It is almost 25 years to the day since the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. Fans of the ADA are throwing a big birthday party a few days early. So, where better to throw that party than Westlake Park, right next to Westlake Station? And when better to throw that party than 4-6 pm in the middle of rush hour on a Wednesday afternoon?

Downtown traffic is expected to be significantly impacted, so Link Light Rail, or any of the tunnel buses (41, 71, 72, 73, 74 – outbound only, 76 – outbound only, 77 – outbound only, 101, 102 – outbound only, 106, 150, 216 – outbound only, 218 – outbound only, 219 – outbound only, 255, 316 – outbound only, and ST Express 550), are your best bet for getting in and out of downtown quickly. There will also be shuttles to and from Westlake.

King County Metro has an accessibility map of downtown you may wish to peruse ahead of time. (Hint: It is not seamless.)

You can peruse past light rail excuses of the week here.

28 Replies to “Link Excuse of the Week: ADA Is Having a Birthday Party @ Westlake Wednesday Afternoon”

  1. Overall, I have mixed feelings about the ADA. Accommodations for the disabled is great, and, in many cases, leads to spillover benefts for the non-disabled (e.g. curb ramps mandated for wheelchairs get used all the time by bikes and strollers). On the other hand, I’ve always felt like the ADA hits transit with much bigger burdens than other entities – after all, the cost of a ramp at a building entrance or an elevator between floors (which would likely be needed anyway for freight, with or without ADA) is tiny compared to the cost to a transit agency of operating paratransit. (And, even for fixed-route services, wheelchair lifts on every bus is also expensive, both in capital costs and in service delays when the lifts get used).

    If the federal government provided money to local agencies to offset the cost of complying with ADA, that would be one thing. Instead, the cost is paid for by giving everyone else less service. The costs of adhering to ADA also make transit agencies everywhere appear to the public as bloated and inefficient, which makes ballet measures to fund transit that much harder to pass. In many small or rural communities, the cost burden of paratransit often means no transit at all, of any kind. In other cases, it forces communities that lack the money for both parantransit service and fixed-route service to have only paratransit, with the end result being that far fewer people get served or find the service useful or worthy of their tax dollars. Even close to home, during the recession, Snohomish County specifically cited the cost savings of not having to pay for paratransit on Sundays to justify canceling their entire fixed-route system on Sundays – which was only one month ago brought back.

    1. The cost of paratransit has also been a significant issue at Twin Transit (Chehalis – Centralia). They were forced to make cuts in regular service, which caused overall costs to increase because then everyone that was transit dependent started using the paratransit service, at many times the cost per rider.

    2. ADA also requires apartment buildings to have elevators, which were previously a luxury and drive up the rent the way mandatory parking does. And with the elevator often comes a larger lobby. And many buildings put the elevator front and center and relegate the stairs to an inconvenient side, so if you want to use the stairs you have to go out of your way to a side door, and unlock one or two extra doors along the way. It’s like a house with the garage door front and center, and it makes it hard not to use electricity for every trip. And woe betide if the power goes off for an extended period, because the stairways have no windows so they’ll be pitch black. I’d rather have a building without an elevator and with outdoor walkways, but they’re not making either of those anymore.

      1. That would be an extremely extended period of time, as stairwells are supposed to have stand-alone emergency lighting (as are corridors in most applications–they are low light levels but hardly pitch black). Most corridors do not have windows either but escape routes need to be illuminated in case of power failure. This is not an ADA issue (accessibility) but rather a building code (life safety) one.

      2. They do have emergency lighting, but if there’s an earthquake the power may be out for a week or several months, and I can’t imagine the emergency power would last that long.

      3. The elevator requirement is really a good one. My fiancee had juvenile arthritis and can’t handle significant stairs. The lack of elevators is the *single biggest problem period* for her, and for most people with physical disabilities. It’s also a problem for at least 3/4 of the people I know over the age of 65.

        If you live in a walkup, we will never ever be able to visit you. Think about what that means.

        I don’t care if you want a walk-up. Suck it up and deal. Elevators are good, practically everyone needs ’em at some point in their life, and it should be illegal to build apartments or condos without ’em. I actually don’t even think it should be legal for developers to build single-family homes on speculation without ’em (custom homes are another matter). A much greater volume of elevators should bring the cost of elevators down.

