Thursday, May 9, 2013

ADA Accessibility in the Urban Fabric

Tactile strips on MAX platforms.  Chirping birds at crosswalks.  Ramps.  Wide doors.  Low counters.  Flashing fire alarms.  Kneeling buses.  There seems to be accessible urban design everywhere.  I would think that, barring those old historic buildings or geographically steep locales, folks with disabilities would be able to get around most places.  Despite how much more accessible the urban fabric has become since the passing of the ADA Act in 1990 (only 1990!? That seems so recent!), cities all over the world still struggle to fully integrate the nation's largest minority.

The MV1.  A success in transportation accessibility.  
In an article from Next City, Ben Adler writes that mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York has a horrible record when it comes to promoting projects, policies, and planning that would benefit those with disabilities.  They speak of his refusal to consider wheelchair-accessible designs during the submission process for the Taxi of Tomorrow, a bid to replace all 13,000 of New York's yellow Ford Crown Victorias.  Though I did just read that there is indeed a wheelchair-accessible design called the Nissan NV200 that is being deployed into the fleet as well as the MV1 (pictured) that seems to be a big success for those in wheelchairs.  There are an array of different failings that are being leveled at Bloomberg, from not providing enough choices to disabled students for accessible schools to not adequately making a plan for those who are disabled stuck in their high-rise apartments after a storm-induced power outage.  In general, the New York handicap community doesn't feel like they are a priority and their needs are consistently pushed behind other projects.

Sophia Bannert wrote an essay about her "Day in the Life of a Wheelchair User" in which she is shocked how difficult it was to navigate the English city of Lincoln.  This excerpt is from her initial foray out on the city sidewalk:
Jarred into an utterly complex version of what I formerly knew as reality, my eyes begin scrutinising and dissecting the cobbled street surface ahead into zones which I can and cannot access. Never before had I seen the streetscape in such meticulous detail. Tiny height differences such as curbs and grooves between cobbles become mountains, cruelly halting progress and making small advances, exhausting. Whilst battling physical obstructions, I myself have become one.
How must we assess the failings of our own urban fabric?  Portland seems progressive enough, but we have learned that the inner east side is largely inaccessible due in part to a lack of elevators and curb ramps.  Perhaps a day in a wheelchair would be a great education to any urban planner.

This was graciously peer-reviewed by Tessie Prentice.


  1. Chtucker-

    Interesting post - particularly the final image.

    You tacitly mention the difference between the east and west coasts in terms of ADA compliance. I'm curious if the lag in ADA infrastructure between the two has anything to do with age - in that out here our curbs, for example, and 'curb stone' is by-and-large concrete (not stone) and so easy to mitigate (demo and re-place). The east coast cities (and much of Europe, the UK, etc.) use (and used) actual stone - not so easy to simply cut to fashion a curb-cut, etc. This of course translates into huge cost implications to mitigate. I'm offering this up as both an excuse and a reality. I'm not saying it should be acceptable.
    More directly to your piece - I wonder what the current protocol is for taxis regarding people with disabilities? Does the taxi just drive past? Or are they equipped to manage most situations, regarding space, weight, etc.? but not all? Do they send out an ADA accessible vehicle if one is called?
    And regarding the final image specifically. It struck me how it was not the image I had in mind when I thought of an ADA wheelchair - that's a big 'chair' - would the NV200 be able to accommodate it? That image reminded me that even the most well intentioned taxi services (and I'm not saying that they are currently operating with the best of intentions to those with disabilities) won't, most likely, be able to accommodate everyone on account of the differences in size of both people and now the variability of their equipment.
    A final thought - I wonder if and where the line is currently being drawn by the ADA community in terms of percent that they would like to see accommodated? Because as your image reminds us one size will not fit all.

  2. I just gave Green Cab a call and asked for a cab that would accommodate a wheelchair. They said that they were all occupied with medical transportation duties and I'd have to wait 25 minutes. Apparently cars are exempted from requiring ADA accessibility, so taxi fleets with accessible cabs are not federally required. Some states do make laws stating a fleet should be 2%- 5% accessible. I couldn't find out what Oregon's statutes say.

    I also asked them if there was a certain size restriction, and they said no. All their vehicles can handle electric, non-electric, etc. I'm not sure if she's seen the 4x4 monster in the picture above. I agree. I can't see that fitting even in a minivan. But, along with taxi services, there is, of course, Paratransit and loads of van rentals. This website gives websites and phone numbers for accessible transportation per state.

    Though there seem to be lots of resources for accessible travel, I suspect that the network is hardly comprehensive. Thanks for your thoughts.


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