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Amtrak platform needs benches Howard: Amtrak platform needs benches

Roanoke Times - 12/18/2017

By E. Duane Howard

Howard has served on Roanoke's Mayor's Committee for People with Disabilities and was asked to serve on the Parks & Recreation Comprehensive Master Planning Committee in 1999 to represent the disabled community.

Google definition of "Bench", a long seat for several people, typically made of wood or stone, synonyms: pew, stall, settle, seat; bleacher, "he sat on a bench":

Who does not know and understand what a bench is? We have all grown up with one and used one from the first time our parents put our little bottoms on one so they could sit down for some relief or relaxation.

A bench goes back to the beginning of time and man. Certainly if you're old enough, you have most likely had many a conversation with a stranger from sitting on a shared bench. You could have met an unknown neighbor to a person from the other side of the world. Benches have led to making new friends from strangers to who knows how many have found their life's partner on a bench. When I lived in New York City, a population of 8 million or more, I starting chatting with a stranger on a bench and what are the odds that he was from Roanoke. We became friends for decades.

A bench needs no sign on it as to what it is for. The sight of a bench automatically registers in our brain and says;

"Here I am, come sit a spell, relax, relieve those tired aching muscles from your shoulders to your feet. Take a break here before you continue your shopping and looking around, we want you to be with us as long as you want. Our city put us here to welcome you in hopes you stay and enjoy your visit."

That is of course unless you live in the only seven time All-America City of Roanoke.

We spend millions to modernize and bring tourists here, but have regressed in doing away with our historic benches and of all places in our historic district, often around downtown in favor of those concrete slabs that are about as inviting as being on as a morticians table.

The point of all this is as we all discovered in boarding the first Amtrak train from Roanoke the lack of not a seat or bench one on our beautiful new loading platform, with its awesomely access of the handicap ramps which will serve man and beast (Our beloved pets) from cradle to grave.

But once you're track side, they couldn't put in two or three benches, not only for those in need, but what about the tourists we want? when they leave Roanoke and can't be comfortable to sit and wait for their departure, their last impression of Roanoke being an "Uncomfortable" one.

My inquires to the city I was told that the platform was under the control of Norfolk Southern and Amtrak. My further inquires to the city I was told there are no plans to have any seating. I, as well as most seniors and the disabled community find this simply unacceptable, almost three decades after the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

I was told during one inquiry to the city that it was about money. Delving deeper, I was given a contact to an Amtrak official who told me it had nothing to do with money since Norfolk Southern owns the facility, which was state funded. In fact, Amtrak would like to be able to provide such basic simplicity for all its customers.

If I understood my conversation correctly, the sole responsibility falls back on our city for not even bringing up the issue nor pushing for any seating. A source within the city told me they didn't even recall the issue being brought up in the entire discussion of the platform for it was all about having a raised platform which was of course was to help accommodate the loading of the train and people with disabilities. So, $9.9 million was spent to have the most modern, up to date loading facilities to accommodate the population and people with disabilities but be damned with their comfort while waiting track side for the train.

My understanding is that it is up to our city and the powers that be to ask for and seek from the state this needed asset and that the need and desire comes from the public.

Will this seven time All-America City ever stop letting its problems with the homeless keep from providing to the greater tax-paying populations of our city the most basic need of benches to welcome tourist and be more accommodating for all its citizens, no matter what their age or condition is?


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