We're not sure which beleaguered B-leaguer in City Hall is in the line of fire for this call, but it's one that's drawing some ire from Forest Hills residents and at least one elected official alike -- though it's a call city staff are saying, so far at least, they're powerless to change.
Forest Hiils' tony Hermitage Court has received a passel of curb cuts along the circular street just off the old golf course that is now Forest Hills park.
At least nine curb cuts and access ramps have been installed, all providing accessibility to wheelchairs... with some wide enough to make one wonder if wheelchairs are now coming in double-width varieties. (One is reportedly 17 feet wide.)
The curb cuts come despite the regular and repeated presence of driveway curb cuts plenty wide to provide wheelchair accessibility, and available on the circle's interior and exterior edges. But city staff are saying that the law doesn't permit those to be used in place of shiny new curb cuts.
And they're all located within a relatively small section of the neighborhood, one which already has relatively walkable streets -- and where residents say there's not the need for more than a small number of these devices.
It's an issue that has City Councilman Eugene Brown and deputy city manager Ted Voorhees spinning right round and round.
The City of Durham has been subject to a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice over ADA accessibility, including the presence of curb cuts and wheelchair ramps along sidewalks, as well as the general condition of sidewalks themselves.
That's led to new curb cuts and sidewalk in many parts of the city, particularly those older sections whose sidewalks were designed before such accommodation was required.
But Brown -- and many residents -- have questioned the presence of so many curb cuts on Hermitage Court.
According to a local resident active in the matter, the initial plan reportedly called for just one ramp, at Hermitage Court and Homer St., but that an engineer in the City's Public Works department indicated that either city staff or the work crews decided to install the extra ramps "since they were in the vicinity," according to this resident.
The resident goes on to say:
This situation is absolutely infuriating since the placement of the ramps is an unnecessary and unjustified extension beyond the settlement plan; wastes valuable resoruces that could go to the placement of needed sidewalks and ramps in other places in Durham; damages the character of the neighborhood; negatively impacts on the appearance of houses; damages trees; and puts ramps in places that are either out of compliance with ADA guidelines and may actually be dangerous because of their proximity to traffic lanes.
One complaint: at least one of the ramps are placed along slopes that, residents argue, are too steep to comply with ADA guidelines anyway.
Another resident did a back-of-the-envelope calculation based on the cost per ramp quoted her and estimated that it cost over $30,000 to install these ramps on Hermitage Court alone -- a move she thinks short-sighted when some areas around hospitals and schools reportedly lack full accessibility.
But somewhere it seems that some common sense could have prevailed to prevent this massive amount of concrete to be poured in one small section of a historic neighborhood. These ramps seem to have been constructed merely for administrative convenience without regard to the needs of the handicapped or to the consultant's plan.
Several months back, 216' of new sidewalk had been installed on the street in place of existing sidewalk -- a move that led to complaints then by Durhamite Andy Widmark that other areas of Durham need city sidewalks far more than this part of Forest Hills, which is relatively quiet from a traffic perspective.
(One email exchange references the City itself having to finance that section of sidewalk -- presumably, in place of the usual citizen petition that involves a partial assessment. Now that section is, er, served by a wide choice of new acces sramps.)
When BCR visited earlier this week, the thing most striking about the curb cuts was that they often sit cheek-by-jowl with wide driveway aprons, which themselves -- you guessed it -- connect to the sidewalks, too.
Deputy city manager Ted Voorhees pointed out in a reply to Brown that though the aprons seem like a usable alternative, they don't suffice in the eyes of the law:
This program of constructing handicapped accessible ramps is a requirement of our settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The specifications for such ramps typically do not allow us to consider a driveway apron as a substitute. Accordingly, while staff may agree with some of the points below, we are under federal mandate to construct ramps even when we would prefer to build sidewalks in locations without them. Some might consider this an unfunded federal mandate. While I know this is frustrating to citizens at times, it is also frustrating to staff, but we have very little flexibility.
The complaint emails continue to spin on this, and Voorhees promises he's continuing to look into the matter. Look for this one to continue to evolve before all's said and done.