Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Inclusive Planning and Design: A Dollars and Sense Issue

A common mistake in public and private infrastructure development is what I call 'planning behind.' That is, fixing mistakes made by not anticipating the needs or consequences involving a project or design in the planning stages. One common mistake involves building or permitting single-family homes that aren't visitable by potential tenants (or neighbors) that use wheelchairs. Adding a ramp to an existing home can costs thousands of dollars and rarely looks good, while designing a home with one zero-step entrance and an accessible bathroom on the ground floor can cost no more than an inaccessible design.

Planning behind is always more expensive and less satisfying than planning ahead with the right people at the table; this includes end users of all abilities, neighbors and anyone impacted by the project. Not every user moves through the natural and built environment the same way, so it pays to have a cross-section of residents and users sharing their perspectives up front.

Example: This bike offramp is intended to keep cyclists out of roundabout traffic. It routes bikes from the roadway to the sidewalk; once they use the crosswalk there’s an on-ramp to move them back to the road.


For a pedestrian who is blind or low-vision and uses a cane, the design is a problem. This pedestrian ‘tracks right,’ using her cane to follow the right edge of the walkway to stay on track. The slight angle of the ramp seems normal at first, and the lack of any tactile change at the roadway means she is well into the oncoming traffic lane and into the raised lane divider before she realizes something is wrong. For this roundabout design there are four such ramps. The day we visited the Warm Springs corridor, we noticed several inattentive drivers on cellphones; at an intersection to the west of this location, several cars flew right through the flashing pedestrian signal. With a silent electric vehicle, there is no warning that a collision is imminent. It’s critical for planners and designers to include a variety of users with different perspectives to review and contribute to designs affecting connectivity, visit ability and safety. We should note that several people were watching traffic to ensure her safety. Her goal was simply to follow the sidewalk heading west as she would normally navigate with a cane. More videos from this Barber Valley Access Audit to follow. The full video is part of a larger project of the Idaho Access Project.