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Poor Design Alert: New ADA Ramp Blocks Sidewalk

January 29, 2007 Accessibility, Downtown, Planning & Design 18 Comments

Last week I did a post about a sign blocking a sidewalk. “No big deal” was the attitude of some while the owner quickly removed the offending sign. In the post I asked if others new about similar issues. Well, thanks to a reader I got a tip on the following issue being built at the moment on Olive, just around the corner from The Tap Room. Like the issue with sidewalk parking on 14th street, I had seen this work happening but never stopped to take a closer look until someone brought it to my attention.

The attractive buff brick building on the left has been offices for at least a few years now. The dark brick building is now getting a makeover as well — a welcomed change. But, some of the work is problematic. Before we get to that, let me explain the issue.

Many of these old buildings had several steps leading from the sidewalk to the main level which presents a challenge during a renovation for meeting the access requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To make matters worse, Olive Street actually has a downward slope as you go from the west to east (left to right, above).


The generally accepted solution is what you see above. The sidewalk is allowed to follow the natural grade of the adjacent street while heading to the entrace is a ramp to the door. Depending upon the grades & floor heights the walk to the entrance might simply be level but in this case it required a slight upward ramp.

The only potential issue here, and I am not sure if it is or not, is what is know as “cross-grade” — the angle of the sidewalk pitching toward the curb. While trying to push a wheelchair an excessive cross-grade might sent someone toward the street with them constantly having to compensate. Again, I’m not sure if this is within limits or not as I don’t yet have a digital level.

But moving east to the work being done on the dark brick building and we encounter an obvious problem.


The generous width of the ramp leaves little room on the actual sidewalk for someone walking, much less in a wheelchair or mobility scooter.

From the other side you can see how constrained this space is.


I don’t see how this can possibly be acceptable. How this got through the design firm and past the city’s review process is beyond me. Even then, you’d think someone on site would stop and think about this when they laid out the forms to build the foundation for the brick wall. The footing would have been inspected by someone from the city’s building division.

The irony of creating an accessible entrance that actually limits those that might use it from reaching your door is rich. Many professionals were involved in decision making and review of this project and yet common sense did not prevail. Sometimes a fresh set of eyes, reviewing a project’s drawings, would catch mistakes such as this before any concrete is poured. To chose firms out there designing and buliding work in the public right of way, consider bringing in someone such as myself to spend a couple of hours reviewing the project and site conditions to see if costly situations such as this can be avoided.

I do not know who the developer, contractor or designer are for this project so I am unable to reach them directly. However, I have brought it to the attention of 6th Ward Alderman Lewis Reed as well as Dr. Deborah Dee, the city’s director of the Office of on the Disabled. Basically, I feel the new brick wall needs to be removed and rebuilt in such a manner as to not constrict the sidewalk. The adjacent ramps at the buliding next door serve as a good model.


Currently there are "18 comments" on this Article:

  1. DB says:

    One possibility is that they plan on moving the lamp post and parking meter, but just haven’t done it yet.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Moving the street light would be costly and complicated.  My guess is their drawings didn’t include the exact location of the street light.  Still, even if the light and parking meters weren’t there at all they are still narrowing the sidewalk excessively.]

  2. Jim Zavist says:

    Anything more than half the existing sidewalk is too much to take, whether it’s for a ramp or for outside dining. Depending on where one looks, the minimum width required to make the ramp “legal” is either 36″ (ADA) or 44″ (IBC). Looks like either the designers and/or the owner(s) got greedy . . .

  3. Chris says:

    Steve- It’s Office ON the Disabled, not ‘OF’… Freudian slip ;). It’d be interesting to know what you hear back from the Ald. and Dr. Dee.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Thanks!]

  4. me says:

    “I don’t yet have a digital level…”

    Tell me you’re not going to go around town and measure the level of sidewalks and ramps looking for improper angles.

    [UrbanReviewSTL — I could tell you that I won’t get a digital level and measure newly constructed projects for incompliance but then I’d be lying. I’m still looking for a local supplier of such a level before I resort to ordering online.

