Arnie Pike's never met a curb he didn't want to have cut.
Pike, 68, began using a wheelchair after suffering a stroke 12 years ago. The Placentia resident has become a voice for disabled people, arguing before city councils and transit authorities throughout Orange County for smoother sidewalks, wheelchair ramps and better access.
"We never ask for more than any other person, just what is fair," he said during a recent interview with his service dog, Fort, at his side.
Pike is a prickly thorn in the side of bureaucrats. At transportation planning meetings, he often holds officials accountable, reminding them that disabled people pay taxes and, despite their legal protections under the Americans With Disabilities Act, are not always provided the same services as able-bodied individuals.
Take bus stops, for instance.
Pike, joined by other wheelchair users, has kept a vigilant eye on the Orange County Transportation Authority, which had said that by December 2007, the county's 6,500 bus stops would have been modified.
"They're supposed to have fixed all these bus stops by now, but they're not done in north Orange County and they're definitely not all done in Placentia or Brea," he said.
Last week, OCTA approved $812,830 to modify bus stops in Brea, La Habra, Fountain Valley, Westminster, Seal Beach, Laguna Beach and Huntington Beach.
The agency now says bus stop modifications should be done by June -- at a final cost of $15.8 million. OCTA observers credit board members -- including Gregory Winterbottom, who uses a wheelchair -- and testimony of passengers such as Pike.
"Arnie is the real thing," said Christie Rudder, an advocate for the disabled with the Dayle McIntosh Center in Garden Grove. "But you have to understand that we have people in wheelchairs having to travel in the street because the curbs aren't cut and they have nowhere to go but find the next driveway.
"Some of the bus stops, like at the Brea Mall, leave you on an island stuck in the middle of the street with no curb cutoffs," she added.
The OCTA program is unique among Southern California transit agencies. Riverside Transit Authority has recently stepped up its bus stop improvement program by teaming with the city of Riverside in response to complaints from the disabled community, Bradley Weaver, an RTA spokesman said. Of 3,800 total stops, 36 were modified in 2006 and 76 are targeted for upgrades, he said.
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the largest transit agency in Southern California, has 18,500 bus stops. The agency provides transportation programs for seniors and the disabled but refers ADA compliance upgrades for bus stops to the 89 cities in its service area.
"That's because the cities own the land the bus stop is on," said David Sotero, an MTA spokesman. The MTA pays for a portion of the improvements by cities, he added.
Before his stroke, Pike wasn't as outspoken. An event planner, he retained the ability to speak but lost the use of his legs and control of his right arm.
He takes his duties seriously. Pike totes a fanny pack with tools of the trade: A measuring tape for sidewalks and narrow store aisles, a gauge to measure whether doors comply with ADA rules about the force needed to open them, and warnings for vehicles parked illegally in handicapped spaces.
Pike works for the day that bus stops are accessible, with wide sidewalks and tall curbs cut down so he can roll his wheelchair up and board a bus. In reality, many stops built decades ago have narrow sidewalks or none at all and are sometimes blocked by hydrants, poles and shrubbery.
"Until you get in a wheelchair," Pike said, "you don't know the problems. Many bus stops are surrounded by grass or sandy soil. I can't roll my chair through that; it just clogs down."
The responsibility for bus stops is a gray area, Rudder said. Although the bus stop and sidewalk are owned by the city they're in, the buses belong to OCTA. "Each one says it's the other one's responsibility for improvements," she said.
For years, OCTA failed to address the need, Winterbottom said. "It was never a policy not to do it," he said. "It just never registered on anyone's radar and it was the cities' responsibility. But the board has since voted to fix them up."
The OCTA targeted those stops most often used by disabled bus riders, providing improvements as a service. "The agency is not legally required to do this," said Thomas Bogard, an OCTA official. "But the board made a decision to do it as a service for all bus riders."
Not all bus stops can be improved, he said. Access at some is limited and will remain so because removing poles or hydrants and dealing with private property issues are too costly, he said.
The agency has made minor adjustments, such as relocating bus stops a few feet in either direction, Bogard said, adding that OCTA is in negotiation with the owner of the Brea Mall to fix its bus stop.
But Pike criticized OCTA for moving sluggishly. "The law says that if you receive public funds or provide a public service, that service has to be accessible for everyone."
He will stay vigilant, he said, and he is taking the fight to another front. During a brief trip to Balboa Island in Newport Beach, Pike's wife, Marilynn, parked in a handicapped space, but the high curb prevented their van's wheelchair ramp from fully extending. He now has the city in his sights.
Curbs on the island are high to prevent flood waters from going into homes and businesses, according to City Manager Homer Bludeau, who said sufficient handicapped parking spaces are available.
Not good enough for Pike: "All we wanted to do was shop around and get something to eat. They need to have a space that we can use. Otherwise, why call it a space for the handicapped?"