Please help my poor husband solve his ongoing perplexity. When there are perfectly good and relatively new wheelchair ramps on each corner of an intersection, why do we see crews tearing them out to be replaced with those ugly, yellow, rubbery, bumpy ramps? He’s seriously been losing sleep over this!
— Addled Wife, OB
You’d think there would be an easy answer for this one. They’re just sidewalks, after all, right? Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. San Diego’s relationship with sidewalks makes Bill Henrickson’s love life look straightforward. The city itself is only partly responsible for sidewalk maintenance and repair, the bulk of which actually falls to private property owners under the provisions of California State Highway Code 5610. Look it up if you don’t believe me. It’s just a Google away. Generally speaking, “curb ramps” (the technical term for wheelchair access ramps at major sidewalk junctures) are built and maintained by the city because they tend to be located on public property. Now, when the city goes to repair or replace anything, they are 100 percent beholden to the standards outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Naturally, the ADA has a thing or two to say about curb ramps, including that “a curb ramp shall have a detectable warning and the detectable warning shall extend the full width and depth of the curb ramp.” Detectable warnings usually come in the form of “truncated domes,” which is the catchy name for those “ugly, yellow bumps” of which you don’t think so highly. The theory behind the truncated domes is that they provide an area of high color contrast and tactile difference, which make it easier for seeing-impaired people to navigate street crossings. Maybe knowing that the truncated domes help the nearly blind avoid being run over will soften your opinion some?
As for why ramps that seem perfectly good are updated, that all comes down to city policies regarding ADA compliance updates! Certain things trigger the city to overhaul curb ramps. The most common triggers are major construction or renovation of public buildings and citizen complaints, which are usually processed through the city’s Department of Disability Services. There is actually a standing list of public-works projects to improve citizen access that Disability Services approaches when funding is available. If you want to comb through the city’s documentation on past, current, and upcoming projects, there’s actually a somewhat-user-friendly set of databases at sandiego.gov/cip/projectinfo, which might be a good place for you to start looking for the upcoming works in your neighborhood.