Monday, April 15, 2013

Gloucester, VA - Main Street Village's 3 foot sidewalks. Federal ADA Violations?

We have had a number of people complain to us about the conditions of the sidewalks in the Gloucester Main Street Village area.  We went to the area and conducted an assessment of the area and these are the results we came up with..

 There are many area's on Main Street that are obstructed by light poles and signs.  This significantly cuts down the pedestrian traffic.  This is just one of the many areas of complaints we have heard.  We will be covering other areas throughout the week.  We checked the specs of what is required for sidewalks and we will go over them here in this article.

  Without the obstruction, the sidewalk is 5 feet which is fine for residential as long as it is NOT obstructed.   Once obstructions are installed, other guidelines come into play such as effective width of the walking path.  But here is the funny part.  There are no federal ADA regulations for the most part except for widths concerning wheelchairs and the minimum overall width and a few other areas.  Everything else are suggested guidelines.   The suggested guideline for the Main Street Village area should be much wider than most of it is.  But there are no legal violations that we found in any of the widths here.  Just major obstructions that hamper pedestrian traffic flow and are very annoying to walk over.

4.3.3 Width

The widths of sidewalks not only affect pedestrian usability but also determine the types of access and other pedestrian elements that can be installed. For example, a 1.525-m (60-in) sidewalk is probably wide enough to accommodate pedestrian traffic in a residential area,but a much wider sidewalk would be necessary to include amenities such as street furniture or newspaper stands.Design width is defined as the width specification the sidewalk was intended to meet; it extends from the curb or planting strip to any buildings or landscaping that form the opposite borders of the sidewalk  .Minimum clearance width is defined as the narrowest point on a sidewalk. An inaccessible minimum clearance width is created when obstacles such as utility poles protrude into the sidewalk and reduce the design width.A reduction in the design width could also create a minimum clearance width.

Although most guidelines require sidewalk design widths to be at least 1.525 m (60 in) wide, larger design widths can accommodate more pedestrians and improve ease of access. The AASHTO Green Book, the Oregon Department of Transportation guidebook, and other guidelines recommend wider design widths in areas with high volumes of pedestrians. The sidewalk width often depends on the type of street. In general,residential streets have narrower sidewalks than commercial streets.
The guidelines and recommendations that were reviewed for minimum clearance width are included in Tables 4-2.1 through 4-2.4 at the end of this chapter. Most of the guidelines reviewed concur with ADAAG, which specifies that the minimum passage width for wheelchairs should be 0.815 m (32 in) at a point and 0.915 m (36 in) continuously (ADAAG, U.S. Access Board, 1991). Additional width is necessary for turning and maneuvering.

The width of the sidewalk is also affected by pedestrian travel tendencies.Pedestrians tend to travel in the center of sidewalks to separate themselves from the rush of traffic and avoid street furniture, vertical obstructions, and other pedestrians entering and exiting buildings. Pedestrians avoid the edge of the sidewalk close to the street because it often contains utility poles, bus shelters,parking meters, sign poles, and other street furniture. Pedestrians also avoid traveling in the 0.610 m (24 in) of the sidewalk close to buildings to avoid retaining walls, street furniture, and fences (OR DOT, 1995). The sidewalk area that pedestrians tend to avoid is referred to as the shy distance. Taking into account the shy distance, only the center 1.830 m (6 ft) of a 3.050-m (10-ft) sidewalk is used by pedestrians for travel, as shown in Figure 4-7. Thus,the effective width of a sidewalk, not the design width, constitutes the sidewalk area needed to accommodate anticipated levels of pedestrian traffic.

In this picture, you see a double obstruction to the pedestrian path lowering the sidewalk usability even more than our first picture.  This section is less than 32 inches, however, the obstructions are not next to each other even though they create highly limited access.

In this picture, you have an area again less than 5 feet, with a clearance of about 37  inches.  It may meet the law for a wheelchair, but it misses the intention of the laws.  At least a person in a wheelchair can invade someone's driveway and lawn to get through here.

 This is the area where we were going to take a wheelchair but then decided that blocking pedestrian traffic in an already limited area would not be a good idea.  The clearance is about 38 inches.  Again, it may meet federal ADA law per se,. but it's a potential elbow buster and is one of two obstructions within a very short distance against this wall.

This is the other obstruction along that same wall as shown above.  The clearance here is 39 inches of usable pedestrian traffic to include a wheelchair.  Average overall wheelchairs are between 24 inches wide to 34 inches wide.  If you are in one of the wide wheelchairs and are self propelled, your arms extend out past the wheel width.  38 inches will be very uncomfortable to try and maneuver through but not at all impossible.  It might prove to be very nerve wracking for some however.

   "An inaccessible minimum clearance width is created when obstacles such as utility poles protrude into the sidewalk and reduce the design width."  Now this is pulled from the federal ADA guidelines.  As we have shown, there are multiple areas at the Gloucester Main Street business district that are below 3 feet. due to obstructions in the walkway.

  ",the effective width of a sidewalk, not the design width, constitutes the sidewalk area needed to accommodate anticipated levels of pedestrian traffic."  So the constant obstacles of light poles, street signs, newspaper boxes, embedded or on the sidewalk throughout the area lower the effective width of the sidewalks. 

  The design width before obstructions meet the bare minimum width requirement of 5 feet wide for a residential area.  But once again, we are supposed to be talking about a business district.  This, in our view, is anti business.  It says to people that we do not want you walking around here.  Why else make accessibility so poor?  It also says that we are not expecting anyone to really walk around and shop here as well.  Great way to attract future business into the area.

This section of Gloucester Main Street seems to be the only area where the sidewalks are done correctly.  The effective pedestrian area is ample for a good amount of foot traffic.  We are only talking about a couple of blocks on one side of the road that looks like this however.

Here is a measurement along the sidewalks of Heron Cove, just off of Gloucester Main Street.  It's 6 feet wide with no obstructions in the walkway whatsoever.

This is a longer view of the sidewalk in Heron Cove.  Again, no obstructions in the walkway.  Amazing how they can get it right and this is a residential area off of Main Street.

Now as seen above, if you are going to install street furniture, (Light Poles, Signs, etc), it is recommended that you increase the usable part of the sidewalk.  Something Gloucester Officials decided not to do?  In fact, the recommendations are for planners to factor in decreasing the size of the roads to increase the size of the sidewalks.  Didn't we see the opposite here?  The road size was increased and the sidewalks decreased?  So again, we do not need more bad planning.

In this picture, you see multiple obstructions along the sidewalk.  This affects pedestrian traffic flow.  The cross grade along here is also uncomfortable for many handicapped people.   There is questionable debate if the cross sloping of this section of the sidewalk actually slopes to much which could be of danger to pedestrians in wheelchairs of using canes or crutches.  This requires special measurements which we were not prepared to do at this time.

This is the link to the site where we retrieved information on Federal ADA guidelines for sidewalks.  You can see for yourself what the guidelines are.  It's straight from the Federal Highway Administration.

  Guess this is the price we are expected to pay for beautification?  Forget accessibility, appearance is much more important.

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