The battle over installing bumpy tiles at Metro's stations has been going on for about 20 years, long after the Americans with Disabilities Act called for adding "detectable warnings" known as truncated domes to platform edges in train stations by 1993.

Metro board member Mortimer Downey recalled the agency's resistance when he served as U.S. Department of Transportation deputy secretary from 1993 to 2001. "Metro wasted two years of my time telling me they did not want to put in the tiles and did not think it was feasible to do it," he said during a recent board meeting.

Metro was sued over the issue in 1996 by a coalition of advocacy groups including the American Council of the Blind and the Blinded Veterans Association. And riders protested outside the agency with a coffin to show the deadly consequences of not having bumps along the platform edges.

The agency instead proposed an infrared system that would require blind riders to carry a receiver to pick up warning signals when they got too close to the edge. But Metro abandoned the plan in 1997, after a $3 million pilot found the equipment kept failing.

Why platform bumps?
The bumps near the edge of Metrorail stations are a "detectable warning" that visually impaired riders can feel underfoot or with the tap of a cane.
Blind riders say the bumps serve as a reassurance and helpful stopping point for where to wait for a train.
The bumps are also helpful to other riders. "When you're on a crowded platform, it's hard to see -- whether sighted or blind -- how close you are to the platform edge," said Eric Bridges, director of advocacy and governmental affairs for the American Council of the Blind.
Doris Ray, who has limited vision, rides Metro despite the uncertainty of having some stations without bumpy tiles. "But it is a little bit anxiety-provoking, particularly when they are doing construction on escalators and the aisle is narrowed or at rush hour when there's a lot of people," she said.
Even so, the bumps are not fail-safe. A blind man died after falling from a Gallery Place platform in December 2009 although it has bumpy tiles. It is not clear what happened in that case.

Metro ultimately agreed to add the truncated domes but opted to use more expensive tiles with bumps instead of the yellow plastic strips that most agencies use. It started adding the tiles to 45 stations' platform edges in 1998. At the time, the agency said it would take about two weeks per station, with the $18.2 million project taking about 18 months.

But in the 14 years since, it has added tiles to only 20 more stations, leaving 21 of its 86 stations without them.

Charles Crawford, who ran the American Council of the Blind during its legal battle against Metro, was surprised to hear that so many stations still don't have the tiles. Just as advocates argued in the past, he said all stations should have them, not just "key" stations.

Metro says it could cost up to $600,000 per station, for a total of $6.6 million to outfit all the unfunded stations. Under the timetable used in 1998, it could take as few as 11 months to complete those and the already funded stations. - Kytja Weir