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ADA for Accessible Streets, Day 1

December 14, 2006 Accessibility, Planning & Design, South City, Transportation 11 Comments

Today I attended a seminar on new guidelines regarding accessible streets — making sure all citizens can use the public space. We focused today on the physical sidewalk design, ramps and crossings. Tomorrow we will be looking at signals.

I want to thank Mayor Slay, Board of Public Service President Marjorie Melton, the Starkloff Disability Institute, and the Pyramid Companies
for putting together this excellent seminar. No, seriously. The speakers have been top notch and this has shown me that I need to know a lot more about this subject and I know all the engineers in the room certainly need to know more. This clearly demonstrates to me the City saw a lack of knowledge in a critical area and decided to take a very pro-active step to help raise the bar. Very commendable.

In a funny way, however, for the small sum of $100 they are helping me better understand new regulations relative to accessibilty in the public-right-of-way which I will turn around and use to be critcal of future projects. But maybe, just maybe, this will be good. They will have a better understanding of the new rules and knowing that I will be out there with my camera (and soon a new digital level) they will hopefully take the time to get it right.

Granted, they have projects already in the works at this point so I know something started next week will have been designed and contracted a number of months back. But future projects such as MLK streetscape and the Euclid streetscape will need to comply, no doubt!

I realize now I had only a very basic understanding of a portion of accessibility issues. We learned about differences between manual and powered wheelchairs, persons who walk with a cane or walker, people with various types of visual disabilities. In the afternoon we broke up into teams and went out around the hotel (downtown Hilton) looking at intersection design. Reports were mixed on both older sidewalk areas and new areas such as my team’s corner at Busch Stadium. Even at Busch some slopes were beyond the limits and details were off, but nothing major. The encouraging thing was seeing the engineers from HOK and the City talking with expert Bill Hecker (shown below with level).

accessibility - 02.jpg

The agency responsible for setting standards for accessibility is the U.S. Access Board. It should be noted that after the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 they followed closely with standards for a number of areas including public buildings. Their guidelines help architects the exact specifications on things such as bathroom design, hallways and all manner of details in building open to the public such as restaurants, office buildings or civic structures. They’ve also had rules governing site design so you get things such as accessible parking spaces and connections on private developments. Yet, they are just now establishing guidelines for the public-right-of-way.

Yet another federal law requires that when local governments are repaving roads, they must make the sidewalks accessible. They’ve been using earlier guides for this purpose. Most likely your nearby corner has a ramp from the sidewalk to the street-level at the intersection. If not, don’t be surprised if your street doesn’t get repaved anytime soon. Most of the ramps that St. Louis has installed over the last 10 years don’t meet the new guidelines.

I took a break from writing this post, I just had to visit a couple of places (Southtowne Center & Loughborough Commons) to see if the intersections were as bad as I remembered. Yes, yes they are. But on the way I passed by some work being done at Gravois & Gustine. I’ve hesitated taking pictures of this yet because it is not done and didn’t want people going all ‘Matt Villa’ on me.

accessibility - 07.jpg

The cover in the PAR (Pedestrian Accessible Route) is not bad if done right. However, what you cannot see from this angle is how the concrete tapers off in a couple of directions, something we learned today could cause great instability on a wheelchair or someone using a cane/walker. From a lower angle you can get a better idea of what went wrong with this nearly finished project involving new signals and access ramps:

accessibility - 09.jpg

I fully anticipate that there will be mistakes, as we see above. It will be up to those designing the intersection to make sure the expectation is clear and the person inspecting the work must understand what is necessary. There will be times where the letter of the law cannot be met, where it is infeasible. At these times they need to show they considered alternatives and they did the best they could considering the circumstances. So while I do intend to buy a digital level I know it won’t all be perfect. I’ll be looking for more obvious mistakes, ones that some good ole common sense could have prevented. A really good example of that is just down the street at Gravois & Meramec:

accessibility - 04.jpg

Here we see brand new accessible ramps for crossing both streets and a brand new signal pole blocking a new sidewalk section. Can someone please tell me the logic behind adding accessible ramps only to block the sidewalk with the traffic signal? This is a good example of where someone along the process should have said, “Uh wait a minute guys, this doesn’t look right.” And the best time for that (read: cheaper) is while the project is still on paper, not set literally in concrete!

