Soyer: Curb your enthusiasm


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In February of last year, a letter was submitted to the city of Iowa City expressing concerns over whether the curb cuts in the city were compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Johnson County Task Force on Aging submitted the letter after receiving complaints about the curb cuts, along with the city’s slow response time to accessibility issues. It is now a year later, and nothing seems to have been done about it.

As a wheelchair user myself, I have firsthand experience with the poorly built curb cuts of Iowa City. The majority of them are either very steep or have a large bump between the ramp and the street. Then there are some sidewalks that simply don’t have them. For example, at the intersection of Highways 1 and 6, there is a sidewalk in which there is no curb cut, meaning that when I ventured that way one time, I couldn’t cross the street. When I do go over bumpy curb cuts, my head often falls back, and my helper has to catch it. This is the same with steep ramps. Sometimes, if I go extra slowly, I can keep my head balanced. But going slowly means that I’m out in the street longer, usually after the light for oncoming traffic has already turned green.

Simon Andrew, the administrative assistant for the Iowa City city manager, said that although all of the curb cuts were ADA compliant at the time they were installed, some of them might no longer be up to par with the current regulations. However, the city is still within the parameters of the law, because the cuts were compliant at the time they were built. He also said the city goes “above and beyond” ADA. The ridiculousness of the ADA grandfather clause aside, it seems that if indeed the city wanted to go “above and beyond” the ADA regulations, it would move at a faster pace in smoothing out the majority of the curb cuts.

Andrew also said that one of the main reasons many curb cuts in downtown Iowa City remain shoddy at best is that the city tries to be as efficient as possible when fixing them. For example, they are hesitant to fix a curb cut on an intersection that may have a water main burst in the next few years and then have to be repaired again.  This all makes perfect sense, although I find myself wondering if repairing some of the curb cuts is as big a deal as the city thinks it is.

In October, I was on my way to class when I discovered that one of the curb cuts at the intersection of Clinton and Market had been fixed by applying a thin layer of tar to connect the ramp with the street. I was elated. My friend whom I was walking with told me that it had probably been fixed since Michelle Obama was visiting later that week. I don’t know if this was true or not, but if the city can fix its curb cuts for the first lady, it should fix them for its residents as well.

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