Anchorage storms make transportation tricky for all, and worse for people with disabilities

A snow covered residential street in Anchorage.
Snow on an unplowed side road in Anchorage on November 14, 2023. (Rachel Cassandra/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage residents have faced a series of snow storms this week, and navigating streets and sidewalks in the city has been challenging, if not impossible.

Many sidewalks are covered in several inches of snow. The city has intermittently suspended its People Mover public bus service. And AnchorRIDES, which serves people with disabilities and mobility challenges, has been reduced to essential trips only, such as dialysis or other medical appointments.

Ian Casey is CEO of the Arc of Anchorage, an organization that serves Alaskans with developmental disabilities and behavioral health issues. He says a lot of the community members they serve don’t have their own vehicles.

“When People Mover is closed, or AnchorRIDES is not operating, then they basically don’t have any transportation choices,” Casey said. “And folks that use wheelchairs or other mobility aids, even if buses are running, they wouldn’t be able to necessarily get out of their apartments or houses or down the sidewalks to a bus stop.”

Casey said people often have to choose whether to stay home or to get help from friends, family, or organizations. And he said people without strong networks may have to cancel appointments or go without necessities like prescriptions. 

The Arc of Anchorage has been helping the people they serve with transportation when they can, but they have few vehicles that can get through heavy snow. So, staff also use personal vehicles to transport people to medical appointments or to their jobs. But, Casey said, not everyone has a strong community that can help during storms, so it’s important to check in on neighbors. 

“There’s people that don’t get services from agencies like ours that have mobility issues, and may need something from the store if you’re able to get out,” Casey said. “So,even if you aren’t aware that your neighbors have mobility issues, it’s still good to check in on each other.”

And Casey said these kinds of storms, especially when drawn out, affect mental health. 

“If you’re not able to get to your activities or your groups or whatever you participate in as a member of the community, that can lead to isolation,” Casey said. “And isolation, especially coming out of the pandemic, I think that we all learned that isolation is not good for mental health.”

Alaskans who need help getting essentials or essential transport during storms can call their closest Access Alaska office for a referral. 

RELATED: Anchorage Assembly expands winter shelter with hundreds on waitlist and snow pummeling city

Rachel Cassandra covers health and wellness for Alaska Public Media. Reach her Read more about Rachel here.

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