Question: Can you tell me the purpose of the new ADA curbs being installed all over East Tacoma?
They are redoing the curbing across from Sheridan Elementary School on McKinley Avenue, but the new curbs are going out into the traffic lane. This is really causing a problem for people who want to turn right but can no longer move to the right to do so.
Any idea why this design has become so popular? The bus drivers hate it.
— Jeanene P., Tacoma
Answer: The short answer is right in the question: the purpose of the new curbs is because the curbs need to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which turned 25 years old Sunday.
The federal law requires many public spaces to provide ramps for access by pedestrians who rely on wheelchairs, walkers or other assistance.
Some parts of Tacoma are easier to outfit for this than others. Relatively flat and sidewalked areas require straightforward curb-and-gutter reworking.
However, traversing the northern end of downtown with a stroller to get from Pacific Avenue entertainments to Wright Park calls for either a multiblock detour or toting the pram, baby and all, up the historic — and steep — Spanish Steps, where a Spanish Ramp would be a monumental undertaking.
(The vivid memory of this experience requires your correspondent to pause here to collect his breath.)
That’s the underlying reason why a series of intersections along McKinley Avenue East — and in many other stretches of the city — are getting what engineers call curb cuts and bulb-outs: to make walking around the city easier for all, even if that leads to trickier driving for some.
The largest such effort is an $2.5 million project to give 60 Tacoma places better pedestrian access with measures that include ramps, better crosswalks, curb extensions and flashing signals, city traffic engineer Josh Diekmann said.
The city has a Web page set up at bit.ly/1OAjGTh to show how much construction is part of this project, which is to finish in August.
The Sheridan Elementary School-adjacent intersections aren’t on that map because they’re part of a separate government undertaking to do similar work.
The Sheridan Safe Routes to School project — funded largely by a federal grant and described on its own Web page at bit.ly/1CXpvbZ – includes a few of the bigger, rounder bulb-out curbs.
They shorten pedestrian crossings and improve visibility, Diekmann said.
As for motor traffic, the new curbs are designed to accommodate large vehicles’ turning capacity, but because traffic has to go around a soft curve to make the corner, it’s a slower and more delicate maneuver.
The project should be done within August, except for some landscaping that will grow happier if planted after weather grows cooler and wetter, city project manager Diane Sheesley said.
When the project is complete, a temporary mid-block crosswalk that crosses McKinley south of the under-construction intersection of East 54th Street and that has for weeks jutted two asphalt ramps straight into the street will be removed, she said.
Derrick Nunnally: 253-597-8693