What My Broken Leg Taught Me About Our Need For Better Infrastructure

After a collision left me with a shattered leg, inadequate infrastructure forced me to rely on others. Limited transit options and hazardous paths underscore the urgent need for infrastructure improvements to enable independent movement, emphasizing the necessity for accessible cities for all.

What My Broken Leg Taught Me About Our Need For Better Infrastructure
Photo by Alextredz / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

On September 14th, I was hit by the inattentive driver of a car while I was on my e-bike. The crash sent me over my handlebars and shattered my left leg. After a week in hospital, which included my first ever surgery, I was free to go home. I had no idea that my recovery would include being hampered by the atrocious infrastructure surrounding me.

Once home, I expected to need help. My boyfriend had to help out a lot more around the house, get things for me, etc. I also knew that getting in and out of my apartment would be a lot harder. This is due to us living on the second floor, without an elevator in our building. So overall, I expected a lower level of mobility.

handicap symbol
Photo by AbsolutVision / Unsplash

What really got to me though, is the complete reliance on others to go anywhere outside our apartment. Sure, after a few weeks I was able to get myself down to the mailbox and grab the mail. But I can't go any further than that. Any time I want to go out for food, to an appointment, or just to visit someone, I need to have someone help me. Even now that I'm able to drive again, I still need my boyfriend to bring the car around and load my walker into the backseat.

The problem

Transit options are pretty much non-existent for me. Sure, there's a bus that comes by every 45 minutes, but its a good 15 minute walk from my apartment (probably double or triple that time with a walker), with lots of curbs and uneven paving on the way. On top of the treachery of just getting to the bus stop, it would take about 2 HOURS to get to the office where I get my x-rays done or to the Orthopedic office!

Travel time between my house and the doctor's office. Note the two transfers required! The return trip would also be two hours!

If my area had better infrastructure, maybe I could've been going out on my own this whole time. That way, my boyfriend wouldn't have had to use his vacation time to miss work and take me to the doctor.

What needs fixing?

For my case, lets go over what could be better by analyzing the route I would have to take to get to the bus stop. This section has a lot of specific numbers, so buckle up!

Currently, the alleyway that services my apartment has a pretty steep slope from the apartment parking to the alleyway proper. I'd guess it's around 30 degrees. Then, I'd have to navigate the length of the alley while avoiding all the cracks and potholes, and going uphill for about 200 meters. At the end of the alley, I would hope and pray that nobody zooms around the corner and hits me before I can make it to the sidewalk. Another 40 meters down the sidewalk and I'd be confronted with a 25 meter long unmarked diagonal pedestrian crossing. This crossing also has cars turning off of a 6-lane main road going about 50-60mph (posted speed limit is 45mph, but nobody follows that). So lets assume that I could survive that. I'd then have to walk 170 meters uphill, with another unmarked crossing on the way, and 50-60mph traffic just 2-3 meters away from me.

So that's a total of about 435 meters, with 3 dangerous crossings, just to get to the first bus stop. Plus I'd probably have to wait a good 20-30 minutes for the next bus.

What could be fixed?

There's a few seemingly easy ways this route could be improved by the powers that be. First, they could add another bus stop between the one closest to me and the next stop. If they did that, it could be in a good spot where I could exit my apartment using the front of the building. This would mean I could avoid the alley and use a sidewalk most of the way. This new stop would also service the shopping centre that's right next to my apartment. Another easy fix would be to fill in the cracks and potholes in the alleyway. Sure, it will be expensive and take time, but it would be worth it to get it up to a basic level of accessibility.

orange lights on top of white and red metal bars
Photo by Matthew Hamilton / Unsplash

Now for the harder fixes. Obviously the bus line needs better service. Every 45 minutes is just way too big of a gap to be usable for most voluntary trips. Even before the crash, I would debate using the bus or taking my e-bike. Most times, it was way faster to take my e-bike. There also needs to be an expansion of overall service. An intercity transit trip of 25km (as the crow flies) should not take 2-3 times the travel time that a car would.

We've done it elsewhere

It's hard for me to accept that this level of neglect is acceptable when I see other cities that have addressed these problems. Lets look at the Netherlands for a good example. I used Google Maps to zoom in randomly to a town called Vakenburg. This town's municipality, according to Wikipedia, only has around 16,000 people in it. I found a random apartment building and mapped the way to the closest transit stop.

The overall time to the stop is about 13 minutes by foot. But, it is far more accessible. There are gentle ramps from the apartment to the sidewalk. A sidewalk is present the entire way there, with even paving the whole way. There are even a few spots along the way that I could sit or lean against if I needed some rest.

This is a far preferable living situation, which is still pretty car-centric, that accommodates far more people. And they did it in an area with a small fraction of the population, when compared to the South-East corner of Los Angeles that I live in!

In conclusion

This whole experience has shown me that we need to reform our cities so that people like me, and those who are far less fortunate than me, can have a chance to get around on their own! I'm lucky that the crash only broke one leg, or that I didn't need a wheelchair, and that I'm pretty young. I'm also lucky being in a decent financial situation where my boyfriend can afford to take time off work for my appointments. I can't imagine having to do all this without all the help I've gotten along the way.

We need to continue advocating for better mobility, so that a broken bone doesn't completely derail someone's life. Other places have done it, we can do it too.