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Lisi’s Route: Saturday November 21, 2009 at 10am

November 16, 2009 Accessibility 6 Comments

Two weeks ago today I posted about incomplete sidewalks on Delmar in the two blocks West of Jefferson (map).

November 1, 2009

In late 2005, due to these incomplete sidewalks, Elizabeth “Lisi” Bansen was using her manual wheelchair in the road to travel the two blocks from the store to her apartment.  She was struck by a vehicle on Wednesday November 2, 2005.  She died a few days later.  In December 2007 I posted about the incomplete route after the City of St. Louis was found negligent in her death.  Nothing happened after the 2007 post.

But two weeks ago I emailed a number of city officials a link to my post.  That got the ball rolling.  Later that week I did an interview with Mike Owens of NBC-affiliate KSDK (see Owens’ report).  He spoke with Director of Streets Todd Waelterman who indicated the missing sidewalk and two needed curb ramps would be done by the end of the month.

November 12, 2009
November 13, 2009

I was glad to see last week the work finally getting done.

So Saturday November 21, 2009 at 10am I’m going to walk the two blocks from the store to the apartments where Lisi lived – Lisi’s Route. I’d like you to join me.  The walk has two purposes; 1) remember a citizen who’s life was cut short at 40 years of age and 2) to show the community cares about complete sidewalk networks (incomplete networks don’t function).  I want to celebrate the route that she never had but current residents of the same apartments can now enjoy.

New readers might be asking what the big deal is to walk a couple of blocks.  For them: at age 40, I had a stroke a little less than two years ago so two blocks is a good walk for me.  As a disabled person I want to fight for others who are also disabled and need sidewalks to lead an independent life.  But I’m also fighting to create a walkable city for everyone — disabled or able bodied.  The exurbs might be fully auto centric but I expect the core to be walkable.

If you’d like to join me as I slowly walk from the gas station at Jefferson & Delmar (map) to the apartments where she lived please meet me on the public sidewalk on Delmar next to their car wash at 10am this coming Saturday.  After a few words I will start walking at 10:15am promptly. If you drive please park on Delmar — not at the gas station/market.

If you haven’t been before I suggest afterward stopping to visit the Scott Joplin House state historic site.

– Steve Patterson


Sidewalks on Delmar still unusable

November 2, 2009 Accessibility, Midtown 3 Comments

Four years ago today Elizabeth Bansen was struck and killed by an SUV as she returned home from the market two blocks East of her apartment.  Although the accident occurred around 6pm driver didn’t see Bansen in her wheelchair on the street.  On December 6th 2007 I posted on the jury finding the city negligent in Bansen’s death since the sidewalks were not passable.  The accessibility of sidewalks has long been a passion of mine. From that post:

Besides the broken sidewalk in front of the existing business on the street, much of the sidewalk area on this block is completely impassable to a person in a wheelchair.

I did that post nearly two months prior to the massive stroke that disabled me.  Since I’ve traveled many miles using an electric wheelchair myself.  My first two and a half months home from the hospital I couldn’t yet drive so, like many, the wheelchair was my only means of independence.

In 2007 Director of Streets Todd Waelterman and City Attorney Patti Hageman either weren’t sure if the sidewalks were fixed or thought they were.  I showed they were not.   Yesterday I drove over to see the couple of blocks along Delmar to see if the sidewalks between the housing and the market were corrected.  Sadly, the situation is exactly like I found it in December 2007.

Looking West from Beaumont
Delmar looking West from Beaumont

Heading West from the market at Jefferson toward the housing the first block is fine.  But when you reach Beaumont you cease to have a sidewalk.  The city claims the sidewalk is the responsibility of the adjacent property owner but in recent rulings around the country the courts are determining that cities cannot push of this basic service onto the owners of abutting properties.  The owner of the building in the background, 2719 Delmar LLC, owns the entire length of this city block.

Delmar looking East at Leffingwell

Going the other direction from the housing to the market one immediately finds a curb without a curb cut.  I know that if I approached the above low curb just right I could get on that sidewalk.  But a resident of these apartments would know the sidewalk doesn’t go through. What about taking the other side of Delmar to avoid being in the street?  The city can debate the sidewalk issue but access from the road to the sidewalk is 100% their responsibility.

