COLUMBIA — Clad in orange vests, with checklists in hand, four civil engineering students from MU walked down Broadway and Providence streets Monday morning, to evaluate the accessibility of sidewalks, crosswalks and curb ramps for people with disabilities.
In two weeks, the students will turn in a proposal to the city with details about the sidewalks and crossings in downtown Columbia that need to be added or changed. The goal is to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Fixing the sidewalks is on a bigger to-do list of improvements for the city.
“It will be a two-year project for all sidewalks in Columbia to be ADA-accessible,” said Tony St. Romaine, assistant city manager and ADA coordinator for the city. “Historical downtown is higher priority because many of the facilities there were made without concern for ADA accessibility.”
St. Romaine asked Carlos Sun, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at MU, for help with the downtown project, called public right-of-way analysis.
Sun chose four of his senior undergraduate students to help with the pilot phase of creating a checklist to determine the conditions of the sidewalks and crossings in the downtown area, St. Romaine said.
“We had a preliminary meeting last week with the ADA committee at the city hall where we watched videos and talked about how to evaluate sidewalks, crosswalks and curb ramps,” said Sawyer Breslow, a student who is part of the project.
The checklist the students made includes conditions of the sidewalks and crossings that particularly affect people with disabilities, such as slope and surface condition, width of cracks and gaps and height of crosswalk buttons.
“We bring an electronic level to measure the slope of the sidewalk,” said Andrew Robertson, a student working on the project. “In order to be wheelchair accessible, the slope of the sidewalk should be 2 percent or less. If the slope is 3 percent, the wheelchair user must put forth 50 percent more effort.”
To alert blind and vision-impaired pedestrians about impending danger from vehicles or grade changes, textured ground surfaces called truncated domes should be placed along curb ramps, he said.
Robertson said he enjoys doing this kind of work for the city because at the end of the day it feels like he helped out a good cause.
“I feel like a superhero in my orange vest when I’m out here,” Robertson said, playfully modeling his vest as passers-by gave him the once-over. “Everyone is curious what we are doing, and when I tell them, they support us all the way.”
Breslow said this is a wonderful experience in fieldwork and doesn’t involve sitting behind a computer in an office.
“But," he added, "we could do without the heat.”