closed in the first place), and yet cut subsidies for transportation for disabled citizens and eliminate bus routes from schedules for the rest of the public?
Owning and maintaining an automobile is expensive. When you have to pay hundreds of dollars a month out of pocket to pay for medical care, driving to the store, to work or to the doctor in your own car is just a dream.
I challenge our elected officials to spend one day (or better yet one week), trying to get to medical appointments, meetings with staff and community leaders or even taking a trip to Memorial Park on a Sunday afternoon — without a car or truck. It may change their perspective about the value of funding transit and other community services in Colorado Springs.
Steve Bell, BrainStorm Career Services
Colorado Springs