- Associated Press - Saturday, May 2, 2015

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) - It takes Cedric Murphy 40 minutes to commute across famously traffic-free Shreveport.

Unable to feel parts of his legs, the 58-year-old’s main mode of transportation is a motorized wheelchair that only sometimes is accommodated by a city bus.

A recent encounter with police officers who ticketed Murphy for illegally “walking” in a Highland street echoed a pattern of such stops that previous Times analyses have shown are mostly made against black residents.

Murphy, who is black, says a Shreveport officer initially approached him asking if he’d stolen the items he was carrying. (He had not.)

SPD spokesman Cpl. Marcus Hines said the department could not comment because the case is pending in court.

But Murphy’s citation for walking in the street along Highland’s crumbling sidewalks spotlights the city’s infrastructure failures in the era of the new mayor’s promises to repair and beautify Shreveport’s streets.

“My path is supposed to be like everybody else’s, and it’s not,” said Murphy.

On a recent Tuesday, he nearly fell over trying to drive his wheelchair on an uneven Olive Street sidewalk, near where he was stopped. Nearby walkways inexplicably end in tufts of grass, if they exist at all.

For now, there’s no set date when Shreveporters can expect to see most sidewalks installed or fixed, though plans are in progress. And 25 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act went into effect, unsafe sidewalks with missing or poorly-maintained ramps are a common sight.

City Hall spokeswoman Africa Price said Mayor Ollie Tyler was unavailable to speak about this topic.

She referred instead to Stan Harris, Director of Public Works, who said as work begins on repairing the city’s sidewalks he’s aware many areas lack access for peoples with disabilities. He urged residents to notify city officials in order to expedite repairs in locations that need it the most.

“If they contact our offices and let us know, we will do what we can to correct those places and make it accommodating for them because a lot of the places around town don’t have those ramps available and we are aware of the issues,” Harris said.

But in terms of fixing the city’s roads and sidewalks, Harris said residential neighborhoods take a back seat to downtown and other highly-trafficked areas.

William Long, a disabilities attorney with clients in Shreveport and Bossier City, said the delay is problematic because those tend to be the areas neediest of repair.

“A good percentage of the people who suffer from mobility issues tend to be lower income and live in the areas where the streets and sidewalks are messed up the most,” Long said. “A lot of the sidewalks around Shreveport are not in good condition for people who don’t even have a disability.”

The Shreveport-Caddo 2030 Master Plan includes a transportation component to address pedestrian issues, but it likely will be years before Shreveport is brought in line with major cities, according to Loren Demerath, a Centenary sociology professor who studies the importance of pedestrian spaces to communities and has been active in local efforts to make Shreveport more bikeable and walkable.

“We only realize when we get out of our cars how difficult it is to transport yourself,” he said.

Murphy says his situation is embarrassing. And as he faces these obstacles on a daily basis he can’t help but feel his voice has been ignored completely.

“It seems like every time I’m trying to get somewhere and there’s any kind of complication it makes me feel inadequate and like I’m being treated like I’m less than human,” Murphy said. “It seems like I’m bothering (people) when all I’m trying to do is get to a job, a business or an appointment. I really just want to be able to get out and live life to the fullest.”

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Information from: The Times, https://www.shreveporttimes.com

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