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In early 2011, as she was deep into her dissertation, Folska heard about a plan to install "quiet crossings" at eleven intersections along the West Rail Line, which is scheduled to begin operating next year. "I just flipped out," she says. She fired off an e-mail to the RTD board, expressing her concern that nixing the "ding, ding!" was dangerous.

Boardmember Tom Tobiassen, who represents District F, responded and encouraged her to attend the next meeting of the Public Utilities Commission, which was charged with deciding whether to okay the proposal. Folska did, and she soon found herself on the corner of West 13th Avenue and Teller Street with a PUC judge, listening to lower-decibel test bell sounds in an attempt to find a compromise.

With one concerned e-mail and a little encouragement, Folska went from frequent RTD user to RTD problem-solver. In Folska, Tobiassen recognized a real public-transportation expert, and he accepted her invitation to take him on a blindfolded tour of several transit-oriented development sites. "I wasn't aware of the issues," he says. But it was clear Folska was. "She knows the system better than anyone I can imagine," he says. "She knows it blindfolded." When it came time for candidates to sign up to run, he encouraged her to throw her hat in the ring.

Claudia Folska is blind, but she's got a clear vision for the future of public transportation.
Anthony Camera
Claudia Folska is blind, but she's got a clear vision for the future of public transportation.
RTD boardmember Tom Tobiassen encouraged Claudia Folska to run for the District E seat.
Anthony Camera
RTD boardmember Tom Tobiassen encouraged Claudia Folska to run for the District E seat.

At first Folska said no way. But the more she thought about it, the more sense it made. As her Ph.D. was coming to an end, she says, "I thought, I need to be in a position where I can help build policy, because I do really know something. I come with this really unique perspective in that I've grown up on public transit, my daughter has grown up on public transit, I've used it all over the world, I'm not afraid of it, I understand how it works."

So she went for it. And in true Folska fashion, she didn't waste any time. The afternoon of the day she defended her dissertation, she was at a chamber of commerce meeting, shaking hands and drumming up votes. Her campaign slogan? "Public transit matters."

The peel-off name tag with the googly eye refuses to stay stuck to Folska's dress. She's at a late-afternoon fundraiser for Eyecycle Colorado on the rooftop patio of the Denver Athletic Club. The googly eye was a cute touch, but it has to go. Folska folds up the paper name tag and replaces it with a plastic one held on by a magnetic clasp. "Candidate for RTD," it says.

The fundraiser is a silent auction and wine tasting hosted at the DAC thanks to the club's general manager, Andre van Hall, who recently lost his sight and began riding with Eyecycle. Folska makes her way from table to table, bidding on just a few items but tasting all of the wine. Most of it, she likes. One glass of white she doesn't. "I should have spit it out," she says as she walks away, "but I didn't know where to spit."

Lately, Folska has been making the rounds of service-club meetings, political breakfasts, Democratic Party fundraisers (though the RTD is nonpartisan, Folska is a Democrat) and RTD-related events. Even though this soiree isn't part of her campaign schedule, she doesn't miss an opportunity to hand out cards and talk transportation. Most people don't know much about it. "Oh, candidate for RTD board!" one woman says upon reading Folska's card. "I don't even know what district we live in!"

But while admiring an antique baby cradle for auction, Folska encounters someone who gets it. Janet Leonard came to the fundraiser with friends; her ex-husband is blind. "I'm well aware of the foibles of the blind and RTD, the lack of service and the inattention," Leonard tells Folska. "What brought you to run for it? Frustration?"

"Sort of," Folska answers. "I think there's a lack of what you just said because we're not at the table."

Folska has plenty of ideas for improving RTD. Some of them are small and practical. For instance, she'd like to change the ticket vending machines at light-rail stations. The sun glare on the screen makes them impossible to read for sighted people. For blind people, the machines will speak instructions out loud — but only if you push a button. To tell which button to push, Folska points out, you have to be able to see it.

Others ideas are big. Folska would like RTD to finish the FasTracks project by 2020 using a combination of federal money and cost savings. One area for improvement, she says, is RTD's paratransit, which includes the Access-a-Ride program, the small buses that provide transportation for people with disabilities. In 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the average cost per passenger was $56.61, as opposed to $4.23 for RTD's regular buses and rail, which have more riders and a larger economy of scale. But not everyone who uses Access-a-Ride needs such a big, wheelchair-accessible vehicle, Folska says. Blind people, for example, would be served just as well by sedans that would take them door to door, like Access-a-Ride does, but cost less to buy and use less gas.

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8 comments
jbelef
jbelef

I've had the opportunity to meet and hear Claudia Folska speak on the issues.  Even without her unique experience as a disabled RTD user, her credentials to be on the RTD board far outweigh all the other candidates combined!. See more here: http://www.claudia4rtd.com/

John
John

She's very cute!

tjtobiassen1
tjtobiassen1

Claudia Folska is very dynamic and multifaceted.   Check out Claudia Folska’s TV cooking show appropriately (on several levels) called “Cooking In the Dark”.  The out-takes are funny!  http://www.cookinginthedark.com/  …  

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

I too , share Folska's reliance on public transportation . My service dog & I wouldn't leave home w/o RTD's assistance . My ailments that prevent my driving are relatively new . I became dependent on the bus & for the most part , am pleased w/ it's services and understanding of needed expansions .

RTD , for the past 15 + yrs ,   has striven to keep up w/ Denver's exploding population growth . If I were to grade the system as a whole , I'd give them 9 out of 10 stars . The addition of Folska could bring it to 10 out of 10 !

Tom Tobiassen
Tom Tobiassen

Claudia will be an asset on the RTD Board of Directors! Her knowledge and vision for RTD is second to none for this volunteer position. Claudia relies on RTD's buses and light rail for work, school, shopping since she does not drive or own a car. Claudia understands the needs of the rider. She clearly is the best qualified and most knowledgeable candidate.

tjtobiassen2
tjtobiassen2

Check out the videos about Claudia Folska at www.Claudia4RTD.com  ....  

Tom Tobiassen
Tom Tobiassen

Claudia will be an asset on the RTD Board of Directors! Her knowledge and vision for RTD is second to none for this volunteer position. She clearly is the best qualified and most knowledgeable candidate and does not need the "sympathy" vote!

 
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