Saturday, April 21, 2012

Boston-area ADA Compliant Sidewalks and Curb Ramps

By: Stephen Meuse

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990 and mandated that public entities provide facilities to cater to those with disabilities. Cities and towns have since made great strides to improve their infrastructure to comply with the law, but the results are not always ideal. Though these improvements have put many facilities in compliance, many were done in such a way that goes against common sense.

The following locations are examples of sidewalks and curb ramps that do not comply with the ADA. For those in a wheelchair or who are visually impaired, they present an obstacle that is not easily overcome.

Curb Ramp - Melrose, Massachusetts - Map View
Located on the northeast corner of the intersection of Sixth and East Foster Streets, this is an example of an improperly constructed curb ramp. This curb ramp was constructed before the ADA went into effect and as a result is an obstacle to many users. 

When I was young, I always assumed that curb ramps were for children to be able to cross the street and get their bikes back on the sidewalk; that is the only function that this curb ramp seems to cater to. For someone in a wheelchair, the slope of the ramp is very steep and may be unclimbable without great strength. A proper curb ramp should meet the sidewalk at a right angle so as to prevent a wheelchair from tipping, but this ramp essentially forces a user to either ride it up at an angle or get their wheels stuck in the catch basin grate. In addition, the absence of a truncated dome panel makes the curb ramp dangerous for the visually impaired. They won't be able to know when they've reached the street, though they would be more likely to trip and fall because of the slope and would realize it then. It is because of curb ramps like this that lawmakers felt the need to step in and force cities and towns to better accommodate those with disabilities.

Unusable Sidewalk - Melrose, Massachusetts - Map View
Located on the southeast corner of the intersection of Winthrop and Myrtle Streets, this sidewalk (since redesigned) is an example of an unusable sidewalk.

Winthrop Street is a very narrow one-way street and due to right of way issues as well as an existing retaining wall, the sidewalk narrows greatly as it rounds the corner. Though only 2-3 feet wide, a pedestrian would be able to walk down this sidewalk even if someone in a wheel chair might not be able to, but to make matters worse, a "Do Not Enter" sign was placed right in the middle of it, hindering all users. This issue could have been easily fixed by providing a safe marked crossing (and curb ramp) so someone could use the sidewalk on the other side of the street, but nothing was done. When public entities feel that it is alright to prevent certain road users from using the road for no good reason, it's obvious that something needs to change.

ADA Compliant Sidewalks and Curb Ramps
With the passing of the ADA, designers were forced to provide for those with disabilities. This included adding curb ramps at all crossings and respecting maximum slopes for sidewalks and ramps.

Roller Coaster Sidewalk - Saugus, Massachusetts - Map View
Lynn Fells Parkway through Saugus did not use to have sidewalks, but with a recent redesign of the roadway, sidewalks were constructed on both sides of the street.

When comparing pedestrian accommodations from before and after, the street has come a long way, but the new sidewalks are not perfect. They respect the maximum slopes and were designed following all ADA guidelines, however, common sense seems to have been lacking. On this section of Lynn Fells Parkway (from the Melrose line to Main Street) almost every house has a horseshoe driveway (two driveway ramps). There's nothing wrong with that except when sidewalks are constructed with longitudinal ramps. Longitudinal ramps combat the issues associated with driveway ramps by bringing the sidewalk down to the driveway level. This is common when there is not enough sidewalk width to provide for a ramp without violating the sidewalk cross-slope maximum

Each house has a horseshoe driveway and therefore two driveway ramps.
The sidewalk goes down and up at every driveway.
On Lynn Fells Parkway, the exclusive use of the longitudinal ramp combined with every house having a horseshoe driveway has created a roller coaster ride for those in wheelchairs and an uncomfortable walk for pedestrians. Those in wheelchairs speed down the ramp into the driveway and then are forced to use extra strength to make it up the ramp on the other side. It is a constant exhausting up and down for the whole length of the redesigned street. The street is in full compliance with the ADA, however, the design lacks common sense with respect to sidewalk users' comfort. 

Inconvenient Crosswalk - Melrose, Massachusetts - Map View
Curb ramps are constructed whenever an intersection is redesigned. At this curb ramp located on the eastern side of the intersection of Larrabee and Laurel Streets, the crosswalk had to be placed east of the intersection in order for the slopes of the sidewalk and curb ramps to meet the code.


While the crosswalk and curb ramp follow ADA guidelines, the designers had to put the crosswalk in an inconvenient location in order to assure it. Pedestrians are not likely to use the crosswalk now since they have to go well out of their way to get to it and the visually impaired may have difficulty realizing that they need to turn and travel 20+ feet up the other street to find it. A separate issue is that the "Stop Sign" is located in a place that would cause a stopped car to block the crosswalk. The stop bar should always be before the crosswalk unless there is enough room between it and the crosswalk to hold one vehicle. The stop bar and "Stop Sign" were originally located before the crosswalk as per guidelines, but were moved shortly after constructed ended, possibly because having it back so far was creating a dangerous situation for vehicles in terms of sight distance. Overall, the new design of the intersection fell short in properly catering to all road users, even vehicles.

The ADA has done a great job at making public facilities more accessible to the disabled as well as the general public. Without it, other road users might still be neglected when a roadway is designed, as was seen in the first two locations. However, the latter two locations show that just because a pedestrian facility is compliant with the ADA, it isn't necessarily easy for the disabled to use. As a result, traffic engineers need to take a closer look into their designs to assure that not only are they compliant, but that they are practical and as easy to use as possible.

1 comment:

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