A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Action Item: 816 Sidewalk Ramps, miles of sidewalks

Last year, Portland's bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee, of which I am the vice-chair, proposed a list of the city's top five infrastructure priorities to improve conditions for human-powered mobility through the city. We made this list at the request of the city's Department of Public Services, in order to prioritize Portland's funding requests from the state and PACTS, the regional transportation planning organization.

In order of urgency, they were:

  1. Peninsula sidewalks should meet ADA standards - with wheelchair-friendly curb cuts, sidewalks in good repair, and no gaps in the sidewalk network.
  2. Implementing the Franklin Street Plan.
  3. Tukey's Bridge: better access from adjacent neighborhoods & improved capacity for bikes and pedestrians.
  4. Connecting the north end of Franklin and East Bayside with the Back Cove Trail, via the Exit 7 underpass.
  5. Improved trail, sidewalk, and transit connections in the vicinity of Exit 5, especially to and from the Portland Transportation Center.

These priorities were endorsed by the City Council's Transportation Committee, and subsequently reinforced in a number of public meetings for the Peninsula Transit Study and Portland Trails' Active Transportation Project. The first item - filling in the gaps in the peninsula's sidewalks - began with a peninsula-wide inventory over the course of last summer. That inventory has produced a report, now in draft form, that identifies all of the gaps in the city.

Here's a map from that report of the city's crosswalk ramps (the ramps where sidewalks slope down to cross a street at a crosswalk). Green and blue dots denote ramps in "excellent" and "good" condition, respectively. Yellow denotes a ramp in "poor" condition, red denotes a "failed" ramp, and black dots indicate no ramp at all (the city's 816 crosswalk ramps under the latter three categories are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act). Click the image to enlarge it:

Outrageously, you'll notice a lot of black, red, and yellow dots in neighborhoods around hospitals - especially along State St. in front of Mercy, in the area around Bramhall Square, and just downhill from Maine Med in the St. John/Valley neighborhood - and in low-income neighborhoods where there's either public senior housing or social service agencies for the disabled - in the West End near Harbor Terrace, for instance, or in large swathes of Bayside.

Here's a similarly color-coded map of the city's sidewalks:

Again, similar patterns, especially in low-income neighborhoods. Both maps also show a number of problem areas even in the city's busiest pedestrian neighborhoods and streets - including the length of Congress Street, and the Old Port.

Here's the good news: now that we know where the problems are, we can begin to solve them. Barry Dikeman, an engineer who's recently moved to Portland and joined the bike/ped group, writes that "a crew could fix all of the ramps in a season... Typically the ramps cost between $1000 - $2000 each to install with little to no burden on City engineering staff as there exists boilerplate ADA accepted ramp fixes that address just about every possible scenario."

With 816 ramps and miles of sidewalk in need of serious repair or construction, the bill will be big. Luckily, Washington is rumored to be sending some cash our way for this kind of project...

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