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Ramp Makes Sarah Sidewalk Too Narrow

October 6, 2015 Accessibility, Featured, Planning & Design, Walkability 15 Comments

Over the years I’ve posted about new wheelchair ramps & steps into buildings completely choking off the sidewalk. Here’s another.

Last month I took this pic to show how almost no sidewalk was left after an ADA/wheelchair ramp was built to access the
Last month I took this pic to show how almost no sidewalk was left after an ADA/wheelchair ramp was built to access the CET biotech startup building
More recently I was going the opposite direction but a bike was occupying the little bit of sidewalk hat remained.
More recently I was going the opposite direction but a bike was occupying the little bit of sidewalk hat remained.

So a person who uses a wheelchair and lives a block North in the universal design 6 North Apartments must deal with this daily to reach their job at a biotech startup, the new IKEA, or the future MetroLink light rail station?  The problem, repeated too often, is people tasked with adding ramps/steps don’t think about all users of the public sidewalk.

In this example, the new ramp probably should’ve been the full width of the concrete portion of the sidewalk and two-saided, rather than one-sided. Or not have the brick tree-lawn & street tree at this point so the concrete sidewalk could go around the ramp. An inverted-U bike rack needs to installed in the tree lawn. Even an able-bodied person walking past this would be annoyed.

To be a pedestrian-friendly city we must stop placing obstacles in the way of pedestrians!

— Steve Patterson




Currently there are "15 comments" on this Article:

  1. JZ71 says:

    Actually, the best solution is to modify (lower) the floor INSIDE the building, and leave the public right-of-way alone! This is just another example of St. Louis condoning taking the cheapest way out to “solve” a problem that really should be addressed on the private side of the property line, not the public side. And no, taking out the existing street tree is NOT a better solution . . .

    The real problem with all these encroachments onto the sidewalk, besides the obvious loss of free movement, is long-term maintenance. It’s harder to clear snow, the corners catch leaves and trash, and the handrails deteriorate and are used for bike parking (as noted) and banners.

    • What they did wasn’t the cheapest route, but it had the least thought. Raising the full concrete sidewalk would’ve used less railing, less costly.

      Lowering the floor just inside the doorway and placing the ramp inside would be problematic with a historic building, The Sarah PROW is 60 feet wide — more than enough width to accommodate everyone.

      When the street trees were planned their should’ve been thought about access to adjacent buildings.

      We don’t know how to think ahead to avoid these conflicts.

      • Mark-AL says:

        I wonder how much “thinking ahead” this “PROBLEM” warrants? Tree locations can’t be determined by anticipating every possible building modification that could ever be imagined. It’s a tree, for god’s sakes!
        Move it.

        • When the streetscape was redone, not that long ago, part of the design process could’ve been to identify the adjacent buildings that lack ADA-compliant entrances. At that time macke the new streetscape in such a way the building owner doesn’t have to tear out and redo the brand new streetscape.

          This comment on Facebook is spot on:
          “This is what happens when people just look at and follow codes and not the big picture. I would bet this was designed by an architect (probably the one who did the interior upgrade) and not a landscape architect. LAs usually see the broader design implications.”

          • Mark-AL says:

            Oh, I wouldn’t agree universally. Nobody has the ability to anticipate all the possibilities. Design professionals do the best they can at the time. And the budget typically doesn’t include a line item to cover “anything that might be changed on a building anytime in the future.” Final word: we gotta look at the codes! Sometimes the “big picture” isn’t code-compliant.

          • Sorry, when designing streetscapes the height of everything must be known. The design professional must pay attention to cross-slope. If they didn’t, the new sidewalk could end up higher than an adjacent doorway.

            The new Tucker streetscape north of Washington Ave is a good example. Two buildings prior didn’t have an ADA-compliant entry. This project was able to raise the sidewalk enough for one to be compliant. The other is much higher — it’ll need a special ramp.

