The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's (Metro) Department of Access Services and the Accessibility Advisory Committee awarded the 2009 Richard W. Heddinger Accessible Transportation Award, posthumously, to Lawrence Pelkey, a former resident of Arlington, Va. The annual award honors a person or organization whose efforts have resulted in significant improvements to accessible public transportation services for people with disabilities.
Pelkey worked tirelessly to make the Metrorail system more accessible in the late 1980s after becoming a quadriplegic as a result of a motor vehicle accident. He spearheaded initiatives to improve the mobility of people who use wheelchairs, advocating for guaranteed elevator access and gap reducers in the Metrorail system. He passed away in December 2008.
Guaranteed elevator access refers to the idea that all transfer and new Metrorail stations be equipped or built with two elevators to guarantee access to the station. Gap reducers decrease the space between Metrorail station platforms and trains by an additional 1.5 inches, making it easier for people who use wheelchairs to enter and exit trains safely.
Because of Pelkey’s efforts, all of the Metrorail stations that are slated to be built on the new Silver Line to Dulles International Airport will have two elevators. Gap reducers have been installed on all railcars in the Metrorail system.
Pelkey served on various advocacy groups, including Metro’s Accessibility Advisory Committee, Arlington County’s Disability Advisory Commission and the ENDependence Center of Northern Virginia.
“Mr. Pelkey’s fine work is an enduring legacy for people with disabilities in the Washington region, and we are pleased to present his family with the Heddinger Award as a permanent reminder of the impact he has had on Metro and the community,” said Christian T. Kent, Metro’s assistant general manager of Access Services.
The award honors former Accessibility Advisory Committee Chair Richard W. Heddinger for his lifelong commitment to accessible public transportation and his devotion to providing access for all citizens of the Washington metropolitan area.