Delmar looking East at Leffingwell
Delmar looking East at Leffingwell

On the South side of Delmar the sidewalk is not perfect but it is mostly passable.  But here the curb height makes the sidewalk condition a mute point.

Apartments on left with red roofs, market is on bottom right corner

The obstacles are few but they are enough to cause wheelchair users to use the roadway.  The apartment complex is owned by the St. Louis Housing Authority.  Not all of the units are accessible but some are.  Occupants of these units have two basic needs — food and access to transportation. Much of the public transportation is on Jefferson where the market is located so this route along Delmar is a critical path.

2007: The accessible apartment where Basen lived.
2007: The accessible apartment where Basen lived.

I am fortunate to live an a step-free building downtown but for many wheelchair dependent public housing units like these are their only choice.  Routes to food and transportation isn’t a luxury but a must.  Enough to for someone to risk their life.

Two years ago I emailed several with the city about the sidewalk conditions on Delmar.  I’m will again do the same so that hopefully two years from now residents of these apartments will have a safe route to the store and to transportation.

And finally, I’ve emailed with Elizabeth Bansen’s father and two of her siblings.  They miss “Lisi.”  I’ve promised them I will work to ensure that residents of these apartments will have safe sidewalks to access Delmar & Jefferson.

– Steve Patterson


What is wrong with this sidewalk?

October 27, 2009 Accessibility, Downtown 5 Comments

This sidewalk, heading South from Washington Ave. along the East side of 14th Street, has a number of issues.  Most notably it is too narrow.

On the positive side, the trees and parked cars make a nice buffer between the pedestrian and passing vehicles.  Since my stroke I’ve walked this sidewalk a few times and the half block you see here is harder to walk on than the previous two blocks to get to this point.  It slopes downhill slightly but that is not an issue.  The cross slope, however, makes this sidewalk very difficult to walk on.  The side to side slope is beyond allowable limits of the ADA.  To the eye you can see the slight slope.

The able-bodied would have no problem walking this sidewalk but for those of us with one leg that doesn’t work as well as the other find it a major challenge.

– Steve Patterson


South Grand: From the Gilded Age to “Great Street”

South Ground has always been a great street. In the early days it boasted a streetcar line, Tower Grove Park, an active business district, and the mansions of The Gilded Age. It left good bones for redevelopment a century later and has opened the door to a new era as a “Great Street.”

South Grand

In 2005, the East-West Gateway organization began spearheading an urban-planning movement called “Great Streets” in the St. Louis area. “Great Street” ideas hope to re-invent life in the city by taking a holistic view to neighborhood streetscapes. It is, in some ways, a backward-looking movement that hopes to bring back some of the chaotic diversity of earlier street life to modern ways of living.

It eschews our mid-century fascination with the car and focuses again on the street as home to all whether on foot, bike, bus or car. It also wants to achieve something more than integrated transportation; it wants to underline the cultural context of a neighborhood and to reflect the community’s deep historical roots in hopes of crafting a unique cultural identity to stimulate social and economic development.

Starting in early September 2009, the city of St. Louis and East-West Gateway began an experiment to demonstrate how those infrastructure changes might affect life on South Grand. They re-striped Grand from Arsenal to Utah Streets into a three-lane configuration with concrete barriers to simulate future bulb build-outs at the end of city blocks. Public meetings before, during and afterwards captured neighborhood assessments on the changes.

Tuesday October 6 was the final public meeting on the pilot project and East-West Gateway shared data from the experiment and initial designs with the community. Probably the most visible change has been the decrease in vehicle speeds through the business district. Before the three-lane experiment began, car speeds on the then four-lane road averaged 42 mph. Traffic slowed to 31-32 mph during the three-lane experiment.

The difference is palpable either on foot or in a car. More than half of the residents attending the meeting said pedestrian safety was either improved or greatly improved under the new configuration and 69% experienced street crossings as easier or safer.

The slower speeds did not result in greater congestion. Data collected during the trial show a modest 3%-4% decrease in congestion in the area and there was positive feedback from emergency services in that they were able to use the third lane, the turn lane, to quickly navigate the area during emergency calls, an improvement to fighting four lanes of traffic with no dedicated lane.

