Curb ramp redesign success

Albany Strollers & Rollers (AS&R) has advocated for better curb ramps for years with little to show for it.  However with completion of the new ramps along Spokane, success is in hand.

AS&R sought three improvements, as shown above:

  1. Previous curb ramp retaining walls (sometimes also called curbs) are in the sidewalk.  This creates a hazard for people that do not notice the part of the sidewalk has become a wall as they are walking along, which is surprisingly easy to due in the right lighting.  To solve this, AS&R advocated for the retaining walls to be outside of the sidewalk to remove this hazard and keep the sidewalk a constant width to the corner. This has been done on the new ramps on Spokane.
  2. Almost all previous curb ramp retaining walls are built with a hard point. These make navigating around the corner less convenient at best, and present a hazard, such as by tripping, at worst. AS&R advocated curving the retaining wall or having it cut the corner.  The wall is curved on almost all the new ramps on Spokane.
  3. Almost all previous curb ramps in residential areas are diagonal.  They require ramp users to proceed diagonally into the intersection and then turn in their direction of travel once in the street.  This increases their exposure to being hit by a motorist by 1) lengthening the travel distance and amount of time in the street, 2) requiring travel close to motorist traffic on both streets, 3) putting them in a less visible position when entering the street, and 4) frequently making them turn away from oncoming motorists when entering and leaving the street. Most of the new ramps are wider, which solves these problems by allowing ramp users to travel straight through along their line of travel.

AS&R advocated for the first two changes for a few years based on common sense, but got no where.  It was only after AS&R found that not only is it common sense, but it is also the engineering standard, that the effort succeeded.  It is remarkable that various engineers designed tens of ramps around Albany that were not in accordance with the standards, and that they would not respond to AS&R’s advocacy prior to being told they were violating the standard.  The contrast between this and engineers’ thorough knowledge of and adherence to design standards for motorists, even when motorists are not even in the room advocating, is a stark reminder of how far people that walk and cycle are from receiving the same consideration and attention as motorists.

Regarding the third change, AS&R member Nick Pilch was the first to recognize years ago that Albany could do better than diagonal ramps.  He led AS&R’s first foray into sidewalk infrastructure advocacy, which resulted in the Traffic and Safety Commission making it policy that future curb ramps would be straight through (technically known as perpendicular).  This generally did not result in such ramps being built though for a variety of reasons.  One was that a classic straight through ramp really consists of two ramps, one in each direction.  This is more expensive and there frequently is not enough space given Albany’s compact layout.  So the City largely continued installing diagonal ramps.  Nick persisted in advocating for straight through ramps  with each proposed ramp project, with the recent Spokane ramp design as the latest opportunity. This time, however, the engineers came up with the idea of a wider ramp that could achieve much the same goal as a standard straight through ramp but at reduced cost and space.  AS&R enthusiastically agreed.

There are two stories in this tale.  At one end is the failure by engineers to know and abide by standards until presented with the fact, with the result that a lot of non-standard ramps were installed. At the other end is the success of engineers thinking creatively to solve a problem.

Thanks to AS&R member Nick Pilch for recognizing early that ramps could be better, and to the City for eventually responding affirmatively and creatively to solve the concerns.

1 comment to Curb ramp redesign success

  • Amy Smolens

    unfortunately, some of the curb ramps at Buchanan and Pierce are well below legal and safe specs… for example, 4 ft wide for a 10 foot wide path… City Staff has promised to fix those before the Buchanan St Bikeway is open for business – we will continue to monitor

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