Category: In The News

MTA Plan Expands List of NY Subway Stations to get Accessibility Improvements

Subway station with stairs

Accessibility and compliance with the ADA was front and center for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in 2019. With as many as four lawsuits challenging the MTA’s subway accessibility record the MTA has been working to correct the situation. In a series of announcements the MTA, the largest public transit authority in the United States, has expanded on its original accessibility improvement plan.

On April 20, 2018: “The MTA Board approved a capital plan amendment today that significantly increases the agency’s investment in ADA accessibility projects as part of the 2015-2019 MTA capital plan.”

On September 19, 2019: “MTA Commuter Railroads Announce the Addition of 11 ADA-Accessible Stations as Part of 2020-2024 Capital Plan”

Most recently on December 19, 2019: “MTA Announces 20 Additional Subway Stations to Receive Accessibility Improvements Under Proposed 2020-2024 Capital Plan”

Public transportation is a major resource for people of all abilities and with our aging population it is sure to see even greater demand in the years to come. Funding such long term initiatives is frequently a challenge. A challenge the MTA is taking head on, setting a foundation for a more inclusive and accessible public transportation in the future.

Sources: MTA Press Releases

Advancing Accessibility in Chattanooga

aerial view of chattanooga tennesseeTitle II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) includes specific compliance requirements for all government agencies with 50 or more employees.  The Transition Plan is the cornerstone of these requirements.  A Transition Plan paints a clear picture of the current barriers to access at municipal facilities, programs, and services.  It also describes the process of barrier removal, mitigation, and a timeline for corrections to be made. No plan is a perfect look into the future.  To remain flexible in addressing unforeseen challenges, while staying the long term course, requires a continual self assessment program focused on best practices and completing a feedback loop into Transition Plan updates.  This methodology creates what we at BlueDAG refer to as a Living Transition Plan.

In Chattanooga Tennessee, “several area municipalities recently completed self-assessments and established transition plans.”  The Cities of Red Bank and Soddy-Daisy, along with the Town of Signal Mountain are now putting those plans into action with millions of dollars.  The money will be put into multiple projects to improve accessibility for people of all abilities in the years to come. These plans ensure compliance with the ADA and are required to continue receiving federal funding.

Creating welcoming and inclusive public spaces and programs, while making accessibility a top priority, is an ambitious and worthy ideal to pursue.  A pursuit justified by the positive impact on people’s day to day lives. The importance of funding as fuel for accessibility efforts can not be understated.

Source: Chattanooga area municipalities improve accessibility of programs, facilities
By: Emily Crisman December 17th, 2019

Accessibility In Design

Interior of Hunters Point Library New and grand public buildings often open to great fanfare. Typically well received, they offer new and modern solutions to the needs of the organizations and people who use them. However, Universal Design doesn’t always get the attention it deserves in what some might call function following form. The Americans with Disabilities Act has been law for many years, It is reasonable to expect modern public buildings to be free of obvious accessibility oversights. Unfortunately this expectation is not always met. The much anticipated Queens Public Library at Hunters Point is one such case, and unfortunately the oversight has lead to a lawsuit.

“The class action lawsuit, filed on Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, argues that the lack of accessibility amounts to a violation of the three-decade-old legislation known as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the ADA, newly constructed public and commercial buildings must meet accessibility standards.”

While opening difficulties are not uncommon for new buildings, situations like this serve as a stark reminder to civic and business leaders that compliance with accessibility laws are a minimum standard. Much can be done to go above and beyond the minimum requirements to create truly inclusive, accessible and welcoming environments.

Source: Lack Of Handicap Accessibility At Flashy New Hunters Point Library Sparks Lawsuit
By: Elizabeth Kim Nov. 26, 2019 1:32 P.M.

Funding ADA infrastructure with TAP Funds

Franklin County Mo, Courthouse

Ensuring infrastructure such as sidewalks, curb ramps, and buildings are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards are major issues for many states and localities across the nation. While good work is being done to create paths and spaces accessible to all, many municipalities are discovering that funding poses a major barrier to their efforts.