        Frankly, if you actively want a walk-up, unless you’re both willing and able to *carry visitors up the stairs*, you’re actively preventing disabled people from *visiting* you. That ends up being kind of bigoted.

    3. I have heard that it would be less expensive to have universal taxi rides for the disabled rather than a wheelchair lift on every bus and the related loading delays, but that would contradict the ADA’s goals of “mainstreaming” the disabled on the same transit vehicles everyone else uses. I don’t know whether it really would be less expensive as claimed, but it’s one of those issues that rarely gets discussed because the ADA took us on a different path.

      1. What you’ve heard is simply bullshit spread by bigots.

        First of all, we still don’t have a wheelchair-accessible taxi fleet anywhere in the US, to my knowledge — and you know how much the Seattle taxi system stinks. So start by replacing every taxi in Seattle and doubling the number of medallions, for your cost estimate…

        In New York City, disabled people preferentially use taxis because the subway system is so hostile, but — apart from being slower than the subway in NYC — the taxis nearly all aren’t accessible either. And there’s been a humungous fight over the cost of making all the taxis accessible. It looks like this is *finally* changing, but it’s been decades of legal fights.

      2. I agree that making every taxi accessible is expensive. But, what Mike’s asking is whether it would have been less expensive to make every taxi (or, perhaps, half of the taxis) wheelchair-accessible than to make every bus accessible and build loading delays into the schedule. Now that we’ve done the second, it’s almost certainly cheaper to continue down this road than deal with the first. (Though, it’s still a good thing to have more accessible taxis!) But, whether it would have been cheaper to take another road in the first place is a different question.

    4. Like low-floor buses? Thank ADA.

      Disabled people have to get around. The expense of paratransit incentivizes agencies to make regular service accessible. And the ADA was the ONLY thing that was ever going to make people care about transportation of disabled persons.

    5. It is clear that the ADA should from the very start have provided a mechanism for funding paratransit from a separate Health & Human Services budget pot, rather than being albatrossed to every transit agency in the country and unleashing decades of odd and conflicting service incentives.

      But it should not be surprising in our present political state that a reasonable mandate for equitable access to urban mobility did not come bundled with independent and sustainable funding to effectively implement such. The lack of the latter is not an indictment of the former.

      1. *Sigh*. Actually, that’s not quite the right conclusion.

        What’s clear is that a separate funding stream should have been used for services for people who will *never* be able to ride conventional transit.

        The people writing the law were thinking about people in wheelchairs, people with canes and walkers, blind people, deaf people, and people who need someone to accompany and assist them: people who can be accomodated by a transit system which is making an effort.

        Paratransit was never really expected to be used by people who will never be able to take regular services. Apparently huge amounts of paratransit are used specifically by kidney dialysis patients, and this *should* have its own funding stream.

        The paratransit mandate was supposed to be self-expiring: as soon as the regular system was made fully accessible, it was supposed to turn itself into a nullity. The people writing the law fully intended to financially punish systems like New York City which were actively resisting making the regular system wheelchair-accessible, and it’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to in that regard. It’s very hard to qualify for paratransit in the cities with basically-fully-accessible systems like San Diego, and much easier in hostile systems like New York. As it should be.

        When there’s no sidewalk to reach the bus, or a lack of curb cuts, or it’s otherwise impossible to wheel your chair to the bus stop, this will also trigger paratransit eligibilitiy, and that’s as it should be — the problem here is that the transit agency bears the cost, even though it’s the municipality who’s at fault and needs to get beaten over the head about sidewalk construction and maintenance. There is some progress being made on this.

        —-
        There’s something interesting (in a bad way) going on in Upstate NY. There has been a large pot of funding going to the local bus systems from Medicaid, because Medicaid is required by law to provide transportation to doctor’s appointments for Medicaid patients. And it’s a lot cheaper to provide bus service for the patients who have some mobility, than to taxi every single one of those patients. The idiotic Governor Cuomo decided to switch to taxi service, which is raising costs for Medicaid *and* causing the collapse of the rural bus systems. To add injury to injury, the counties are then required to pay the increased Medicaid costs, because NY is the only state in the Union which makes counties pay for Medicaid. So the Governor has forced the counties to raise taxes in order to provide worse service.

