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Neighbors of Kane County

The importance of safe city sidewalks

Sep 04, 2017 08:30AM ● By Ben Scott

Summer has been a busy construction season in Batavia this year. And you might have noticed that the sidewalks at intersections along Rte. 25 (also known as Washington St.) north of Wilson St. in Batavia have been through a major overhaul conducted by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

In July and August work commenced to rebuild sidewalks on that stretch of road to put them in compliance with requirements defined by the Americans With Disabilities Act. The sidewalk reconstruction process involves rebuilding approaches and sidewalk ramps to improve street access for all pedestrians, and especially those with physical disabilities.

In its downtown, Batavia already has sidewalks compliant with ADA regulations. These make it possible for pedestrians and people using mobility devices, wheelchairs or walking aids to move throughout town. The goal is always to reduce risk of having to deal with raised curbs or steep sidewalk angles which can make it difficult for senior citizens or people with disabilities to get from place to place.

Angles and slopes

This work is engineered to standards established through years of government legislation. According to bikewalk.org, “Pedestrian facility design and operation must comply with the accessibility standards in the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) of 1968, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.”

The result of this legislation includes specific guidelines on which sidewalk engineering is based. According to the website bikewalk.org, the measure for acceptable cross slopes defined by the ADA is “for all ramps is to be 1%, but a maximum of 2.0% is allowed by ADA standards.”

That’s a mild slope, and for good reason. Imagine sitting at the intersection of a busy street with your hands on the bars of your own wheelchair, or while holding the handles of a wheelchair while standing behind your child or elderly parent. If the ramp is steep, there is risk that the wheelchair might roll forward into traffic

The bikewalk.org site raises important notes: “The design of sidewalk environments is important to all pedestrians, but is particularly important to those with disabilities who have limited travel choices and rely most on the pedestrian environment. For example, older adults, persons with vision impairments and children frequently rely on the sidewalk to travel independently within their community for shopping, recreation, exercise and walking to school. Traditionally, design parameters have been based on the “standard pedestrian,” an agile person with good vision, hearing, and mobility. These design parameters do not meet the needs of the growing disabled population. The Bureau of Census data indicates that:

• Approximately 20 percent of all Americans have a disability, and that percentage is increasing.

• By the year 2030, one in five Americans will be 65 years or older.

Thus in order to build the safest and most accessible communities possible, the work of improving sidewalk access must be done with all these needs in mind.

Getting around town

People living with disabilities or those with caregiving responsibilities quickly learn whether their community is truly safe and accessible. Whether seated in a self-propelled or motorized wheelchair, the task of negotiating sidewalks with raised or cracked curbs can be daunting.

In some cases, the conditions of local sidewalks can become a limiting factor in quality of life. Sidewalks pushed up by tree roots or tossed up by frost upheaval are unsafe for use by anyone. But a person in a wheelchair or using a walking aid can find them unnavigable. That can quickly become a frustration and limitation of personal freedom.

Even when sidewalks and curbs are well-maintained, there are still issues of navigation to consider for people with disabilities. Parked cars that block sidewalks are a common problem. A person walking can easily cut around a parked vehicle blocking the sidewalk. But a person in a wheelchair or a caregiver pushing a wheelchair may find drops between sidewalk and grass, or driveway ruts blocking their way.

Caregiving

Caregivers often find such circumstances unnerving and frustrating. Taking your loved one on a walk in their wheelchair can turn into a difficult journey if bad sidewalks and steep curbside angles turn the journey into a set of risks. With several retirement communities located in Batavia, the priority of clear, level sidewalks and manageable grades is quite clear.

Yet like all community projects, sidewalk upkeep and repair takes time and money. Batavia city crews are often called to fix problems when sidewalks are damaged or curbs need to be replaced. The City of Batavia and its public works and engineering divisions work closely with its crews and contractors to establish and meet public guidelines for safe sidewalk travel to serve the needs of Batavia’s citizens.

It is also true that some aspects of sidewalk maintenance remains in the hands of property owners. Some of our residents have sidewalks in the back of their property adjacent to either a state route or other major roadways. Homeowners have the responsibility and are required by city code to maintain sidewalks on the frontside and backside of their property and carriage walks to access the public sidewalk from the street. This is true with bushes that protrude over sidewalks, or debris that falls from trees including leaves. Come winter, it is the responsibility of every homeowner to shovel or clear sidewalks of ice and snow to the best achievable level. In some years ice is difficult to remove even with salt or other methods. The best rule of sidewalk upkeep is simple: If you wouldn’t want to walk on it, neither does anyone else. Yet it is also important to go one step further and consider those whose agility and ability to navigate difficult conditions is compromised by physical or even mental disability. Be considerate, in other words, and let the sidewalks be your welcome mat to the neighborhood in which you live.

If your neighborhood experiences issues with damaged or dysfunctional sidewalks, review the criteria on the web page, then contact engineering at 630-454-2750.

2017 Sidewalk & Curb Replacement Program

The city’s Sidewalk & Curb Replacement Program is comprised of walks that are sunken or risen more than 1" or more between sections, broken or separated into three or more pieces or 50% or more of the surface deteriorated. Please see the program’s web page for more detailed information on process. Residents whose drive access will be affected will be notified by door hanger a few days prior to removal. For the list of locations mapped please go to cityofbatavia.net/maps.> Capital Improvements Map. Improvements will take place between April 1 and May 31.

Please contact the engineering department for any questions at 630-454-2750.