          • Mark-AL says:

            When you’re dealing with multiple fixed points (elevations), and when properties and door openings are within close proximity, it is virtually IMPOSSIBLE to accommodate all door openings in some cases. This may have been one of those cases. I really don’t know in that I doubt I’ve ever noticed the building you’re discussing. The city of St Louis PREFERS a 5″ to 6″ street curb height, will allow a 7″ height without a lot of argument, and I’ve seen cases in which an 8′ curb height has been accepted, but not without a fight with the Streets Dept! Higher curbs interfere with vehicle doors. The cross-slope begins at the building face and ends at the center-line of the street, not at the top of curb, so that water runoff AND ADA compliance are BOTH accomplished. The sidewalk cross-slope has to integrate into the entire cross-slope calculation. Otherwise, your streets are filled with duck ponds…which would be the subject of another UrbanReview post.

          • JZ71 says:

            . . . . or a redsigned entrance!

    • Mark-AL says:

      Lower the floor? Isn’t that overkill? ….like asking an orthopedic surgeon to lower your knee cap because you consistently run into the edge of the coffee table? I’m certain your suggestion involved a floor overlay, not a removal/replacement, since in that type of brick structure, it’s probable that the floor serves the building structurally as well as functionally. And I’m certain that you’re aware of the potential impact on ground level floor plan that a raised or partially raised floor might have on adjacent door sill elevations, elevator sills, partition modification, even drinking fountain/light switch/convenience outlet mounting heights, ad infinitum. If a client approached me and asked for a solution, I’d relocate the tree, remove some of the brick, continue the concrete sidewalk around the ramp, and call it a day. Then I’d donate a bike rack just for the cause. Seeking perfection is a far reach in this case. Another solution might be for the tenant to search out another building, but this solution penalizes the developer for trying to reuse an old building with floor elevation issues. Moving the coffee table 5″ is the easiest solution but cutting off one entire end of the table and devising a cantiliver is probably a bit dramatic, IMHO.

      • Some buildings it makes sense to lower the floor right inside the door, then ramp up to the original floor level. I don’t think that solution would’ve been good for this particular historic building.

        • Mark-AL says:

          Dropping or raising the floor typically destroys the building diaphragm, resulting in costly shoring, additional restructuring and bracing. And sometimes the contractor is forced to needle a masonry wall to support loads while other walls are modified…..! Wow! Seems like a lot of work to me! Big Bags Of Money!!! And lots of them! Maybe exterior ramps are just a necessary (practical) part of the “urban fabric”.

      • JZ71 says:

        “Hey, I need a parking space (or three), as well, and my building covers the entire lot, so why don’t I just park on the sidewalk?” “Hey, I need a place for my trash cans and my A/C condenser(s) – the public sidewalk would be a great place for them!” “Hey, I want to offer outside dining, and I promise to leave plenty of room for non-patrons to get by.” “Hey, I need to do some advertising, so I’ll put out some sandwich boards.” “Hey, I want to display mercahndise on the sidewalk, so passersby know what I’m selling.”

        The public sidewalk is supposed to provide a smooth, clear, unimpeded, path of travel for ALL pedestrians, not become a roller coaster as it tries to hit random doorways, both current and future, or to provide extra, dedicated, space for the adjacent property owner. The public sidewalk should be the given, the private property owners should adapt, not the other way around. There are multiple ways of providing ADA-compliant access; taking more than half the available sidewalk should not be one of them.

        As for streetscape design, it’s far more complex than it appears from the finished product. Underground utilities can be (and usually are) a huge challenge (in trying to avoid them, so you don’t have to relocate them). Generally, major elements (like street trees) should be spaced regularly, not just placed randomly. Coordinating with existing entry points is tough enough; coordinating with “future” ones is just wishful thinking!

        • Mark-AL says:

          I think the issue of reasonably providing ADA access to a building with multiple elevation issues is less cavalier than those situations you describe in paragraph 1 of your post, and so I wouldn’t accept your comparisons, although I did enjoy the read. And I would consider walking around an accessible ramp to be a fairly moderate roller-coaster ride, one that just about everyone has the stomach to survive, and one that I personally wouldn’t be adverse to recommending to a prospective tenant vs the sometimes major structural (and architectural) modifications necessary to drop an entrance into a building. Dropping a building entrance on slab-on-grade is typically uncomplicated (although not always), although usually costly. (I know, I know, I know…cost shouldn’t be a consideration when dealing with disability issues, but those of us who deal with building owners know that it is!) Buildings over basements or crawl spaces, especially those that have survived years of use, abuse and neglect, probably shouldn’t be modified, unless the owner is absolutely DESPERATE to find a tenant. Then it’s time to call in the crews that specialize in supporting aging masonry structures whose guts have been removed, whose mortar is typically deteriorated, and whose joists are probably bearing less that 4″ into the inside face of the masonry wall! YIKES! It’s hard to recover those structural rehab costs, which do absolutely NOTHING to visually enhance the space in MOST people’s eyes, and it might be that a better business decision would be to send the tenant on his way to the next building……..Oh, and before I forget, should you add to the first paragraph: “Hey, I’ll just park my bicycle over here on this sidewalk-mounted bike rack”!

