People in wheelchairs call for better broken glass enforcement

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COLUMBIA — Columbia resident Alan Rainwater said he has had to replace around 40 flat wheels on his wheelchair in the past few years because of broken glass on the sidewalks downtown. He and other people with motorized wheelchairs said more needs to be done about the problem.

Getting a flat tire on a motorized wheelchair leaves people stranded because they have to wait for someone to pick them and their wheelchair up.

Rainwater said he once sat outside in 90-degree heat for two and a half hours because glass made a hole in one of his chair's inner tube tires. 

"People come by and well, 'Can I help you?'" he said. "'Well no, not unless you have a inner tube in your back pocket.'" 

Rainwater said a possible solution is better enforcement; he said the city should make the offenders clean up the glass or fine them.

"I think if kids and adults that are breaking these bottles, you know, and just not caring, if they get caught or seen and they have to clean up their own mess and then they have to pay for the mess that they made and cleaned up, then I think it'll stop it," he said.

Rainwater said bars shouldn't let any glass leave their buildings. He said bouncers need to take the glass bottles away from people or call the police. It is illegal for people to be in Columbia's streets drinking alcohol except during certain special events.  

KOMU 8 News reached out to several bars in Columbia, and many workers declined to comment on their specific policies. But a bartender at CJ's said the restaurant doesn't let people take liquor outside and people usually don't have a problem with that.

But customers can take alcoholic drinks outside at businesses that have outdoor patios, like Willie's Pub and Pool. One of the managers there, who declined to state her name, said drinks on the patio are in plastic cups.

Tropical Liqueurs does not use glass cups either because it sells frozen drinks. But worker Jim Evans said people sometimes leave beer bottles along the plants outside the restaurant. Not far from there, someone left a beer bottle on the sidewalk in front of McNally's Irish Pub. Small pieces of broken glass were also lying nearby.

The Downtown Community Improvement District has a crew that cleans trash, glass and debris from downtown sidewalks every day.

Janitorial Lead William York said he starts at 6 a.m. and sometimes spends five hours cleaning up Broadway and Ninth Street. He said the worst mornings for trash are Friday, Saturday and Sunday because college students affect the level of litter outside bars. 

York said "it would be really nice" if bar owners had a way to minimize trash, like glass, around their businesses.

But he also said, "That's what I'm paid to do."

According to chapter 24, section 12 of Columbia's code of ordinances, businesses are supposed to clean up the sidewalks in front of their buildings. But, it might be too dark for workers to see tiny pieces of glass when they clean up after closing.

Those small bits can then pose big problems for people like Bob Pund, who also uses a wheelchair. He said he goes downtown almost every day and has had flat tires in the past.

Pund said his chair is 13 years old and costs more than $25,000. He does not have a back-up chair. If his current chair gets a flat tire and breaks, he could be stuck at home until Medicare or Medicaid replaces it.

"It may take months to pay for something, so you either have to pay out of pocket, which can be really expensive, or wait months to get a repair," Pund said.

Rainwater said, "Why should Medicare and Medicaid have to keep on replacing for the repairs on the wheelchairs for the inner tubes because people wanna break glass, and why are the adults and the kids not being responsible enough to throw them away instead of causing other people problems?"

Both Pund and Rainwater said having more trash bins downtown could help the problem.

The director of the Downtown CID, Katie Essing, said the organization has ordered 10 trash bins, which arrived in late October.

Essing said she was unaware of people in wheelchairs getting flat tires from glass.

"Some days it might happen after they've already cleaned up, but our businesses and tenants can always call and we can send somebody out to address the situation," she said. 

Essing said, "I would encourage if anyone sees additional areas that they please let us know so that we can clean that up."