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What is an Accessible Route?

I often write about an “accessible route” (or lack thereof), but what constitutes an accessible route? In the days of walkable urbanism and streetcar suburbs you didn’t have wheelchair access but you also didn’t have multiple stores on 20+ acre sites connected only by large surface parking lots. In those days all were connected by this thing we call a sidewalk.

Decades now of building for the car and not humans has destroyed the ability for a pedestrian, disabled or not, to reach the main entry of many businesses from the public sidewalk without having to traverse space occupied by cars. However guidelines relating to the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) intended to make all future establishments reachable from the public sidewalk without having to walk though driveways where cars are coming and going.

The ADA itself just establishes the fundamental civil right to be granted full access to where the general public is permitted. However, through the “Access Board” the rules are established. The rules (guidelines) are known as ADAAG (pronounced A-Dag) — The ADA Guidelines for Accessible Buildings and Facilities. Enforcement of the ADA falls to the federal Department of Justice. However, municipalities, counties and states are free to adopt the ADAAG guidelines as part of their own requirements.

This brings me to my original question, what is an accessible route? For the answer we go to section 4.3 of ADAAG. Much of this section deals with halls and other routes. But one section, if enforced, would change the face of sprawl development:

4.3.2 Location.

(1) At least one accessible route within the boundary of the site shall be provided from public transportation stops, accessible parking, and accessible passenger loading zones, and public streets or sidewalks to the accessible building entrance they serve. The accessible route shall, to the maximum extent feasible, coincide with the route for the general public.

(2) At least one accessible route shall connect accessible buildings, facilities, elements, and spaces that are on the same site.

Developers & cities on which they work have down the route from accessible parking. They just tend to ignore the rest. But “and public streets or sidewalks” is pretty clear. In part #2 above the guidelines require all an accessible route between locations on the same site. This is really just basic sound planning but sadly it is ignored more often than followed.

I’ve shown you numerous examples before. The new Lowe’s in Loughborough Commons is not reachable along an accessible route from a public street. New free-standing Starbuck’s facilities in the area such as the one on Watson and the latest on Broadway lack accessible routes from the adjacent public sidewalk. The entire development at Gravois Plaza lacks an accessible route to any of the store entrances much less all of them. It is just as bad if not worse out in sprawl-ville. For example Brentwood Promenade is just west of a MetroLink station yet none of its stores are accessible from the public sidewalk and even once you are there going from one store to the next cannot be done on an accessible route. Sometimes it is a mixed bag. The new shopping center in Dardene Prairie has a connection from one public sidewalk to the Target & JCPenny but it then fails to connect to other buildings within the site. The typical fast food joint or strip center in an out parcel is often just an island in a sea of asphalt for cars.

If cities required developers, especially those receiving tax incentives, to follow the ‘accessible route’ requirement it would actually make the developments better for all the customers not just those who happen to be disabled. The parent with a five year old and a baby in a stroller could easily get from store A to store B without having to brave the dangers of taking their two offspring through a busy & crowded parking lot or having to load them back in the car to drive closer to a store within sight. Even if it is just a nice day and you’d rather walk than drive, following this guideline makes that a more pleasant possibility.

Compliance is not an impossibility but rather a shift in thinking away from the auto only status quo. Examples I’ve found include a former mall site in Bloomington-Normal,and an Arby’s on Lindell. One of the best examples is a mixed-use project in the bay area that I found in December 2006.

Walkable need not exclude cars.  Sadly so much time is spent by Architects and Civil Engineers figuring out traffic patterns into and out of shopping centers that pedestrian traffic concerns is short changed.  People will say that nobody walks in suburbia so why bother.  If we look deeper we can see that the design of the spaces is largely unfriendly to pedestrians so it is no wonder that nobody walks.  People do want to walk but they need connecting sidewalks to do so.


Currently there are "8 comments" on this Article:

  1. Jim Zavist says:

    It’s my understanding that both the Starbucks (on Watson) and the Lion’s Choice next door were directed by the city to place their drive-thru menu boards and ordering intercoms on the front of their properties (instead of in back, along the alley, as is typical industry practice). My guess is that this was done to minimize the impact of the new fast-food places on the residences on the other side of the alley. The unintended consequence is that it makes it very difficult to get from the public sidewalk to the front door, as is required by the ADA.

    Compliance with the ADA can either be done grudgingly (much of the city) or not at all (many local developments), or it can be embraced: http://www.denvergov.org/Transportation_Planning/PedestrianMasterPlanDocuments/tabid/395502/Default.aspx . . . all it takes is a change in attitude and the realization that at some point on our lives, all of us will benefit from improved accessibility!

    [slp — everyone can benefit today.  This is not just about old age or after a disability, connecting places with sidewalks benefits every user.] 

  2. Jason says:

    Along the lines of accessibility. I heard a rumor that Deborah Dee who was, as you know, the main P.O.C. for accessibility in the City of St. Louis, is no longer at her position. I worked with her a couple of times on projects. She was a valuable asset to the city government.

    Back to your topic-My understanding is that while the property owner must comply with the slopes to reach the accessible route, sidewalk, or whatever, more often than not, the sidewalk they are connecting to is not compliant. Many times, these sites don’t even have a sidewalk to connect to.

    [slp— Yes Deborah Dee has retired.  That position is now held by David Newburger.  Even sites that don’t have an adjacent public sidewalk still need to have internal access between buildings. ] 

  3. Jim Zavist says:

    Jason, look at ADAAG 4.3.2 (1) again – it requires a connection to transit stops (even if there is no sidewalk), as well as a connection to the nearest public streets OR public sidewalks. It also assumes that new sidewalks will meet ADAAG requirements for slopes, so the excuse that “these sites don’t even have a sidewalk to connect to” simply isn’t a valid one. Compliance and connections are not, obviously, going to be completed overnight or even over many years, but you have to start somewhere, and as more links are put out there, the more pressure there will be to fill in the missing ones!

