$1B needed to bring sidewalks, curb cuts into compliance

EVERETT — The results of the inventory were startling.

Six years ago, staff from Snohomish County’s Public Works Department set out to survey roads, sidewalks and other public facilities to see whether they were up to federal standards for people with disabilities.

What they found was that 93 percent of curb cuts weren’t up to snuff. Neither were 62 percent of sidewalks, 60 percent of crosswalk push buttons, or 90 percent of bus stops.

With repairs estimated at $1 billion, fixing all of those trouble spots would be impossible in short order. It’s complex work, as they have to meet with 250 requirements spelled out in the Americans with Disabilities Act, often referred to as the ADA.

“It’ll be decades to get this completed,” said Jim Bloodgood, a traffic engineer who serves as the county’s ADA coordinator. “It wasn’t what we expected, that we were so far out of compliance.”

The county released a study of the findings last month. On Thursday evening, public works staff plan to host an open house to learn whether their survey may have missed any trouble spots. They’re also looking for help prioritizing where to start, as they set about the daunting task. The meeting is set for 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Everett Station’s Weyerhaeuser Room.

“We want to make sure we’re really focusing on what the citizens want to see happen in Snohomish County,” said Allison Tabiando, a spokeswoman for the department.

Everett Public Works staff also have surveyed city sidewalks, curb ramps and other facilities for ADA compliance. A summary is due out by the end of the year.

The county study assessed more than 460 miles of sidewalk along with some 10,000 curb ramps, 484 crosswalk push buttons, more than 3,000 pedestrian crossings and 221 bus stops in unincorporated parts of the county.

More than three dozen staff members put in thousands of hours to finish the review. They looked at policies, procedures and practices to determine if any were causing problems.

They found that curb ramps were absent in about one-fifth of the areas where they should have been. More than half of the 8,568 existing curb ramps didn’t meet federal guidelines because some angles are steeper than the 2 percent slope allowed in federal guidelines. Nearly half — 46 percent — had no warning surface, such as the bright-yellow bumps on newer sidewalks.

Only 9 percent of bus stops and shelters were compliant. The most widespread problems involved boarding spaces that were too small or steeper than allowed under ADA rules.

“We were able to sit down and compile it all, but it was a bit of a wake-up call,” county public works director Steve Thomsen said. “All public agencies are dealing with this requirement, figuring out how to tackle it.”

With 1,600 miles of roadway to maintain, the county has its work cut out.

The rules went into effect here in 1992. Some facilities don’t comply because they were built earlier. However, the new assessment discovered that most facilities built after that date didn’t comply either — they failed to meet standards in place at the time.

The county attributed the problems to a lack of communication and training. Federal rules also are numerous and often vague. That often leaves it unclear how sidewalks, curb cuts and bus stops should have been built. Some features were built by private developers, who might have been unaware of the rules.

As a result of the survey, the county has committed to giving public works and planning staff more training. They also want to do a better job in that regard with contractors and other agencies.

Since 2013, the county also has upgraded hundreds of curb ramps and pedestrian crossings, along with miles of sidewalk, to meet the ADA requirements. Those upgrades would not have happened without the assessment, county officials said.

The Americans With Disabilities Act is a civil rights law, not a building code. The first design standards associated with it came out in the early 1990s and have been updated over time.

The federal government last year estimated that more than 55 million Americans, or about 18 percent of the population, have disabilities. By 2030, more than 70 million baby boomers older than 65 are expected to need services because of age-related physical needs.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

If you go …

The Snohomish County Public Works Department has scheduled a meeting Thursday to discuss how to make sidewalks, crosswalks and other pedestrian features more usable for people with disabilities.

When: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday; presentations and question-and-answer periods are planned from 5:45 to 6:15 p.m. and again from 6:45 to 7:15 p.m.

Where: Everett Station, Weyerhaeuser Room, 3201 Smith Ave., 4th Floor, Everett

To learn more about Snohomish County’s efforts to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act or to fill out an online survey, go to www.SnoCoADA.org.

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