The Watts-Hillandale neighborhood listserv has recently been chattering over the appearance of corner curb cuts, those downward-sloping transitions from street to sidewalk that allow easier access for the mobility-challenged to use the walkways.
Not that folks aren’t supportive of the idea of more accessibility, we suspect; instead, they were curious why these presumably-pricy features were being added in particular areas where, say, a sidewalk disappears mid-block – or where there’s barely any sidewalk at all on that block.
City Councilman Mike Woodard addressed the matter, which comes down to a predictably simple motivator: the settlement between the U.S. Department of Justice and Durham over Americans with Disabilities Act compliance:
[The] curb ramps we've seen at Woodrow and Carolina, as well as other places near WHH, are a requirement of a judicial order for ADA compliance that was issued to the City. Every intersection that has curb and a sidewalk must have a ramp, no exceptions, even if the sidewalk appears to go nowhere or end mid-block.
It doesn't make sense to me, but the order is very clear on this point and has been reaffirmed by the feds. Seth [Vidal] is correct that this order was the result of a law suit against the City for non-compliance. But Durham has not been alone in this, as many other cities in the region and across the country are working under similar orders.
Of course, legal orders aside, the City has been generally encouraging of sidewalks being added in new development; retrofitting areas with sidewalks is challenging, with the DurhamWALKS! plan from a few years back specifying high-priority corridors throughout the Bull City, but with dollars scarce to make progress on the plan.
Thus, the importance of mandating that developers build sidewalks along public rights-of-way when a new site is developed; even when they’re not developing anything except sidewalks to nowhere.
(When BCR's editor volunteered with Habitat for Humanity a couple of years back, the non-profit was required to develop a slice of sidewalk along Junction Rd., an expense in the tens of thousands of dollars; theirs is the only slab of concrete sidewalk anywhere between Cheek Rd. and NC 98.)
All of which makes it ironic that one of the Bull City’s celebrated new developments, the massive Quintiles headquarters on Page Rd. off I-40 in the Imperial Center, didn’t have to build useful sidewalks connecting to the rest of the fast-growing development. And what pedestrian connections they were required to build didn’t have to accommodate wheelchairs.