For University Park resident and advocate Jemal Powell, public transportation is a lifeline - Metropolitan Planning Council

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For University Park resident and advocate Jemal Powell, public transportation is a lifeline

As a man who experiences blindness, Jemal’s schedule is studded with meetings. Public transportation allows Jemal the freedom to change his plans.

Image courtesy Lynn Renee Photography

Activist Jemal Powell's social life, freedom, and identity rely on public transportation.

This profile is part of a series that highlights MPC's work with policy experts, service providers, advocates, and paratransit users to create a vision for a better transportation system. Each of these stories is featured in "Toward Universal Mobility"—a groundbreaking report that includes 32 policy recommendations designed to unlock opportunities for older adults and people with disabilities.

As a man who experiences blindness, Jemal’s schedule is studded with meetings. Jemal’s activism, a big part of his identity and his social life rely on the fixed-route buses and trains which make up 80% of his journeys.

Jemal has many places to go during the workweek and on the weekends. He’s been a member of the National Federation of the Blind since 1991, and he is now second Vice President at the Chicago Chapter. He currently chairs the Pace Suburban Buses ADA Advisory Committee and sits on its Citizen Advisory Committee. Commuting to one full-time job can be challenging enough, but with meetings all across the region, the logistics multiply.

Public transportation allows Jemal the freedom to change his plans, stop unexpectedly for groceries on the way home, and make spontaneous plans that are impossible when he has to call 24 hours ahead for Dial-A-Ride or ADA Paratransit service.

Jemal knows he is lucky to have access to fixed-route transit. Years back, Pace planned to cut his Saturday bus. “We were going to lose Saturday service, which means that we were going to lose what we do on Saturdays,” Jemal said.

Jemal Powell

Image courtesy Lynn Renee Photography

He would have had to resign from at least one of his boards because he would not be able to make their meetings. Jemal and a friend collected 400 signatures in 18 days to fight the change. And it worked: Pace kept the route.

Things could be better, but the system serves Jemal pretty well. He relies on it. He punctuates his stories with the matter-of-fact realities of public transit: “interline,” “the 367… the 366… the 352…,” “that route was made much more convenient when Metra changed its schedule in September 2017…”

Jemal rattles off his bus times so fast it is dizzying: “I’ve had those schedules read to me, so I know them by heart.”

Explore more of the stories in this series.

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For more than 80 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has made the Chicago region a better place to live and work by partnering with businesses, communities and governments to address the area's toughest planning and development challenges. MPC works to solve today's urgent problems while consistently thinking ahead to prepare the region for the needs of tomorrow. Read more about our work »

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