Astoria blacktops pathway across train tracks at 32nd StreetA group of elderly and handicapped residents has convinced the city to provide a safe path to the new Astoria Safeway store.

On Thursday, the city installed a paved pathway across the railroad tracks at the end of 32nd Street just west of the store. The new path will provide safe access for wheelchair users between the Riverwalk and the Safeway parking lot.

"Ever since Safeway opened, I have been fighting this," 96-year-old Mae Wheeler said Thursday afternoon as she and several other residents of the Owens-Adair housing complex examined the location where the new pathway was planned.

After the new store opened April 7, Wheeler and her neighbors found no safe way to reach it from the Riverwalk, their preferred route to the east side of town. A concrete ramp links the store's parking lot to the walkway across the railroad tracks, but it includes a curb that's impossible for wheelchairs to negotiate.

The only other access point, the end of 32nd Street, was unpaved gravel where it crossed the tracks and was also unsuitable for wheelchairs, the group said.

That required Wheeler and her friends with limited mobility to drive their motorized chairs along busy Marine Drive to reach the store.

"I had to go out in traffic to get around. That's dangerous," said Art Carlson.

Wheeler contacted Mayor Willis Van Dusen with the group's complaint.

"Mae has been a big supporter of Astoria and the Riverwalk, and a supporter of handicapped accessibility," he said.

Van Dusen said Safeway has been "extremely cooperative," but because the train tracks are on city property the problem was the city's responsibility.

A major hurdle to providing a safe link between the Riverwalk and Safeway parking lot is the large amount of fill material that was required for the store's construction, which raised the ground level of the parking lot several feet above what it was when Hauke's Sentry market occupied the site, Van Dusen said.

The concrete walkway was put in by Safeway as a way for riders of the Astoria Trolley to get across the tracks up to the parking lot, but because of the steep elevation changes, it wasn't intended to be handicapped accessible, Van Dusen said.

City officials next looked at 32nd Street and decided blacktopping a pathway across the train tracks there would be an easier solution.

Wheeler and her friends had planned to hold a small demonstration in front of Safeway to protest the lack of safe access to the new store, but called it off with word of the city's plans.

The group was happy that the city was taking action, but they said overall Astoria is a tough place to get around for those with limited mobility. Stairways, narrow doors and other barriers keep them out of many local businesses, they said.

"We have to sit outside and look in the windows because we can't go in," said Wesley Davis.

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