          • JZ71 says:

            Digging back thru Google street view, it looks like a) the building has changed very little, externally, over the past 10 years, and b) the ramp in question was added with the past 12 months. I also have no clue about the building owner’s financial capabilities, much less their willingness, to comply with the ADAAG.

            The fundamental issue is what constitutes appropriate private use of the public right of way? I have few issues with temporary uses; I have significant concerns about quasi-permanent ones. In Denver, the general standard (for a revocable permit for the use of the public ROW) was proving a “hardship” and the hardship could not be “self-imposed”.

            In this situation, the “hardship” appears to be, at least partialy, self-imposed. The space was designed to use this door – were other doors (with fewer conflicts) considered? Was providing access on the east side considered, either from FPP (thru the gangway) or from the parking lot (accessible from the alley), or both? What were the costs of doing interior modifications? Yeah, budgets can be a pain, but this was apparently a new tenant on a new lease – clean sheet of paper, cover ALL contingencies!

            I understand (and support) the need for accessibility. I just have a problem with the apparent double standard on what is acceptable (wheelchair ramps, sidewalk dining, merchandise displays and motor scooter parking) and what is not acceptable (all other motor vehicles, trash cans, construction barricades and MODOT’s temporary signs). It’s the PUBLIC right of way. Either nothing goes or everything goes. In my mind, leaving less than 5′ (at a bare minimum) or 8′ (ideally) free and clear, at all times, seriously compromises the “public” part of the equation.

            As a building owner, it’s not the public’s responsibility to cover your lack of due diligence. It’s not the public’s responsibility to make sure that “the numbers pencil out”. Yes, there will be costs retrofitting ANY old building for new uses, but, again, that’s not the public’s responsibility. Once we start “giving away” the public ROW, it’s very, very, very hard to reclaim it or to quit doing so . . .

          • Mark-AL says:

            So, on narrow sidewalks, where do you propose that bicycle racks and newspaper vending machines be placed? In the empty lot down the street, with easy access by local thieves? Minimum sidewalk clearances need to be made on a case-by-case basis in urban/renewed areas. The cost (both financial and to human lives) to bite out an area of foundation wall to lower an entrance in a masonry wall that may have been neglected over the years, with (probable) minimal joist, beam and girder bearing and penetration, and with unpredictable and in most cases questionable mortar life somehow seems more significant than requiring a pedestrian to either walk or roll around a wheel chair ramp on a clear path that may be a bit circuitous but is nonetheless safe….much like and certainly no more challenging than walking down the street to the intersection and turning right on the sidewalk to continue walking.

            When the Old Judge Coffee Building in the Landing (two buildings actually) was renovated in the 70s (?), I’m told by the S. Engineer of record that the entire facade on the newer building was lost while the contractor was attempting to increase window sizes and replace lintels. All established protocols were followed: one window at a time, needles placed appropriately in 1st, 2nd and 3rd positions, including above each opening as it was being worked on, etc, etc. Well, the wall collapsed just like a drape falling off its curtain rod! Two bricklayers and a laborer would have ended their lives if the scaffold had been tied to the wall vs free standing. Case in point. From my perspective, I’d rather be safe than very sorry. Not to say that I’m afraid of a renovation challenge. But when diaphragms and chunks and structural elements are removed from a structure in situations where it is totally impractical to upgrade the entire structure, I’d vote for the wheelchair ramp, ESPECIALLY on a multi-tenant structure that is making a modification to accommodate the specific needs of a wanna-be tenant. It’s risky enough modifying the exterior of an existing, older structure when the reasons for doing so are absolute and consequential. But in this case, I see some very plausible compromises.


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