• Roughly two-thirds of San Francisco’s 7,200 intersections have at least one curb ramp. Because they were installed in the 1970s, they’re being replaced to meet updated Americans with Disabilities Act design requirements. “This GIS tool allows us to oversee a program for designing and constructing curb ramps in an efficient and timely manner,” says Fuad Sweiss, San Francisco’s city engineer and public works deputy director, of the Curb Ramp Information System.

    Credit: San Francisco Department of Public Works

    Roughly two-thirds of San Francisco’s 7,200 intersections have at least one curb ramp. Because they were installed in the 1970s, they’re being replaced to meet updated Americans with Disabilities Act design requirements. “This GIS tool allows us to oversee a program for designing and constructing curb ramps in an efficient and timely manner,” says Fuad Sweiss, San Francisco’s city engineer and public works deputy director, of the Curb Ramp Information System.

Editor’s note:In our October 2012 issue, we covered how San Francisco is using a geodatabase to update and/or install 15,000 curb ramps by 2017 (“Using GIS to meet accessibility requirements,” page 29). We then asked Americans with Disabilities Act consultant and PUBLIC WORKS blogger Michele Ohmes to comment on the city’s curb-ramp map. Her verdict: very thorough; a quick and easy overview for residents or visitors to plan their routes. Her analysis follows.

Why the online map works

It’s easy to understand and use. The single-page explanation and legend explaining the color-coded dots are clear and concise, making planning a route a controllable process for those of us using wheelchairs, myself included.

Indicates bus stops with a special logo. I used the MUNI when I was a visitor; knowing where the stops are is an extra plus.

Uses colored-coded squares to indicate parks and water. Again, useful and easily added information that doesn’t complicate the map.

Provides two phone numbers for assistance. The first is for asking that an existing ramp be upgraded; the second is the 311 number to ask for a new ramp. Following this is an explanation that requests are prioritized according to the needs of wheelchair users who routinely use the requested corner.

San Francisco is one of the top 10 U.S. tourist destinations. With that in mind, Michele suggests:

Publicizing the map to lodging, educational, and other businesses or offices that often have wheelchair users. A simple brochure or announcement with the link to the map to print out as needed could help so many people. I’ve been to San Francisco many times and having this knowledge would have been truly helpful. A front desk or student counselor could easily offer such information.Adding shading or bordering with a legend to identify popular tourist destinations and government and entertainment centers. It could even be separate specific maps of just those sites that can be downloaded as easily as the existing map.

Curb-ramp installation plan

Ohmes also reviewed San Francisco’s 27-page Americans with Disabilities Act Transition Plan for Curb Ramps and Sidewalks. Her verdict: a concise yet thorough overview with reference to whom to go for a more complete report and how to obtain such a report. In her words, the plan works because:

It’s organized logically, as demonstrated by the table of contents:
  • Introduction
  • Legal requirements
  • Identified obstacles to the public right of way
  • Methods to remove obstacles — policies & priorities
  • Curb ramps
  • Sidewalks
  • Schedule (for removing obstacles)
  • Responsible individual
  • Public input.

It’s written in layman’s terms. Multiple charts explain how obstacles are identified and what dictates the priorities and actions that trigger ramp and sidewalk repairs, replacements, and new curb ramps. The plan even contains the formula that was used to estimate the cost of sample survey areas.

Addresses the public complaint process first under “methods for removal of obstacles.

The inclusive approach to replacing curb ramps is done in such a way that no path is obstructed by leaving an orphan curb on the other side of a crosswalk. (The U.S. Access Boards’ new Public Rights-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines, also known as PROWAG, also addresses this issue.)

Designates particular areas as a single project, which decreases cost and attracts contractors to bid on projects they deem worth their effort. This approach is a win-win for both the city and its residents.

Clearly explains new construction guidelines and details regarding existing barriers.

Expresses the implementation schedule as a chart, which is simple, clear, and a good resource for those wanting a guide for the long-term plans.

Provides contact information for requesting a review of the complete database.

Suggestions for enhancing

The introduction’s first page clearly outlines how the program will be implemented:

Funding and commitments from the city’s 10-year capital plan

Prioritization matrix for aggressively removing barriers

Plus three additional means —

  • Capital new construction projects
  • Capital alterations projects
  • Maintenance and repair projects and programs.

That page also should have:

Included on-demand requests for curb rampsNoted that utilities and other entities working in the public right of way will install curb ramps/repair sidewalks when their projects affect these areas.

Most people will read only so far before becoming disinterested; only the most technically minded will read all 27 pages. Including these two funding items would help soothe the worries of those who need access.

It might seem that on-demand and utility/other projects aren’t funding mechanisms, but they are: If other entities are paying for repairs/replacements, then the city isn’t.

In fact, I would have listed the on-demand first. Also, if there’s a specific fund set aside for the on-demand requests, concerns will be diminished considerably.

This report is simple, clear, and concise. I believe in the adage “keep it simple and straightforward” (KISS). The map and the report achieve that goal. I strongly suggest other public agencies use this model as a guide for putting together their overview transition plan for curbs and sidewalks.

To read Michele Ohmes’ online blog, “ADA Corner,” click here.

Consultant Michele Ohmes’ design manual — ADA and Accessibility: Let’s Get Practical — is available on CD-ROM through the American Public Works Association’s Web site at www.apwa.net. Author’s note: Michele & Associates does not render legal advice and has no enforcement authority regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act or other federal disability-rights legislation.