COLUMBIA — Downtown Columbia will be seeing new parking spots with curb cuts installed in the fall for wheelchair users and people with disabilities.
Homer Page, chairman of the Columbia Disabilities Commission, said it is difficult for wheelchair users to get on sidewalks in the middle of the block: They either have to jump the curb in their wheelchair or enter the street and get on the sidewalk on existing curb cuts at corners.
“The hardest part is identifying where we can have the spaces,” Tony St. Romaine, assistant city manager and Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, said. In order to comply with the act, parking spots will have to be on a level street.
The cost of adding one accessible parking space is $9,200, St. Romaine said. Accessible parking spaces are not metered, based on a city ordinance, which will lead to a loss of $1,200 per year in meter revenue, he said.
Costs include removing existing meters, installing a curb cut for each accessible parking space, restriping and adding truncated domes to the sidewalk that signal a change in elevation.
There have been requests for more accessible parking on the street to complement the handicapped spaces in city parking garages, St. Romaine said.
“I’ve heard this complaint now for several years, and now we have the resources to be able to address it,” he said. “If you have someone who’s maybe not in a wheelchair, but they have difficulty walking, and they want to go to a restaurant downtown, they can’t walk from the parking garage to the restaurant.”
St. Romaine said the city does not yet have an estimate of the number of parking spaces it will be installing. The commission will be providing input on the ratios of total parking spaces to accessible parking spaces in other cities to help make the decision.
“The predominant shortage we are able to see is on Broadway," St. Romaine said. "The only accessible parking spaces are in front of City Hall, which were installed when City Hall was built. We have been talking about adding one accessible parking space on each block along Broadway from west to east,” St. Romaine said.
The parking spaces are one of four projects that total $100,000 approved June 3 by the Columbia City Council at the recommendation of the Columbia Disabilities Commission. The other projects are providing auditory pedestrian signals, rubber tiles for the playground at a city park and paratransit services to city government meetings in the evening.
Auditory pedestrian signals will be installed at intersections in the city.
Some intersections that have been suggested for auditory signals are College Avenue and Broadway along with Providence Road and Broadway. These were chosen because they are such high-traffic areas, Page said, although they are not the only places that could benefit from the update.
“You have to set priorities of where the traffic is most difficult,” Page said.
Many auditory signals involve a message telling pedestrians where the push button is located, an audio cue telling them when to walk and a tone on the other side of the street that signals which direction to walk.
“We’ve been working with a provider who has a new system in place, and I think we’ll look at each intersection to see what serves it best. They likely will be push button in some cases, and others will be automatic, and at least in some cases they will have a voice message also so that it says the light is changing,” Page said.
The auditory signals usually cost about $8,000 per intersection, and the disabilities commission will be working with a traffic engineer to identify the best intersections for these signals to be installed, St. Romaine said.
Replacing mulch in Lions-Stephens Park with poured rubber or rubber tiles will make it easier for children with wheelchairs to use the playground, Page said.
The cost to maintain rubber tile in a playground is about $18,000 over 10 years compared to about $6,400 to maintain mulch, St. Romaine said.
Paratransit service will be extended for weekday evening hours so citizens who rely on the service can attend Columbia City Council and other government meetings. Paying a driver to work in the evening for six months will cost about $1,900 for one bus, St. Romaine said.
These projects will be financed with a surplus in the city's General Fund. The council also decided to spend $326,855 to restore the J.W. "Blind" Boone Home and $626,741 to be divided up among other projects.
The city hopes to have all of the disabilities projects completed by the end of the year.
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