This project is either the responsibility of MoDot or the St. Louis Board of Public Service, I’m going to ask tomorrow. MoDot, you will recall from a post earlier in the week, just ripped out 300 ramps along Lindbergh because they were not constructed at the proper angle. Moving a newly installed traffic signal is not so easy. If anything is clear to me it is this workshop on accessibility did not come soon enough, I’m glad it is here now.

Helpful Resources:

Update 12/15/2006 at 6:00am:

Last night I forgot to quote some of the text from the invitation about this event. I posted it back on November 17th but I think it is worth repeating:

“Compliance is no longer a guessing game. There is a right way, a wrong way and a best way. Architects, engineers, other designers, developers, builders, contractors, and city inspectors and officials now have a chance to make our community a model. This seminar will provide an opportunity to learn about the new guidelines — from experts in the accessibility field who helped develop the guidelines, and by experiencing what happens when accessibility is not addressed.”

The bold emphasis is theirs, not mine. However, it does appear many have simply been guessing (and poorly). It was repeated a number of times at the event and deserves notation here — the standards set by the government are the minimum for compliance. Minimum. Not ideal, not best practices, and certainly not a world leader for modeling accessibilit. I think we need to work on getting to minimum compliance!

Update 12/15/2006 at 9:00am:

The intersection work being done along Gravois is the handy work of MoDot — the folks about to spend $500 million on highway forty.  Let’s hope it is better planned than these sidewalks.


Currently there are "11 comments" on this Article:

  1. Grover says:

    When you get a chance check out Taylor Avenue next to the new bus transfer station on the Wash U med campus – narrow sidewalk with light poles directly in the middle. i’d be surprise if a wheelchair could pass. Oh, the irony.

  2. Jon Galloway says:

    You should challenge MoDot to correct this. After complaints, I was able to get them to tear out concrete medians blocking crosswalks at Olive and Pennsylvania in University City.

  3. Jimmy James says:

    I wouldn’t be that MODOT does much better on 40.

  4. Jim Zavist says:

    Part of the problem is that the disabled community here, for whatever reason, is not as vocal and/or effective as groups elsewhere in the country. When you have a vocal, activist community willing to do sit-ins in government and private-sector offices, willing to chain themselves to buses without wheelchair lifts at rush hour, and willing to aggressively pursue both businesses and government entities in court for both damages and corrections, you find that you get the decision-makers’ and the funders’ attention. Being nice and asking politely (or worse, saying nothing at all) rarely gets the attention it takes to both fix recent mistakes and to avoid repating them in the future, especially in the built urban environment of sidewalks and curb cuts!

  5. Jim Zavist says:

    Another perspective (as a design professional [architect]) is the reluctance and/or the outright opposition many clients have for complying, even when it’s pointed out to them. They view the requirements as costing them money and/or won’t be used by anyone / serve a useful purpose. Since the Americans with Disabilities Act is civil rights legislation (and not a part of the building code), it’s not all that difficult to have something built and approved at the local level that violates the federal regulations. And once a certificate of occupancy is issued (on a building) or final payment is made to a contractor (on a highway or public works project), the ability to have something changed at the local level virtually disappears. To actually have the ADA enforced requires working either through the Department of Justice complaint process or suing someone in court for a violation of one’s civil rights. For many clients/owners/agencies, doing nothing is a viable option since the enforcement process is so onerous – it could take years to reach a resolution, and by then the business or property could have changed hands several times over. And for many disabled people, it’s a question of a lack of resources, facing the daunting reality that any lawsuit will take years to make it through the court system and having a whole range of non-compliant situations facing them on a daily (or even hourly) basis – where does one even start?! Bottom line, while the standards are good, even as a minimum standard, the devil is in the details, in this case, creating a proactive enforcement system that catches things before the “responsible” parties move onto other projects, as happened along Lindbergh . . .