Neighborhood residents did present anecdotal evidence that some traffic had moved to neighborhood through streets to avoid South Grand. East-West Gateway representatives said they would collect more data on that as the trial period is extended.

The third major change was a reduction in street noise during the pilot. Forty-six percent of residents noted a reduced or greatly reduced level of noise and data collected confirmed a 17-decibel drop in high-end noise.

The pilot has thus proven to be a success in terms of calming traffic, reducing noise, and making the zone friendlier and safer for pedestrians. But what about enhancing the character of the neighborhood or enhanced economic activity? No data was presented by East-West Gateway and perhaps there are too many external factors like the prolonged recession to make any accurate determinations.

I can say, and this should please the street’s merchants, that 37% of the residents reported an improved or greatly improved shopping and dining experience during the “Great Streets” pilot. The slower speeds on South Grand do allow a better look at the shops and restaurants and the friendlier street atmosphere is likely to translate to more walkers and bikers dropping in to check them out.

So what’s next? The institutional recommendation will be made to continue the pilot, temporary concrete barriers and all, until construction can begin in mid-2010. In the meantime, East-West Gateway will continue to collect data and investigate outstanding issues like whether permanently closing the alleys that open on South Grand between Arsenal and Utah will work for residents, merchants and city utility crews. Design work will also continue along with the selection of materials and street trees. Also undecided is whether there will be dedicated bike lanes on a shared bike-car lane through the pilot area. Further consultation with the bicycling community is promised.

Since the proposed “Great Streets” improvements for South Grand are in the $8-$9 million range and only $3 million is available in U.S. federal stimulus funds, the vision being constructed in 2010 will be limited in scope. The budget will allow a permanent reconfiguration of the roadway to three lanes, widening of the sidewalks by three feet, building the bulbs at the end of each block to set off parking spaces from the roadway, and installation of new pedestrian crossing areas at intersections. Special attention will be paid to ADA curb cuts and bringing the project beyond code for ADA modifications. There will also be funds to plant more street trees and replace street lighting with more energy-efficient and effective fixtures.

An effort is being made in the design process to incorporate established neighborhood design icons into the new designs for bike racks, benches, newspaper box corrals, and neighborhood signage. Picking up the wrought-iron, Gilded Age designs from the fencing on either side of the Tower Grove garden gates and the neighborhood signs for Compton Heights and Tower Grove East, the new amenities will reinforce the neighborhood’s unique design heritage.
Compton Heights

Several issues remain up in the air. Two local schools founded in the Gilded Age, Gallaudet School for the Deaf and the Missouri School for the Blind, have requested that audible signals be added to traffic lights so their students can safely cross at the South Grand business-district intersections. Green, LEED-standard materials for paving options, bioswales to deal with street water run-off, and lighting fixtures that meet requirements for night-sky preservation are all under consideration, but haven’t been locked down.

To the extent that this project succeeds, credit should be given to the credible public-engagement process for this project.  Two initial workshops were used to identify problems in the area in 2007 and 2008; three extensive public open houses were held in August, September and October to determine design options, establish neighborhood preferences, and provide data from the pilot. Extensive displays, multiple meeting times and venues, printed materials, online surveys, and extended live question-and-answer sessions with keycard voting on options were all used to present ideas and receive feedback. At Tuesday’s meeting, 85% of residents found the process to be transparent and 74% felt the most important problems on South Grand had been addressed.

Project planners had a few surprises. One was the support expressed at public meetings to not just meet, but exceed, current ADA standards for access to the area as a business and social hub. Two was the public preference for LEED-compliant materials for paving, including pervious pavement. And three was support for street lighting that would meet neighborhood needs for safety, yet not be overly lit, so the area could meet improved energy efficiency standards and protect the night skies from unnecessary light pollution.

