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IC officials maintain the city is ADA compliant

BY BEN MARKS | SEPTEMBER 18, 2014 5:00 AM

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Despite some progress, locals say the majority of Iowa City’s sidewalks and curb ramps, or cuts, are still in grave need of repair and may not be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In February, Lawrence Kudej, the chairman of the Johnson County Task Force on Aging, submitted a complaint on behalf of the task force to the U.S. Department of Justice, alleging that a substantial number of the sidewalks in Iowa City violated ADA regulations.

Kudej said although the city responded almost immediately via letter and email, not much progress seemed to be made for several more months, although continued communication was good.

On May 22, the Justice Department sent a letter to Mayor Matt Hayek, notifying the city it would open an investigation as well as requesting information regarding the complaint. The letter stated the city had 30 days to respond or face litigation.

It wasn’t until this past week, however, that city officials said they became aware of the letter.

“We don’t know why we didn’t receive the letter, or if we did receive it, what may have happened to it,” said Geoff Fruin, the assistant to the city manager.

It is unknown if the city will face litigation for failing to respond in a timely fashion.

Although Fruin said he does not believe the city is out of compliance with ADA regulations, many Iowa City residents disagree.

“I found that there were many curb cuts that were either too steep, had broken and damaged concrete, or were nonexistent,” task-force member and wheelchair user Harry Olmstead said.

Besides specifying the slope required for easy maneuverability, the ADA also specifies where curb cuts are to be placed, such as near bus stops.

A lack, Olmstead said, he sees far too commonly.

“The problem is unlit areas and at night when someone gets off the bus, and they’re in a wheelchair like I am,” Olmstead said. “I’ve gotten off the bus and almost gone off the curb, which could have damaged my chair and possibly injured myself.”

Hannah Soyer, a student at the University of Iowa as well as a wheelchair user, said she also agrees with the task force’s assessment.

“I really like living here because everything is within walking distance,” she said. "But the sidewalks are really awful. A lot of the curb cuts are really old and lumpy, and often I have to get a running start to get over it.”

Also in 2012, the Metropolitan Planning Organization of Johnson County began a countywide inventory of sidewalks and curb cuts.

Out of the more than 4,800 curb cuts in Iowa City, the inventory found that 44 percent had slopes greater than standard.

When Soyer approached the Women’s Resource and Action Center about putting in a ramp, she said the director had been trying to, but was unable to do to so because of issues with UI Facilities Management.

“They told her that we don’t have to do anything till a student expresses concern, and I believe that’s how people view accessibility in general,” Soyer said. “You shouldn’t have to have a student say something — that doesn’t make any sense.”


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