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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Southridge Boots Bus Stop Protesters from Site

Seniors and disabled bus riders unhappy with long walk to the mall

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Private security guards asked an estimated 100 protesters—and the media—to leave Greendale’s Southridge Mall property on Saturday afternoon as they protested the mall owner’s decision to move its only bus stop to the perimeter of the parking lot.

The new bus stop, near South Edgerton Avenue, is a long, unprotected, 1,000-foot walk to the entrance of the mall.

Members of the Bus User Safety at Southridge (BUSS) coalition say that the mall owners are deliberately discriminating against older and disabled transit riders by locating the bus stop so far from the entrance to the shopping center.

“It’s a tragic situation,” said Don Natzke, a Shorewood resident. “What makes it so deplorable is that we end up having barriers because of structures that were built a long time ago. But this is one by decision. A decision was made to create barriers. I think that’s the painful part of it.”

Both the county’s attorney and the U.S. Department of Justice are determining whether the new bus stop complies with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

“You’re supposed to provide reasonable access under the ADA,” said Milwaukee County Supervisor Patricia Jursik, an attorney. “That’s generally interpreted to mean at least sidewalks and curbs, none of which are here.”

Southridge owner Simon Property Group had made the decision last year to move the bus stop for what it termed “safety reasons.” The company does allow Paratransit vans to stop at the mall entrances.

(The company did not respond to the Shepherd’s request to comment for this article.)

But Jursik, who organized the BUSS rally, said the decision has put bus riders’ safety at risk by requiring them to make the long trek through the parking lot without the protection of sidewalks.

“There has never been a single reported incident of any accident with a bus or a pedestrian here,” Jursik said. “Besides that, they still permit delivery trucks. We were here when a delivery truck was actually blocking the pathway of people who were on the bus trying to get to Sears. There was a delivery truck backed up into one of their ports. So the bus riders had to go into the parking lot to get around the truck. It’s pretty apparent that goods and services get priority over human beings at the mall.”

Jursik said the relocated bus stop has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with the mall owner’s attempt to select their customers.

“It’s apparent that they are not going to give equal access to those who use the bus,” Jursik said. “I think it’s about ‘those people’ versus the young and affluent that they want in the mall.”

 

Deterring Shoppers

BUSS members arrived at Southridge, the state’s largest shopping center, on a Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) bus. Security officers told them they couldn’t carry signs, so BUSS members moved to the public sidewalk. Reporters were barred from standing on mall property and could not take photos or record events if they happened to step foot on the site.

Driven away by mall security, the BUSS members walked half a mile to South 76th Street and back to the parking lot’s Edgerton Avenue entrance. Many wore colorful hats for Easter, and a number of participants used canes, wheelchairs and at least one seeing-eye dog. Many told the Shepherd that they would not shop at Southridge until the bus stop was moved back to the entrance of the mall.

Geri Lyday, administrator of Milwaukee County’s disability services, said she didn’t understand Simon Properties’ business motive, since the relocated stop would only deter transit riders from shopping at the mall.

“What was it really targeting?” Lyday said. “That’s our issue. It takes us back many years in the fight for equal rights for folks with disabilities and older folks. It’s just a tragic day. I’m so surprised by this decision.”

Jursik said she was upset that Simon Properties used $15.8 million in tax incremental financing (TIF) from Greendale to make upgrades to Southridge, then moved the bus stop as soon as the redevelopment was completed. She contends that the tax support for Southridge should guarantee easy public access for all.

“That’s what’s so outrageous,” Jursik said.