    Comment #2 — I’ve created a wish list on Amazon.com which includes the $136 level, just in case you were feeling generous.]   

  5. ? says:

    Maybe the street shouldn’t be so wide so the sidewalk could be wider. Many of the streets in downtown and midtown are too wide which contributes to them feeling vacant. Olive would be the best street to start with in the city.

  6. Jim Zavist says:

    Yeah . . . if we got rid of the bike lane, we could add 4′-5′ to the sidewalk! 😉

  7. Jim Zavist says:

    Seriously, this is just another case of “it’s just all about me” . . . Should the public right-of-way be given over to a private property owner to improve access to an existing building (given no other viable options)? I think it’s a fair compromise. Should 2/3 – 3/4 of the sidewalk be taken away to create a gracious and/or spacious entrance? I think not. I don’t blame tho owner for asking. I blame the city for giving / agreeing to! As for a wider sidewalk, I’d vote for taking out one traffic lane in each direction, keeping both the bike lane and the on-street parking spaces, and adding a ±12′ green tree lawn (with grass and trees) to each side instead of rearranging the concrete (think CWE) – there aren’t enough vehicles OR pedestrians here to justify what’s there now!

  8. Man. That’s why at the place where I work, we always do a careful and complete field survey of existing conditions before designing anything. And we spend many hours sweating over ADA compliance issues. I don’t see how this could have gotten by a designer, unless they simply didn’t have an accurate drawing of the site.

  9. john says:

    Absolutely bizarre! An inaccurate (purposely misleading?) drawing OR simply desperate leadership? Probably both… taking a public space for private use is a crime. Definitely another example of the how and why the permit process is deficient in StL. I’m willing to bet that an architect could have designed these ADA standards into the main entrances of the buildings without any use of the public right-of-way.

  10. The Hadley-Dean Building has the exact same problem on Lucas Avenue north of Eleventh, outside of that restaurant that destroyed the beautiful lobby (Mosaic).

    The ramp leads down to a strip of sidewalk so narrow that a wheelchair would probably tip over on the sidewalk — if its passenger made the odd 90-degree turn from the ramp to the sidewalk. Then the sidewalk’s curb cut is high off of the street.

    Meanwhile, the ramp configuration takes up over half of what was once the sidewalk.

    There is a huge difference between legal compliance and actual accessability.

  11. Joe Frank says:

    Of course comparing this location with Mosaic is problematic since Lucas is a pretty narrow street — like St. Charles, really more an overgrown alley — whereas Olive is incredibly wide. Not sure when those lightposts were installed along Olive, but I’m sure it would be costly to relocate one.

    While I am doubtful we’ll ever get all the sidewalks in the city to be ADA-compliant — even if you design a curb-cut ramp properly, the next the street is repaved it can get all screwed up — we do need to try a little better than this.

  12. Brent says:

    I agree with some others that this is either a designer with an incorrect site drawing or it was not built correctly to the designers drawings. No way that’d get by anyone who deals with ADA issues on a daily basis. I’m not sure what the min sidewalk width is, but if it even got close to being 4′ or less I’d be calling the city.


  13. Local Architect says:

    Your wish list worked – the smart level is on the way. Use it in good health!

    [UrbanReviewSTL —  I have privately thanked the local architect who has generously purchased an expensive digital level for me to use in evaluating local projects as they relate to ADA compliance.  So yes, you will soon see me out and about measuring slopes of newly installed ramps as well as the cross grades of new sidewalks.]

  14. joe b says:

    This digital level sounds eerily like the tape measure BTK used in measuring the grass heights.

  15. Adam says:

    wow! i’m going to start a blog/wishlist too! : )

  16. city architect says:

    Did I notice passing by this project yesterday that they’ve torn down the low brick wall that blocks the sidewalk? Could it be that they are correcting the problem?

    [UrbanReviewSTL — Yes, the design flaw is being corrected.]

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  18. Aren't there guidelines from the ADA as to how much you can take???


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