      2. If you could Imodium your comment diarrhea for half a second, you might notice that nothing you wrote here contradicted any of my statements or positions. I have never, and would never, suggest that a separate funding stream for paratransit should have exempted mass transportation service from the mandate to provide universal barrier-free access, and to pursue the both equitable and broadly-beneficial principles of universal design that I have described up and down this thread.

        I merely suggested that offloading the ever-inflating costs of paratransit provision directly onto mass transportation agencies with finite funding options has led to any number of perverse fiscal incentives that harm both the holistic network and the paratransit-dependent. On the fringes, regular service is gerrymandered explicitly to shrink the paratransit service radius. In the city, where high-impact allocation of hours is most crucial, torturous (and ultimately costly and ridership-repellent) one-seats get retained out of fear of offending the handful of vocal elderly who might call paratransit ten times a day just to spite you.

        Setting aside a funding stream entirely separate from the provision of “mass” transit would simply eliminate such conflicts of interest, while in no way damaging the potential of the “mass” system to provide universally high-quality outcomes to the able-bodied and the disabled-yet-independent alike.

  2. While not cheap, the development of low floor buses and light rail cars has benefitted everyone.

  3. The ADA is a burden to everybody, particularly civil engineers. We get tasked with making all exterior improvements “accessible” even if and when the surrounding landscape is completely non-compliant and non-accessible. Example: the requirement of an accessible ramp with a level landing at an intersection such as 8th and James. (Full disclosure, I’ve never done an accessibility project AT 8th and James, but at other similar locations where having a level landing makes absolutely no sense and is not constructible.) There should be a “laugh test” where if something is nowhere near compliant and never will be, the full scope of improvements should not be required. The current “maximum extent feasible” threshold is still ridiculous in many cases.

    1. So basically, you are saying that your peers are too lazy and uncreative to bother pursing solutions that aspire to Universal Design, in order to make lemonade of site-specific lemons. Instead, you would rather apply ham-handedly shoehorn in awkward egress ramps that meet only nominal letter of the law, and then compound your own failure by complaining that the ADA is absurd and burdensome.

      Nice.

      Your primary error is in falsely dichotomizing the world as “abled” versus “disabled”. This ignores the vast spectrum on which bodies and abilities exist, and that even a single person may have different needs in different places and at different.

      It is hilarious that you cite First Hill as a pinnacle of inherently difficult access, when First Hill’s north-south avenues are so flat that even someone in a manually-powered wheelchair (though hardly representative of all disabled people) can easily travel a mile without impediment, accessing multiple bus routes and any number of buildings designed or retrofitted with an eye to egress for all people, rather than just checking off meaningless “compliance” boxes.

      The pursuit of universality has given us some great public spaces in the past generation (the amphi-stairway-ramp in Portland’s Pioneer Square is one such example), and as Glenn notes above, it is responsible for faster and universally easier egress from transit vehicles to airport jetways. It has improved public buildings new and old, and it can be retrofitted into the most historic areas without so much as color-clashing.

      I don’t think anyone would disagree that the ADA is imperfect in both design and implementation. The British DDA, modeled on the ADA but adapted from careful observation of American outcomes, seems to allow for particularly results-oriented implementation leeway, which is vital where preexisting infrastructural topographies must be addressed.

      Just as crucially, the DDA takes into account the social model of disability, identifying social inclusion as a worthy goal toward which all public projects should strive, and providing impetus to achieve worthy outcomes, rather than “feasible” or lazy or just plain crotchety ones, as seems to be the prevailing attitude of architects and civil engineers in our shittastically myopic society.

      1. A quick note on the wonderful Pioneer Square ramp: it isn’t ADA compliant. The City of Portland is looking to spruce up the square, but one of their constraints in doing so is staying below a spending threshold. Spending more than that amount would trigger a rebuild to ADA spec, forcing the city to take out and replace the ramp or add hand railings, marring the space and impeding movement through it. Thresholds like this one are what frustrate me (and likely others) about ADA. I wonder how Universal Design advocates feel about the suitability of the current Pioneer Square ramp.

