Transit: Don’t shut them out in the cold

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For about 25 years, I have represented local citizens and constituents in various local elected positions with Kootenai County, the city of Coeur d’Alene and the Coeur d’Alene School District. Over those years, I’ve been a part of the design, building, remodeling and maintenance of many public facilities. The whole point of public facilities boils down to them being tools to serve the needs of our community members, on behalf of all of us. Some years ago, we built a new administration building for the county. Currently, we are deep into a major remodeling project for the Coeur d’Alene City Hall. One of the major reasons for the city hall remodel is to make the building more user-friendly for the public, including new ADA-compliant restrooms.

Now, the county and other partners are collaborating on the creation of a new transit center at Riverstone. Imagine the positive impact this would have on our community! What I can’t imagine is if we had decided to build/improve a publicly funded building on behalf of the public, but then told them we weren’t going to let them in out of the weather. And we especially aren’t going to provide even the most basic of features of a public facility — indoor restrooms with running water. Hey, our community is doing better than that, even on our new outdoor park designs (thanks in large part to my fellow council member, Dan Gookin).

The coming new transit center, as well as the bus routes, equipment, and other supports for that system, are a significant community asset funded by many community dollars from both local and federal dollars and the generous support of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe. It’s being suggested by some to tell our transit customers that it’s fine to use publicly funded buses — and we really hope you help us grow our ridership numbers — but when you need to go to the bathroom or just freshen up a bit, you’re going to have to hike over to a service station, coffee shop or other private facility. That’s because we’re not going to actually take into account the basic human needs of the public and we are afraid bathrooms and shelter will create a crime magnet (including for my 80-something mother-in-law who lives across the street in the new, wonderful senior housing complex). Am I really hearing/reading this right?

In my day job, I work with the senior and disabled population for the five northern counties of Idaho. If you have read recent reports, then you realize that our national senior population is growing at a fast clip. Among all the states, Idaho is growing even more, and specific counties like Kootenai are seeing the highest rate of growth in the senior demographics nationwide. We can anticipate an increased need for services and resources for seniors, not less or even static numbers.

According to a national research report just issued by Eldercare Locator, by the year 2020, the number of adults age 65 and older is expected to jump to 73 million people, more than double its size in 2010. This increase means that one out of every five Americans will be age 65 or older, which will likely drive an increase in the demand for services from older adults and their caregivers. The report, generated by The Aging Network — the national network of federal, state and local agencies — examines 2016 data collected by the Eldercare Locator. This locator, compiled from calls, email requests and online chats, indicates two major findings: First, the need for services among older adults is increasing. Second, the needs of this population are more complex than ever before. And the No. 1 request for service and assistance (21 percent of all contacts in 2016) was for transportation-related issues.

I count myself fortunate to be one of the city’s decision makers in this potential partnership with the county. I intend to raise a strong voice to include space for the public INSIDE the transit center, where the heating and cooling systems reside, as well as basic handicap-accessible public restroom facilities. I also support the space needed to provide a break room and office space for staff, but it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation.

• • •

Dan English is a Coeur d’Alene City Council member and former Kootenai County clerk.

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