  6. john says:

    Apathy is not just an issue for the disabled, in fact, it is a widespread problem. The autocentric culture here only elects/appoints leaders here who have the same attitude and thus the idea that sidewalks must comply with certain “tolerances” is discomforting. These rules will force local leadership to address neglected responsibilities which will be very expensive for the public and difficult for leaders to properly implement.

    Common sense policies like sharing the road with cyclists (sharrow) or sharing public rights-of-way with pedestrians are not welcomed here as years of favoring cars over people have led to a “drivers-versus-others” mentality. The idea that others (alternatives to autos/trucks) should receive consideration is an alien concept. It’s too bad that we have to legislate more laws instead of doing what is reasonable and wise in the first place.

    MoDOT’s choice to use a “design-build” strategy for the New I64 appears to be made in order to avoid responsibility for the final product… not a good sign.

  7. Matt says:

    I cannot believe the placement of those new traffic signal poles. I live on Manchester, and at its intersection with Tower Grove, they have done the same thing. At Sarah and Manchester, there is a post literally blocking Attitudes’ Door. Why would they place these in the center of the street? It is not only inconvenient for able-bodied pedestrians, but it is impossible to pass by for the handicapped.

    And what is the purpose, by the way, of adding new traffic signals? Could we not get a more sleek black signal with decorative street signs? Whom do you petition for such things?

  8. Jim Zavist says:

    My guess is that the new traffic signals are being installed along Manchester (a state highway) in anticipation of the Highway 40 project as an attempt to move more cars thru the intersections with better signal timing – I’ll believe it when I see it!

  9. MH says:

    New street signal poles are being installed along Chouteau as well, from 4th Street and to the west, with bad placement similar to what you are describing here.

  10. 1 says:

    Steve, my parents taught me never to ask people about money, so I feel bad even asking this. And by all means, don’t answer if this question is too personal. But how in the hell do you find time to ride your scooter all around town to take pictures of sidewalks, to attend meetings at which you are not a participant, (putting to the side that they are public meetings to which we are all, of course, invited), and going to seminars about random “urban” issues? I gather from your website that you are a realtor, and a some-time consultant. Clearly these endeavors take some time. How do you feed and clothe yourself?

    [UrbanReviewSTL — It is really none of your business how I support myself but I think others may be curious as well.  First, I’ve made a good living in the past and as my endeavors take me further and further away from a 9-5 job that pays as well as my prior employment I have learned to live considerably cheaper as well as use some of my investments such as stocks and real estate.  

    I have no kids or pets to support, it is just me.  While I am in graduate school (another 2 years) will be acting more and more like a college student.  I will be selling my house and getting a small/cheap apartment like I did in undergrad.  I will also be selling my 1-year old car and getting an older car.   I’m actually excited about trimming my life to the basics — I dropped the 3-tv satellite dish a year ago and if not for the fax machine I need for real estate I would use only my cell phone.  My scooter is paid for and gets 85-90mpg! 

    Real estate is one of those fields where you have a flexible schedule.  Most of my buyers like to look at properties after they get off work at 5pm or the weekend.  That shifts my schedule from that of most people, so weekdays are my evenings & weekends, if you will.  My private consulting has increased of late which takes place day & night 7 days a week, depending upon the client’s schedule.  As someone always seeking knowledge I don’t understand why more people weren’t at this outstanding seminar — wouldn’t everyone want to learn this stuff?

    I’ve made about four times as much as I am making currently but I wasn’t as happy.  I’m doing what I truly enjoy and that is far more important to me at this point in my life than money.]

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