Sunday, August 20, 2006

Ramping Down

A colleague recently brought to my attention an article in the August 8 edition of the local Traffic Doctor column in the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper. I include the original text here in the event of link death.

Dear Traffic Doctor:
I'm disappointed that the curb cut from the walkway through Oakland Cemetery onto West Brevard has been replaced with a curb. Other bicyclists and I used to go through the cemetery regularly.

The Traffic Doctor responds:

David Earle, construction chief in the city's Streets and Drainage Department, is sorry for your loss--but he's making changes to accomodate the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) law.

"We eliminated the 'ramp' for two reasons," he wrote by e-mail. "One, it is a midblock crossing. One hundred yards to the east is a traffic light with crosswalks. This would be the SAFE place to cross, not midblock.

"Two, there is not a sidewalk or ramp across the street from where the ramp was. So if a blind person feels the ramp with their cane and they walk down the ramp, they would be walking out into the road with no place on the other side to take safe refuge. Basically trapped in the roadway.

"Also, if a person in a wheelchair sees and uses the ramp, they are caught in the same scenario, trapped in teh street.

"We have worked along Brevard and brought all the dangerous ramps and walkways into compliance. This area is part of the Frenchtown zone that we are currently working on and is one of 15 zones that will be brough tup to current ADA standards in the city limits. That is why we corrected the noncompliant ramp in front of the cemetery."

Here is my response to this column, in the form of a letter to the Traffic Doctor, which I cc:ed to David Earle, the engineer who responded to the good doctor's question.

Dear Traffic Doctor:

I was displeased to read David Earle's, construction chief in the city's Streets and Drainage Department, response to Anonymous who expressed disappointment at the removal of the bicycle facility at the intersection of Brevard and MLK, allowing access into the cemetery. I have used that ramp many times in the past while travelling on MLK, a low-traffic, safe, residential street that is preferred by bicyclists.

While I have great respect for the city's efforts to bring facilities up to ADA standards, this ridiculous crusade to remove any facilities that might encourage pedestrians to use existing crosswalks is counter-productive. The city wants to protect us by making it more difficult for us to get around. The city has determined that any intersection where motor vehicle traffic is not brought to a stop by a stop sign or traffic signal is a "midblock crossing" and they are discouraging pedestrians from crossing there by removing facilities that help or encourage those crossings. The city ignores the fact that at an intersection such as this one where sidewalks exist on both sides of the street, an unmarked crosswalk exists as defined in 316.003(6)(a) F.S.:


(a) That part of a roadway at an intersection included within the connections of the lateral lines of the sidewalks on opposite sides of the highway, measured from the curbs or, in the absence of curbs, from the edges of the traversable roadway.

It is a legal and valid place for pedestrians to cross the street. It is an unmarked crosswalk. It is not midblock; it is at an intersection.

image is aerial photograph of the intersection

Mr. Earle gives two reasons for the removal of the ramp. The first is that this is not a safe place to cross the street. Nonetheless it is a legal place to cross the street. It has an unmarked crosswalk and sidewalk being built on the other side of the intersection. He does not address the use of this ramp as a bicycle facility. When the Bicycle Pedestrian Master Plan was adopted by the MPO, it became part of the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). On page five of the Executive Summary of that document the number six community priority project is a bicycle route on MLK Jr. from North Monroe to FAMU Way. This ramp was an existing part of that bicycle facility that has now been removed.

Now consider first that an unmarked crosswalk exists here to cross Brevard Street and that this crossing has been identified as a desired bike route that is now part of the LRTP. A bicyclist already has the right to ride on the road according to 316.2065 (1) F.S and to make a left turn from MLK headed north onto Brevard headed west. This manuever involves crossing two-way traffic on Brevard street and is no less safe than crossing the street entirely, provided the opposite curb allows access to exit the roadway. We had such access when the ramp was there. We no longer do. This change has made using this future bicycle route LESS SAFE, not more safe.

image shows wood framing for sidewalk on south side of Brevard Street, opposite the cemetery

The second reason given for removing the ramp is that there is not currently a sidewalk on the south side of Brevard Street. That is true, though there had been one up until about a year ago and if the framing on the ground there currently is any indication, there will soon be one again. Will Streets and Drainage replace the ramp once the new sidewalk is built? As for his discussion of ADA implications, I am not so familiar with ADA that I know what part of it suggests restricting blind and disabled people from crossing the street where it is legal to do so. Perhaps it is appropriate to offer no facilities except where it is most safe to cross. However, the nearest safe crossing is a long, hot, unshaded 125 yards away. For wheelchair travellers, the route to that nearest safe crossing is worse than a washboard road.

While the sidewalk is impeccably edged, the clumps of grass growing through the cracks in the sidewalk are monstrous and probably violate ADA far more than the existence of a "midblock" ramp.

About 100 yards to the east along this sidewalk is a driveway that slants down to the road. The flat part of the sidewalk narrows to accomodate the slope of the driveway. Surely this is one of those necessary engineering compromises to accomodate a driveway across a sidewalk, but it seems to me a greater hazard to a blind person using a cane to track the right edge of the sidewalk and find it suddenly tilting away to the street at a location that truly is midblock. It suggests that the priorities for motor vehicles supersedes those of pedestrians and even of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ADA justification for removal of this ramp is shaky at best. I actually contacted a blind neighbor who walks with a cane for his input and he conceded that the scenario described by Mr. Earle of a blind person trapped because of this ramp was possible, it was not likely or logical since most blind people who walk with canes do so in areas they are familiar with their surroundings. When in an unfamiliar place he would listen for traffic and determine with the cane if the ramp was a driveway or a roadway and if he was still unsure, he would not venture into the road. My question for Mr. Earle is if any ADA complaints were made about this ramp.

It is an engineering challenge to weave bicycle, pedestrian and motor vehicles into a unified transportation system and I have great respect for those who undertake the task. I thank Mr. Earle and his colleagues in Streets and Drainage and Traffic Engineering for their hard work and their efforts to consider all transportation users.I think they missed the mark in this case.


Mr. Earle replied that he would pass along my comments. I'm guessing he's passing them to Traffic Engineering or the the ADA guru who came up with the ADA argument against this ramp.


Blogger hoodwalker said...

And one more thing...

Once a pedestrian, any pedestrian, but especially blind or disabled pedestrians get to the SAFE place to cross at the light at Bronough Street and get across the street, what then? They have crossed the street a block from where they wanted, but then they are stranded on a block (Bronough, Georgia, MLK, Brevard) with no sidewalks on any side, with parking lots up to the right-of-way with curb cuts the entire length of the block, no edges to follow with a cane, obstructions in the middle of the walkway, a grassy edge along MLK. They are stuck and stranded. If they cross at the cemetery instead, they have sidewalk all the way to All Saints.

I had to sleep on it to get clarity. I was so focused on the facility, I had forgotten about the person, the trip, the reason for the facility in the first place. I guess that can happen.

7:28 PM  
Anonymous edde said...

Hey Chris,

This is GREAT!

Your repsonse should get more coverage. Ever consider doing a regular column for the Tortoise?

Photos and everything!



7:45 AM  

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