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August 20th, 2014 AARON MESH | City Hall
 

Obstacle Course

Portland has 25,000 places where the city doesn't comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act

news2_4042Ian Ruder at Providence Park - IMAGES: nataliebehring.com

In 2011, the city of Portland and the Portland Timbers completed a $31 million renovation of the stadium now called Providence Park. The city-owned stadium added a concourse, concession stands, a video scoreboard and 1,144 premium club seats.

But Providence Park still isn’t up to the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Virtually all of the ramps and concourse walkways do not meet ADA slope requirements,” says a document produced this year by the city’s spectator facilities division. The cost of compliance: up to $1.1 million.

And it’s not the only city property that’s a problem.

It’s been 24 years since Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, landmark civil-rights legislation that promised equal access to public places for people who are blind, hearing-impaired or have limited mobility.

But documents show Portland officials have identified 25,829 places on city properties that don’t meet ADA standards. Nearly 80 percent of those barriers are in city parks.

City officials have been compiling a list in hopes of fixing problem spots to avoid lawsuits over lack of compliance. “It’s incredibly daunting,” says Danielle Brooks, who’s overseeing the ADA project for the city’s Office of Equity and Human Rights. “We’re trying to get out ahead.”

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.

Portland Parks & Recreation officials say they will use a $68 million parks bond on the ballot this November to upgrade disabled access—but they don’t specify how much money will go to that purpose.

WW took a closer look at five well-known locations that account for more than 1,600 barriers. We asked Ian Ruder, a disabilities advocate with United Spinal Association, to show us where public properties miss the mark.

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.”

Here’s what WW found at Providence Park and four other locations the city has flagged for first-priority ADA upgrades.

 

A. City Hall

Barriers: 185

Estimated cost of upgrades: $487,965

The central elevators are too small, and the ramps leading to the front doors are too steep—but in both cases, the violations in the 1895 building are a matter of inches. “I’ve been in elevators half this size,” Ruder says. “I wouldn’t know there was a problem unless you told me.”

The elevator in Portland City Hall is seven inches too narrow to meet ADA standards, city documents say.


B. Portland Building

Barriers: 1,016

Estimated cost of upgrades: $1.3 million

The city says it still doesn’t know whether it will spend money on improving this troubled building that houses much of Portland’s bureaucracy. If it does, it will have to replace 15 stories of too-steep stairs, and widen restroom stalls for the disabled on 13 floors. Most egregious: a three-level dining area with most tables reachable only by stairs.

The Portland Building's bathroom stalls have been identified by the city as an ADA violation. But Ian Ruder sees a bigger problem.

Most of the tables in the Portland Building's dining area are off limits to people in wheelchairs.


C. Director Park

Barriers: 51

Estimated cost of upgrades: $37,095

The city says all 21 dining tables at this 2009 plaza need to be replaced because they don’t offer enough leg room and the tables’ posts block access for people in wheelchairs. “My knees are kind of bumping into it,” Ruder says of a table. “I’ve seen worse, but it’s definitely not ideal.”

Ruder explains what's wrong with the dining tables in Director Park.


D. Providence Park

Barriers: 446

Estimated cost of upgrades: $825,000 to $1.1 million

The city says few of the ramps and walkways in the Timbers’ stadium meet ADA standards. The Timbers declined to comment. City officials say Providence Park includes many new ADA-compliant changes, but old parts of the stadium—such as ramps that are too steep—may be too difficult and expensive to ever fix.

Ruder, who covered Portland Beavers’ games at the stadium from 2004 to 2009, says getting to and from the stadium’s lower bowl was often difficult.


E. Laurelhurst Park

Barriers: 357

Estimated cost of upgrades: $578,335

The only way to get to the park’s playground and horseshoe pits and most of its picnic tables is by traveling over dirt and grass. It’s 113 feet to the basketball courts from the nearest path—probably impassible for a wheelchair after rain. “It’d be easy to fix the problem here,” Ruder says. “There’s just no paved or maintained access.”

The basketball courts in Laurehurst Park are surrounded by grass and dirt.

One of Laurelhurst Park's best features is a disabled-access picnic table. But it's hard to reach.

 
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