  4. equals42 says:

    I hate frivolous lawsuits. [Get that out of the way.] Couldn’t someone make a small bundle representing the interests of those who need ADA access? Steve unfortunately should have standing in almost any ADA access case with the scooter. If a case is filed against developers for ADA violations, couldn’t the lawyer fees be recouped? If enough developers got slapped with suits which resulted in them needing to fix the problem and pay lawyer fees, we wouldn’t have too many violations after a while. Maybe they’d just “get it” one way or another.

    [slp — I’ve been putting out feelers for legal representation.] 

  5. Jim Zavist says:

    This is both a simple and a complex issue. The basic rules are pretty clear, it’s the enforcement side that doesn’t work well. I think there are several reasons, especially in St. Louis County. First, little happens in government at any level unless someone makes it a priority. If no one thinks that providing access to pedestrians, both able bodied and the disabled, is a priority in suburban areas, the status quo will remain. Second, most government employees quickly realize that you don’t get extra credit for going above and beyond – you gain nothing by creating more work to be done. Third, the fragmented political structure in the County exacerbates the “it’s not my job” problem.
    The American with Disabilities Act, for several reasons, was enacted as federal civil rights legislation, with any enforcement happening after the fact. Building Codes, in contrast, are locally adopted, with reviews prior to the start of construction, and enforcement occuring before a project can be occupied. In the 18 years since the ADA was enacted, building codes have been revised to incorporate most ADA requirments that affect a building internally – those requirements are now enforced in the normal course of building by the building inspector, and for the most, compliance is pretty good.
    Building in St. Louis County is governed by multiple agencies. Some cities have their own building departments and some contract with/defer to the County to handle building permits for them. Most cities, both big and small, retain control of the zoning and site-development processes. Many times these staff responsibilities fall to the Public Works Director, who may or may not be well versed on the ADAAG requirements for an accessible route AND may or may not be empowered and/or motivated to enforce these requirements on private property. Combine that reality with developers who think (probably correctly) that the vast majority of their tenants’ customers are going to drive and park with the statistically small chance that anyone will question their lack of an accessible route and the accessible route is either consciously or inadvertently “missed” on too many projects. Then add in the fact that many tenants assume (or are told) that the site provides an accessible route to their front door, and they focus only on accessibility within their stores and access to the required number of accessible parking spaces.
    This all creates a huge black hole where everyone assumes that ADAAG requirements are being met and no one is actually checking to see that they actually are. Contrast that to, surprisingly, Texas, where the TDLR ( http://www.license.state.tx.us/AB/ab.htm#techinfo ) is tasked with enforcing both the ADA and state regulations. Applicants for building permits throughout Texas are required to have their plans reviewed by an independent “registered accessibility specialist” before any building permits are issued. Guess what? Accessibility, including accessible routes, are now getting done consistently down there! Will something similar happen in Missouri? I seriously doubt it – the histrory behind the Texas law shows a series of incremental steps over 40 years. But there’s also no reason why a similar level of review wouldn’t be appropriate at the county level here – it would be perceived by many as a burden at first, but would help avoid a lot of problems in the future, plus it would create a framework to more sustainable future. All it’s going to take is a motivated, vocal constituency to keep pushing for real change!

  6. Jim Zavist says:

    Somewhat related – has anyone else noticed around here that too many temporary road signs (metal ones for detours and road construction and the larger changeable message signs) too many times are placed on the sidewalk, completely blocking access for pedestrians?! I guess the other options, in the street or on the grass in the public right-of-way, simply generate many more complaints from motorists and property owners, respectively. Like they say, the squeeky wheel gets the grease. My example du jour is on Dale Avenue, just west of Yale – a street with on-street parking, but there’s an orange barrel and a detour sign completely blocking the sidewalk, when it could be seen better and not block anything if it were placed in the parking lane!

  7. Jim Zavist says:

    Following this week’s 6″-8″ snow, on Tuesday into Wednesday, I wasn’t surprised that many sidewalks weren’t shoveled. But what I found to be disappointing, and further evidence that we’re truly an autocentric society around here, are the number of public/retail locations that have clean sidewalks and parking lots internally/near their front doors, yet haven’t attempted to remove snow from the public sidewalks parallel to the main streets, by Friday or Saturday! The list is extensive and never-ending. A short start includes the Walgreens at Hampton & Chippewa, the Target store across the street, the Meramec campus of the Community College system (along Big Bend), several elementary schools, etc., etc. All of these places pay people to remove snow. Do they purposely exclude the public sidewalks? To save money? Or do they assume that no one will be walking when it snows? Trust me – there were plenty of folks climbing through the slush at Hampton and Chippewa on Friday, trying to cross the streets and/or waiting for the bus. And, yes, I know the city can cite the businesses for not doing the right thing, but a) it rarely, if ever, happens, and b) if the city ever tried to cite everyone (to be fair), the push back would be incredible.

  8. john says:

    Yes truly pathetic. In Richmond Heights, the Galleria Parkway sidewalks from the Galleria to the Metro station (and along Brentwood Blvd) were piled high with snow and so pedestrians, hundreds of them, were walking on the streets. The snow plowers had pushed the snow from the streets and the Boulevard mall onto the sidewalks to reduce their workloads. Safety for pedestrians is not a priority in this community or in others in the StL region as local leadership has made clear for years, nothing new. Shortcuts-R-Us not Gateway to the West is the region’s true motto, it is the car culture in control.


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