Detroit, home of the Uniroyal Giant Tire

Interstate I-94 East from Ann Arbor, Michigan to downtown Detroit is a monotonous drive. Low-rise housing complexes, mall parking lots and the Detroit Metro airport pass you by on the mostly flat route, snaking its way towards the heart of the Motor City. But if there’s one weird landmark you’re not likely to miss along the way, it’s Detroit’s very own Uniroyal Giant Tire, rising more than 80 feet above the roadway.

This giant disk of premium rubber has been greeting Detroit-area commuters for more than 40 years. First built in 1964 as a monument for the World’s Fair in New York, the tire was originally a working Ferris wheel which could hold 96 riders. After the Fair’s conclusion the wheel was moved to its current home along the interstate. It’s been confusing and delighting motorists ever since, suddenly rising into view like a celestial hubcap sent from the heavens above.

It’s fitting that Detroit, a city that has long staked its reputation on the auto industry, would have such a landmark. But perhaps these days, with all the doom and gloom that’s been forecast in the state of Michigan, it’s become more a ghostly reminder of glory days past than a symbol of Detroit’s hopes for renewal. Still, for anyone who’s ever driven that flat road East towards Detroit, it’s a much needed symbol of whimsy and pride that never fails to make you smile.

400 people stuck on the London Eye

400 London Eye passengers were trapped for about an hour on the 135-meter high Eye yesterday. Apparently there was a technical fault with one of the tires that they thought best to fix before letting people off.

The process seems to have been dealt with quite well. All passengers were communicated with through intercom and were given access to the emergency blankets, water and commodes while they waited for things to be fixed.

The stories published in the media didn’t speak to any of the people who were stuck on there, however, an hour is a long time to be stuck on a giant wheel and surely the passengers (especially the ones at the top of the wheel) were scared if not petrified.

You may not be afraid of rides, but incidents like this can shake you up and are unforgettable. Anyway, there were no reported injuries, the wheel was fixed, and the passengers were given a hot drink and a refund when they stepped out. Good old British hospitality!

A Canadian in Beijing: Accessibility? If You Roll When You Stroll, 麻

[???? ? Troublesome, Inconvenient, Bother!]

I’ve been here for almost three months now (well, eleven weeks to be precise!) and I’ve been collecting images and information about accessibility in Beijing throughout my time. By this, I mean I’ve been looking around at the wheelchair access or lack thereof here.

I shouldn’t suggest that there’s no access here in Beijing. There are a few noticeable efforts that have been made. But, overall, I’d say that there’s lots more to be done to make this city more open to chairs and the people who occupy them.

If you walk on wheels, Beijing will be a tough place for you.

The sidewalks are bevelled. These kinds of designs in the sidewalk are for the blind, I am told. It enables blind people to feel the sidewalk’s center and to follow the subway corridors or the outdoor sidewalks more easily. For someone in a chair, however, these kinds of raised parts of the walkways would get tiring fast. Tiring and annoying, I’m sure.

What’s more, the steps in all the subways have a raised lip on each individual stair. Not that you’d enjoy going down sometimes more than fifty steps at one time (not all entrances and exits have escalators but most do), but if you had to descend even a few stairs in your chair, you’ll be met with a speed bump each time. I’m imagining that this would also become annoying.

But, once you get into main part of the subway, each car has a wheelchair section where there are no seats. I have never seen a chair here, just people standing. I’m wondering if this is because it’s so treacherous and steep to get down the steps and many winding corridors into the subway itself. Still, at least it exists.

Should we credit partial solutions for being part-way to complete, at least? Or, is “partial solution” an oxymoron?

Otherwise, I have seen the occasional ramp, especially at more tourist-friendly places. Here at the Summer Palace, there’s a ramp into most of the courtyards. Traditional Chinese courtyards generally have the kind of doorways that require one to step over a threshold. Sometimes these thresholds are more than a foot high! That doesn’t work too well for wheels and so these ramps enable all visitors to enter.

At the Summer Palace, I also noticed this sign before entering one of the park areas. It wasn’t clear which way was really ideal for the rolling stroll, but when I followed one of those arrows, it led to this steep climb that included occasional steps as well. So, if you were in a chair, your arms wil be mighty tired here and you’ll have only climbed half-way up the hill!

I have also seen a few ramps recently on sidewalks or outside of restaurants. This one appeared outside the Beijing Art Gallery near the parking lot.

This one is a new addition to a local restaurant in the Gu Lou area near Hou Hai.

Finally, there is almost no option for chairs on sidewalks, especially when there’s any construction going on, which, as you may recall in this post, seems to be happening at every turn. The obstruction of sidewalks in that process is rarely a concern here, forcing pedestrians onto the roadways quite reguilarly. As a result, I have seen several wheelchairs being pushed along the street, which becomes the only option. This series of images shows a woman pushing a chair in the same zone as the bikes and taxis. All have wheels, of course, but I think I’d prefer not to compete for space with a cab driver looking for side-of-the-road fares!

Here is a bike swerving around them:

Here they are being passed by a taxi.

Here they are about to swerve around a parked car. Yikes!

Anyway, the best wheelchairs that I’ve seen here are the motorbike chairs. I mean, if you’ve been forced into the same travel spaces as the motorized vehicles, why not motorize your chair, right? If you can’t beat ’em, join em! These are really cool looking with seating in front (the main driver) and then room for someone to sit comfortably behind as well. When I saw one, I thought it would be cool to ride on it. (Pictured at the top of the blog and here is a view of its backside.)

I think it’s rather sexy, myself.

All in all, I’m hoping they’re building in more accessibility into this city as a result of the coming Olympics and resulting increased tourism. As it stands, the city could use it. The attitude towards disability issues or, more appropriately, differently abled issues is rather slack and/or absentee. Some of my Chinese friends just shrugged when I mentioned it, like it was really something they hadn’t thought of before and/or didn’t feel the need to spend much time thinking about.

I have heard that traditional China kept those with disabilities separated from those without. I don’t know much more than that, but this was said in passing once and it stuck with me. Maybe in North America, we have become more accustomed to integrating everyone, regardless of what their walking legs look like, into a full society. I think China is coming along on these points recently, but it needs a push from behind.

It needs a little nudging around the parked attitudes of the past and into the diverse traffic of the future.

And hopefully this future will include sidewalks that will accommodate wheels and feet at the same time!

Smooth surfaces whether you stroll or roll.