The Federal Surface Transportation Program provides funding to States and localities for transit capital projects like roads, bridges, and highways.  Unfortunately there are frequently more projects than money to go around. Cooperation among localities can be key to creating the most favorable conditions of approval for the most needed projects.  “At the Oct. 24 Franklin County Transportation Committee meeting, Union City Engineer Jonathan Zimmermann requested that cities in the county, other than Union, not seek Surface Transportation Program (STP) and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) grant funding.”  The hope is, by limiting grant requests to the East-West Gateway Council of Governments (EWGW) to a sole project, the Highway 47 and Highway 50 improvement project would be awarded funds by default.

While it may seem unfortunate or unfair that these requests be made, in this situation at least, it is an idea that has wide support.  Fortunately STP funds are not the only source of money, provided the localities have been proactive with related requirements, such as having an up-to-date ADA  transition plan.

The Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside program authorizes funding for programs and projects including on- and off-road pedestrian and bicycle facilities, infrastructure projects for improving non-driver access to public transportation and enhanced mobility, in addition to many other projects in the public right-of-way.  According to John Nilges, The City of Washington’s public works director, “the city has an advantage [in seeking TAP funds] over many other communities in the EWGW region because it has an Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) transition plan.”

With increasing scrutiny around ADA compliance and funding being tied more closely to compliance with federal requirements in general.  Compliance work in creating an accessible and equitable community for all is critically important to bettering people’s lives and obtaining much needed funding for States and localities.

Source: City Still to Seek Grant for Sidewalks — Won’t Interfere With Request
By: Gregg Jones, Missourian Staff Writer, Nov 3, 2019

El Paso County Releases Draft ADA Transition Plan

El Paso County Judicial Complex

Across the nation, federal investigators are continuing their audits of municipalities for ADA violations. From curb ramps and sidewalks to facilities and services, many cities and counties are taking the necessary steps to identify their barriers and update their transition plans.

El Paso County, Colorado, recently completed an ambitious effort with a draft transition plan to set the foundation of their ADA compliance initiative.  “El Paso County is committed to full and equal opportunity for all its citizens, including individuals with disabilities,” said Vince Maciunskas, Infrastructure Project Manager. “The County recognizes that its community’s continued vitality, strength and vibrancy results from the valuable contributions from the entire community.”

El Paso County’s work is critically important to creating an accessible and equitable community for all. For those that haven’t made it a priority, the DOJ is imposing fines of several million dollars and has frozen federal funding from other agencies.

Source: El PAso County Public Notice, October 24, 2019

City of Fresno Leads Accessibility Compliance with Small Businesses

Fresno City Skyline

Over the past 29 years, the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) has led thousands of accessibility initiatives in communities across the country. In some of the best cases, local cities have worked with their small businesses to ensure compliance with street parking, along sidewalks, and into the business itself. Recently, the City of Fresno created the Accessible Fresno Small Business Initiative to help its small business community get into compliance with the ADA.

“The challenge is satisfying everyone without destroying the business. The cost of ADA compliance can be onerous for businesses, especially the small ones. The cost of settling an ADA lawsuit can be onerous, as well. The cost of losing an ADA lawsuit can be devastating. At the same time, people with disabilities have a legal right to full participation in America’s public life.”

Public-private partnerships like this are not just reducing legal risks and helping small business owners, but also taking some of the sting out of compliance. In the end, this project is a win-win for the City of Fresno and its business community by helping create a more inclusive, accessible and welcoming environment for everyone. How can partnerships like this make a positive impact on the lives of people of all abilities where you live and do business?

Source: Fresno looks to help small businesses navigate ADA headaches
By: George Hostetter, October 22, 2019

New Hampshire Governor’s Accessibility Award goes to The Nature Conservancy

The new accessible trail in the Ossipee Pine Barrens

The new accessible trail in the Ossipee Pine Barrens. Photo by Jeff Lougee

Connecting with nature is a path to healing and positive growth for many people.  Creating the infrastructure to help make natural spaces accessible to people of all abilities is an ambitious and worthy effort we can all support.  In recognition of this kind of work, the “New Hampshire Governor’s Commission on Disability recently honored The Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire for the creation of an accessible trail at the Ossipee Pine Barrens Preserve.”

The individuals and organizations chosen to receive the Governor’s Accessibility Award are recognized for their initiatives that embody the mission of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Awards like these are a great way for public officials to highlight the important work of private and non-profit organizations in helping create accessible communities.  

