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 transportation, 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.

Miranda Simon measures the height of the APS push button. Anything between 41-43″ is considered compliant.

An updated push button is compliant with braille and is the correct height.

ADA Compliance Moving Forward

Since 2017, Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has been on a mission to evaluate all pedestrian ramps, sidewalks, trails, and shoulders throughout the state within ten years. Fixing issues and building a compliant, safe, and accessible system that also creates opportunities to build connections to places that currently lack accessible routes is the ultimate goal.

Currently, in a 3-year contract with MnDOT’s ADA team, the Alliant team of Miranda Simon and Emma Julkowski can be found in the field assessing conditions using tape measures, smart levels, and an ArcGIS app to identify issues. Examples of different conditions being evaluated to MnDOT’s newest standards include checking that the cross slope of sidewalks is less than 2% to accommodate wheelchair users and installing detectable warning surfaces with truncated cast-iron domes to allow visually impaired pedestrians to know the road is approaching. Once scoping is complete, a cost estimate is created documenting the extent of ramps, walks, or trails that need to be replaced or modified.

An example common to many of Minnesota’s current curb ramps. The material of the pavement is just slightly different to let users know that the road is approaching. However, there is not a significant different in texture causing pedestrians to miss the transition.

An example of an updated ADA compliant sidewalk completed by Alliant in Minneapolis. The detectable warning surfaces were upgraded to the proper truncated steel domes. Push buttons are the correct height and placed in an accessible location.

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, checking for trip hazards is essential. Anything greater than ¼ of an inch can offset a wheel or trip a visually impaired person using a cane. . A single corridor can take two weeks of data collection and assessment, from the height of accessible pedestrian signals, 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.