– Deborah Moulton


Making the Transition to an Accessible Community

October 15, 2009 Accessibility, Events/Meetings Comments Off on Making the Transition to an Accessible Community

It has been nearly 20 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act became law.  Much work remains.  Nobody expected every place to magically become accessible overnight.  Private buildings, especially those built since 1990, are pretty good.   A big chunk of the work to be done is in the public right-of-way and government buildings.  Part of the ADA requires units of government (cities, school districts. etc) to create and maintain a Transition Plan.

One important way to ensure that Title II’s requirements are being met in cities of all sizes is through self-evaluation, which is required by the ADA regulations. Self-evaluation enables local governments to pinpoint the facilities, programs and services that must be modified or relocated to ensure that local governments are complying with the ADA.

This document contains a sampling of common problems shared by city governments of all sizes that have been identified through the Department of Justice’s ongoing enforcement efforts. The document provides examples of common deficiencies and explains how these problems affect persons with disabilities. The document is not intended to be comprehensive or exhaustive.

The Department of Justice is finding governments are not doing the self-evaluation.   The are taking some to court!  To assist government in understanding the importance of and how to do a self evaluation, I’ve been serving on a committee with the St. Louis Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.  Together (mostly others) we’ve put together an excellent 1-day workshop: Tuesday October 20, 2009:

ADA Transition Plan: Do You Have One?

The American Institute of Architects St. Louis Chapter and the City of St. Louis Office on the Disabled present a one-day seminar on the components of a Transition Plan and its enforcement elements. Speakers from the National Access Board and the Department of Justice will prepare you for your Transition Plan.

The American with Disabilities Title II requires that all municipalities and public institutions have a Transition Plan on file for review with regular updates.

The major purpose of a Transition Plan, as it relates to buildings and facilities owned and operated by a public entity, is to document the barriers to persons with disabilities. The purpose of the Transition Plan is to propose the structural modifications that will be undertaken to provide program accessibility.

The speakers we have coming into town are excellent, they include:

Lois L. Thibault, Coordinator of Research, U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (the Access Board)

After a decade’s work in the private practice of architecture and six years at The American Institute of Architects, Ms. Thibault joined the US Access Board in 1992 to direct its training activities, taking on the Board’s research program in 1998. She also assists in agency rulemaking, currently working on Public Rights-of-Way and Classroom Acoustics; develops advisory material on ADAAG provisions; provides technical assistance to public and private entities; and conducts training. In 1999 she authored ‘Accessible Rights-of-Way’, a design guide for pedestrian facility accessibility. Lois also serves on the board of The Washington Ear, a radio reading service for persons with visual impairments.

Bill Hecker:

Bill Hecker, AIA is an architect and accessibility consultant at Hecker Design, LLC in Birmingham, Alabama. He has been involved in a number of landmark ADA lawsuits.  He splits his expert witness services generally between ADA Title III for plaintiffs and ADA Title II facility compliance issues for state and local government defendants. Since 1994 he has been an expert witness/consultant for the Department of Justice on ADA and Fair Housing Act cases.  He has been retained by DOJ to assist with the development of the Project Civic Access “Tool Kit” checklists for state and local government entities.  He has been involved with the development of ADA transition plans for: Charlotte, NC; Birmingham, AL; Jefferson County, AL; University of Florida; Auburn University; Towson University; Oakland University; Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources; Teton County, Montana, ADA County, Montana; Jackson, Mississippi; San Francisco, California; Maui County; Hawaii County; and, the City & County of Honolulu.

Others include Dana Jackson from the Department of Justice, local Architect Gina Hilberry and David Newburger representing the City of St. Louis.  It is great having Newburger on the city staff to address this.  But with hundreds of units of government in our region and thousands within a few hours away, he only represents a tiny fraction of the region.  It is safe to say that most of the units of government in our region out out of compliance by lacking a transition plan.

Interestingly cities from Illinois have outpaced cities from Missouri in early registration.  Some seats remain, the fee is $75 (includes lunch).  The registration form can be found here and once filled out can be faxed to AIA St. Louis at (314) 621-3489.

If you are with a local unit of government ask yourself is it worth the risk to not have a transition plan?  Do you like addressing access piecemeal? If you answered no to these then you need to attend this seminar on Tuesday.  I’ll be doing live tweets from the event, follow me at Twitter.com/UrbanReviewSTL.

– Steve Patterson