Aug 9, 2019 - Technology
Expert Voices

How road and sidewalk repairs can incorporate accessible design

Illustrated collage including elements of road infrastructure

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Amid a decline in infrastructure spending, cities and local transportation agencies still pull together funding to address current and future transportation needs — but they could be taking on more ambitious updates.

Why it matters: Beyond repairing and improving roads and sidewalks, cities have an opportunity to build infrastructure that could open up alternative mobility options and increase accessibility for all.

The big picture: General infrastructure updates could have ancillary benefits for people with mobility disabilities and, for example, people who commute by bike. These include:

  • Energy efficient and more effective street lights would increase night visibility, which could improve safety for cyclists and those using sidewalks and crosswalks.
  • Designated ride-hailing pick-up and drop-off zones could keep cars out of bike lanes and crosswalks — and could incorporate ramps for wheelchair users and those with strollers and walkers.

But, but, but: Basic improvements wouldn't be enough to meaningfully expand accessibility — and municipal governments in some cases already struggle to make basic infrastructure repairs.

What's needed: Communities will also need to make investments specifically designed to improve accessibility.

  • Crosswalks could incorporate more “curb cuts,” which are built in ramps, and more audio announcements of light changes for people who are blind or low-vision.
  • Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. are installing beacon technology in some transit hubs to help people navigate using audio cues transmitted via devices like smartphones.

The bottom line: With municipalities stepping up to plan for and invest in an autonomous, electric transportation future, there is an opportunity to implement infrastructure improvements that follow principles of inclusive, accessible design.

Henry Claypool is a policy expert affiliated with UCSF and AAPD, and a former director of the U.S. Health and Human Services Office on Disability.

Editor's note: This piece was edited to take out a bullet on LA's rate of sidewalk repair due to outdated statistics.

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