      2. That is totally pathetic if accurate.

        It would mean that regulators, in building fences around the fences around the original language and intent, will have effectively outlawed an integrated-access best practice, in favor of separate-and-inherently-unequal labyrinthine access scenarios.

        This is particularly ironic, given the excessive leeway that the ADA allows in other implementation areas. For example, robust workplace protections have proven all-but-unenforceable under current American jurisprudence; significant barriers to legal recourse and few mechanisms for punitive remedy have conspired to ensure that an “unreasonable accommodation” remains whatever the employer says it is. Disability discrimination remains rampant and blatant, and the disabled the most disproportionately underemployed population in the country.

        At the same time, disabled-placard parking policy remains a hot-button shitshow in many cities, in part because the ADA required national regulators only to develop recommendations for implementation, rather than binding policies with clear rationales.

        The ADA statutes clearly have glaring flaws. But bitterness and resentment toward disabled access as a general concept, and false/bigoted statements about which corners of the city are inherently beyond “laugh test” reach, are about the least productive reactions an engineer or planner could possibly offer.

      3. The problem here is that the city has taken a “within 3/4 of an inch” view of compliance when they really need to just prioritize stuff.

        From the Willamette Week article from last year:

        The city view:

        The city has already spent $663,402 locating barriers at 342 public facilities—including 260 parks. The city’s study examines facilities in minute detail: A Washington Park restroom urinal rim, for example, is three-quarters of an inch too high, and a Benson Bubbler drinking fountain in Pioneer Courthouse Square is an inch too low.

        The view from an ADA advocate:

        Ruder, who uses a motorized wheelchair, says many of the barriers the city identified at these places violate ADA requirements—but aren’t keeping many people from getting where they need to go. “It’s a black-and-white law in a gray world,” Ruder says. “Hopefully, they are able to prioritize the places that have the greatest impact for the most people.”

        It’s a city of Portland is worried about getting sued vs. what is actually required and useful standpoint.

      4. I’m afraid that the micromanaging, punch-every-detail stuff is backlash, due to the prior engineering habit of “do everything we can to screw over disabled people if possible”.

        I watched the prior engineering habit in two dorm (excuse me, “townhouse”, meaning dorm) projects — one at my college Carleton College and one at Cornell University where I live now — which were deliberately designed as “screw yous” to disabled people. The Carleton project was designed to be as inaccessible as possible without breaking the law. I think the Cornell project was designed this way too, but they screwed up and it was, in fact, actually illegal when constructed. I’ve been considering whether there’s some way to nail them for it. I certainly won’t be giving either college money as long as they have this sort of attitude, and I’ve been encouraging other people not to donate as well.

        New York City’s MTA has blatantly violated the ADA in multiple subway station “ground up rebuild” projects in recent years. The fatigued advocates, who’ve been fighting NYC over the subway since the 1950s, only managed to sue them over a couple of the violations.

        And it really is this bad-attitude hostility which has caused the prescriptive rules. I remember a “how to make things easy for people in wheelchairs” brochure from the 1970s, when I was in PRESCHOOL, and the principles haven’t really changed, but it’s 40 years later and we’re still seeing abusive and hostile architecture being built “because they can”.

        I think if this sort of egregiously hostile construction stops happening routinely, it will become possible to relax the prescriptive regulations.

  4. The stairways at Convention Place station have handrails in the form of a wide white plastic tube. This was the original design. A few years ago another handrail was installed above them, a conventional narrow metal tube. This leads to the hilarious situation of a handrail above a handrail. I don’t know if the upper one was installed for ADA but it looks like the typical slapped-on retrofit. Or perhaps the original handrails were just unpractically low.

  5. I was shocked when I first moved to Seattle in 1989 that the northbound Montlake flyer stop was not ADA compliant (seems that it could easily have been made so by installing a ramp parallell to the entrance road). Twenty-six years later still no ramp to make it accessible for wheel chairs, bicyclists, and strollers. But also a non-issue at this point since the flyer stop is to be discontinued with the new 520 reconfiguration.

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