Ninety-seven percent of curb ramps on Oregon’s state highways are not compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act standards, according to a recent inventory, and Umatilla County is no exception to that lack of accessibility.
Pendleton, in particular, has a long list of corners along Highway 395 that are missing ramps to allow wheelchair users to access the sidewalk. The city was one of several places in Oregon singled out in a report by advocacy group Disability Rights Oregon, although many ramps in Hermiston are also non-compliant.
“I was very concerned about Umatilla County in particular and highlighted Pendleton because I thought it had the most egregious problems, but there were many areas that were concerning,” said Tom Stenson, litigation attorney with Disability Rights Oregon.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1991 to create federal standards for accessibility, including laws that pedestrian walkways must include a ramp where they cross a curb. A settlement between disability rights advocates and the Oregon Department of Transportation approved by a federal judge in March 2017 committed ODOT to creating an audit of all crossings, completing curb ramp upgrades at 30 percent of the locations by the end of 2022, completing upgrades at 75 percent by the end of 2027 and fixing all of the curb ramp locations by December 31, 2032.
The audit, completed about a month ago, rated only 3 percent of the curb ramps on state highways as “good.” Some were rated “fair” but most of the rest were rated “poor.” In 20 percent of cases, there was no ramp of any kind. In others, the ramp was at too steep of an angle, blocked by a utility pole, in a place that required going out of the crosswalk and into oncoming traffic to access it, or lacking a set of bumps for vision-impaired pedestrians to know they are stepping out into a roadway.
Tom Strandberg, public information officer for ODOT’s Region 5, said ODOT has been fixing curb ramps as it completes other work. When the department installed new traffic control cameras along Highway 395 in Hermiston in 2015, ADA-compliant curbs marked with yellow bumps were installed, giving Hermiston some of Oregon’s curb ramps classified as “good.” More of those ramps will be installed later this year on Northwest 11th Street (Highway 205) when ODOT partners with the city of Hermiston to add traffic signals to its intersections with Orchard and Elm avenues.
Due to the settlement agreement, ODOT has also set some money aside to do projects specifically focused on ADA compliance. In the fall, Strandberg said, ODOT will put a project out to bid that will upgrade and add ramps along Southwest Emigrant Avenue (U.S. 395) in Pendleton between Southwest Ninth and Southwest Fifth Streets. Other projects in Eastern Oregon will come at later dates.
“Obviously they can’t all be done at once,” Strandberg said.
They might not be able to all be done at once, but having 883 crossings out of 26,225 compliant since 1991 is not moving fast enough in the view of Disability Rights Oregon.
“If you’re only managing to complete 3 percent of ramps in 27 years, your progress is not adequate,” Stenson said.
He said creating proper curb ramps on state highways is not just about following the law, it’s about allowing people with disabilities to fully and safely participate in their community. Stenson said he has seen people have to move out into oncoming traffic to access a sidewalk and has one client who showed him how she had to turn around and back up too-steep ramps to avoid tipping over in her wheelchair.
Darren Umbarger of Clearview Mediation and Disability Resource Center in Pendleton said things like that can be a major problem for Pendleton residents who want to access buildings along state highways like Emigrant Avenue.
“People will get mad because here’s someone riding down the bicycle lane in a wheelchair. ... Sometimes it’s easier to go down a bicycle lane and sometimes it’s not, but sometimes there’s no choice,” he said.
Umbarger said ADA-compliant ramps aren’t just for people in wheelchairs — they can make things easier for senior citizens with walkers, parents pushing baby strollers or delivery people pushing dollies.
Although ODOT-controlled state highways through Pendleton often lack good accessibility, Umbarger praised the city of Pendleton and community members for working hard to make Pendleton in general more accessible. Efforts include more accessible city parks, electric wheelchair-charging stations around town and projects by downtown businesses to change steps into ramps.
While the ODOT inventory focused on state highways, Stenson said city and county roads across the state have similar problems.
“Some municipalities do a better job than others, but I think the problems you see with ODOT you would find similar issues with municipal governments as well,” he said.
In 2017 ODOT published the Americans with Disabilities Act Title II Transition Plan Update detailing a game plan for becoming fully ADA-compliant, including making all of its buildings more accessible and aggressively moving to fix curb ramps.
“ODOT is committed to improving the accessibility of the transportation system and its facilities. ... ODOT has made significant progress in reducing the number of missing and non-compliant curb ramps in recent years, and a commitment to ongoing resources will address remaining shortcomings,” the report says.
ODOT’s plan for ADA compliance can be found online at www.oregon.gov/ODOT/Business/OCR/Documents/Final%20ADA%20Transition%20Plan%202017.pdf. An inventory of every state highway crossing in Umatilla County and its ADA-compliance rating can be found here: droregon.org/wp-content/uploads/umatilla-county.pdf.
Contact Jade McDowell at email@example.com or 541-564-4536.