Compliance Upgrades That Accommodate All Minnesotans

October 12, 2021

How Alliant is helping make Minnesota transportation infrastructure accessible for all.

Have you had Siri help you with directions? Pushed the electronic door button to get into a building? Used the ramps on a sidewalk to push your bike up from the road? Over 54 million Americans have one or more mental or physical disabilities that benefit from these tools every day. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is useful for everyone, yet we still have a long way to go in realizing the full benefits of the legislation.

30 Years of ADA

President George Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law over 30 years ago. This was a huge civil rights moment that prohibited discrimination against people with disabilities. Since then, the transportation sector has added enhancements that benefit all users; from equipment like ramps and lifts, expanded signal timing for people to cross the road, priority seating on public transport, and adding braille to crosswalk buttons and transit signage. Despite these upgrades, there are still adjustments that need to be made to Minnesota’s sidewalks and ramps, to assist individuals in arriving safely at their destinations.

Moving Forward

Since 2017, MnDOT has been on a mission to evaluate all pedestrian ramps, sidewalks, trails, and shoulders throughout the state within ten years. The goal is to fix issues and build a compliant, safe, and accessible system that also creates opportunities to build connections to places that currently lack accessible routes.

MnDOT has been working with different consulting firms to help in this big undertaking. Currently, in a 3-year contract with MnDOT’s ADA team, the Alliant team of Miranda Simon and Emma Julkowski can be found out in the field using tape measures, smart levels, and an ArcGIS app to scope out issues. There are incredibly strict guidelines to follow, such as the cross slope of the sidewalk must be less than 2%. This prevents wheelchair users from having to work as hard to steer in a straight line. Installing detectable warning surfaces with proper truncated cast-iron domes at the end of a sidewalk allows visually impaired pedestrians to know the road is approaching. These are just two examples of different ramp types that are being re-evaluated to MnDOT’s newest standards. Once scoping is complete, a cost estimate is created documenting the extent of ramps, walks, or trails that need to be replaced or modified.

Not only is this a substantial project that will take years to complete but it is a complex task. “The biggest challenge is that there are a lot of constraints along these corridors that already exist.” said Emma Julkowski. “If you are in a town, there is a road on one side of the sidewalk and a building on the other. We’re really limited in meeting the constraints due to the existing layout. It is very difficult if we aren’t completely rebuilding the road. If we are rebuilding the road, there is a lot more flexibility as we can change the elevations and profile of the road to help with the sidewalk profiles.”

Miranda Simon explained that when scoping a corridor, they will drag their feet along each panel of sidewalk to check for trip hazards. Anything greater than ¼ of an inch can offset a wheel or trip a visually impaired person using a cane. Just one corridor can take two weeks of data collection, making sure that all areas are completely assessed, from heights of accessible pedestrian signals (APS), to trip hazards, to ramp slope.

The Finish Line

This work will make a lasting impact and will be useful for all people. MnDOT’s ADA group, headed by Todd Grugel, works incredibly hard and Alliant is so proud to be working alongside them making the Minnesota transportation system safer, more accessible, and equitable for everyone.

To learn more about our work on ADA upgrades, contact Miranda Simon and Emma Julkowski.

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