Nature Conservancy wins Governor’s Accessibility Award 
By: Staff Writer Sep 24, 2019 Updated Sep 25, 2019

San Diego, Balancing City Initiatives and ADA Accessibility

San Diego North Park sign at dusk

The City of San Diego, like many others, is working to improve its transportation infrastructure and reduce its carbon footprint. With initiatives like the City’s Climate Action Plan and Vision Zero project, they are taking these challenge head on. However, some worry that ADA accessibility may take a back seat during these and other projects like the upcoming 30th Street Protected Bikeways Mobility Project in North Park.

According to Christina Chadwick, senior press secretary for the mayor’s office, “The project will, without question, be consistent with all legally-required and applicable laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act. Safe and accessible infrastructure for all residents, including those with disabilities, is a priority for the City.” Some are rightfully questioning if meeting legal requirements is the best the City can do. Disability rights advocate Kent Rodricks said, “The key for me in this scenario is proximity, proximity. I need to be the closest that I can be to the major points of interest.”  While both sides recognize the need to work together to find a mutually agreeable solution, it falls on the City’s Mobility Board to make recommendations relating to the development and maintenance of ADA accessibility.

Facilitating discussions with stakeholders and working toward compromise is a difficult yet sensible path. When long-term projects are under review, it just makes sense to take the time to analyze the impacts on the entire community and seek public comment. These spaces are for everyone, of every ability, and should be designed as such.

Disability advocates urge San Diego to consider impact of North Park parking project on accessibility
By ANDREA LOPEZ-VILLAFAÑA AUG. 22, 2019 6:05 PM, The San Diego Union-Tribune

$30M and 17 years for ADA compliant sidewalks in Springfield, MO

Sidewalk without a curb ramp

Ensuring sidewalks and curbs ramps are in compliance with ADA standards is good practice, and not just because it is the law. Gentle slopes, well defined landings and wide smooth pathways are all convenient for the able user, but they are essential elements for people with disabilities.  While much work has been done across the nation, many municipalities are discovering that large portions of their public right-of-ways are not in compliance with ADA.

The City of Springfield, Missouri, is no exception. “Starting in December 2017, the city conducted an eight-month survey of sidewalk and curb condition and compliance that showed just 40 percent of sidewalks were in the goal range of “good” or “very good” condition. The rest were “fair,” “marginal,” “poor” or, in 8 percent of cases, “very poor.”  Nearly 10,300 curb ramps were included in the survey as well with similar results. Now that the City understands is problem areas, it’s planning to fix them. Over the next 17 years, the City of Springfield will invest $30 million to fix its curb ramps and sidewalks.

For many municipalities, fixing public right-of-way barriers seems like an arduous task, but working to identify barriers is a critical first step to understanding where their needs are and integrating them into existing capital improvement projects.

Springfield has a $30M, 17-year plan to make hundreds of city sidewalks ADA compliant
Katie Kull, Springfield News-Leader August 18, 2019

E-Scooters and Mopeds Are Barriers In some Cases

E-Sccoters on Sidewalk

Dock-less E-scooters have arrived in most major cities.  Some people see them as a great solution to congested streets and reducing emissions.  Others see them as an eyesore and want them banned or their use restricted. Most of us would simply like to see them used and most parked more responsibly.  An E-scooter left in the middle of a public walkway is a barrier to those with limited mobility and a potential tripping hazard to anyone, especially those with low vision.  

In Washington DC, residents and the city are working together to find a solution to the unintended consequences of the E-scooter revolution.  The city recently announced it will add electric mopeds to its roster of shareable vehicles. According to Deborah Barnes, who is in a wheelchair and has low vision, “A lot of times the sidewalks are narrow and there’s a scooter blocking me which means that I have to go all the way back to the beginning of the block, cross the street at the curb cut, and then come back down on the other side.”  The city is working to resolve the concerns.  “We have provided parking for dock-less scooters and bikes, to include over 400 bike racks and in-street corrals at 20 locations across the District. We’ve added new requirements as necessary, including a “lock-to” requirement last fall, requiring dock-less bikes to be tethered to a bike rack or other street furniture,” said Department of Transportation Director Jeff Marootian.

E-scooters are here to stay.  City managers would do well to assess unintended consequences of new technologies and changes in general modes of transportation.  Perhaps more importantly, those using these services should take a little time to consider where they are leaving these scooters; keeping in mind how it may impact others who also want to get around their city with efficiency too. 

Ines de La Cuetara, WUSA 9 News 5:27 PM EDT August 12, 2019

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