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Advocating Safe Passage By Michael J. Wallwork, PE Have you ever wondered what your quality of life will be as you mature and your body (or just your eyesight) gradually wears to the point that you lose that golden American passport to life-- the drivers license? Have you considered what life will be like then? Take time to consider all of the trips that you make in a week-- to work, to retail stores, to the doctor and to visit friends and family; how many of these trips could you make without a car? When you can no longer drive, will you be able to walk on a nice flat, firm, unobstructed sidewalk or will you be faced with the alternative of a walk in a swale or, even worse, on the road? How pleasurable would this be if you were in a wheelchair? Imagine the fun of negotiating the swale and the poles and other obstacles as your own vision fades. Will you be able to see the pothole that will trip you and break your hip? Will you be able to cross that busy, signalized intersection? Consider your future without a driver's license. As Landscape Architects, you are perfectly positioned to humanize roadway transportation to ensure all humans a safe and effective pathway and a better quality of life. Not just related to the loss of a driver's license, this issue of mobility affects many people within our communities-- those who cannot drive because they are too young, too old, have a disability or cannot afford a car. It is for these reasons that the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) is an important first step to providing all people with a measure of mobility, whether or not they drive cars. Every driver is a pedestrian at least four times a day; even drivers have to walk to the car, from the car to the destination and the same on the return journey. However, ADA is only a small start. Currently ADA only requires communities to construct curb ramps where sidewalks meet the curb and to ensure that bus stops and shelters are usable by persons in wheelchairs. To further improve the street system for all of us, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (The Access Board) has proposed to add Section 14 Public Rights-of-Way to the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG). This proposed section will require that: sidewalks provide a continuous passage of three feet wide, just like those that were built prior to World War II (Unfortunately, this will still allow road authorities to place poles and other obstacles in the sidewalk to hamper and injure the unwary or sight-impaired. Sidewalks should be five feet wide, or a minimum of four feet wide with passing zones every 200 feet); the maximum allowed slope across the sidewalk should be 1:50 or two percent (The simple reason for this requirement is that even at 1:50 cross slope, ninety percent of the effort of a person in a wheelchair is directed to the downhill wheel. In Australia it is 1:100, a more comfortable slope for wheelchair use); and surfaces should be stable, firm, and with a minimum of warping and cracks to trip people. Sidewalks should be separated from the road by a landscape strip, curbs or other barriers-- placed without protruding into the walk space. Adequate headroom (six- feet eight-inches) and two, not one, ramps per corner need be considered when new rights-of-way are developed or existing roadways and sidewalks are redesigned. Street furniture should be placed adjacent to the sidewalk, so that seats, water fountains, and public telephones are accessible from a wheelchair. The least understood but most important requirement, a 36-inch flat area around each driveway, protects wheelchair users and the elderly. People who have traversed a sidewalk that was very poorly placed against the curb understand that each driveway becomes a hazard, an obstacle that drags the wheelchair down the driveway onto the road. Desirably, sidewalks should be located six feet from the curb, just like the "old days," complemented by a planted strip, a landscape that both beautifies and adds shade to the street. There are a number of other design standards specified in ADAAG which warrant further investigation. However, if you look through these recommendations, you will find that most of them were built into the street system prior to WWII. If you look closely at each of the design standards and consider how they might affect you now or later in life, you will find that they make a lot of sense by improving the quality of life of all people who wish to use the street network. As an exercise take a walk in your neighborhood, especially with very young children or elderly people, and observe the challenges that they face in using your street network; see if you desire to suffer those same obstacles when you are less able to cope with them. Ideally we all can work together to see that ADAAG is passed; however, at this point in time, many of the State road agencies in this country are protesting, and have done so for more than two years, the implementation of this section. Elsewhere in the world most of the above guidelines constitute standard design. For example, in Melbourne, Australia, it was decided many years ago that the best way to get people with disabilities off welfare and give them a measure of independence and a sense of their own worth, was to provide these people with job training and a means of mobility. This enabled them to travel from home to work without the need to rely on others. If you think about it, people who are visually impaired or have physical disabilities that does not fully inhibit their movement have very simple needs-- flat and stable sidewalks with clearly defined edges, curb ramps and mass-transit. In most Australian cities, all of these facilities have existed for many years although they have had to be refined and improved as the range of mobile people with disabilities has expanded. Whether we are forced to comply with the ADA, or simply practice good design and treat all people equally, a well-designed pedestrian system will assist all people who use the street network allowing them to remain a part of our communities and have a more pleasurable walking experience. Landscape Architects will, after all, help guarantee ourselves, our families and friends safe passage. Slide Cutlines: 1. As Landscape Architects, users of a street are our customers, ranging from the very young to the very old. 2. Could you take your dog to the veterinarian when you are visually impaired? 3. Would you like to walk on the road because of a lack of sidewalks when you are visually impaired? 4. Riding on the road instead of the sidewalk to avoid being hit by a reversing car. Which is more dangerous? 5. Would you enjoy walking along this sidewalk? 6. Bulb-outs reduce the size of intersection and pedestrian crossing. 7,8. Which would you prefer-- an old-style strip without sidewalks or the new style retail street? 9. This elderly gentleman had to use the car as support to step down from the curb because there was no curb ramp at the intersection. 10. A European street-- notice more people than cars. 11. Sidewalks add five percent or $5,000 to value of property. 12. A discontinuous sidewalk near a school-- see where the children have to walk-- next to 55 MPH traffic. 13. In a good street environment, young children can be more independent. 14. Sidewalks at back of curb, a good method to eliminating heads. 15. In a good street environment, people become engrossed in what they are doing. 16. Two ramps per corner in Washington, D.C. 17. We don't put trees haphazardly in roads, but will do so in sidewalks. 18. Could this be you in your later life? 19. An attractive place to walk and shop. 20. A not-so-attractive or safe environment. 21. A street that works for all-- Northampton, MA. 22. From Vic Roads design guide-- latest standard in Australia. 23. Proposed ADA driveway treatment. 24. What an ADA driveway would look like if sidewalk was badly located at back-of-curb.

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June 18, 2019, 8:47 am PDT

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