PHOTO: Truncated domes are seen at the corner of East Park Drive and Maryland Way on April 17 in Brentwood, Tenn. / Photo by Rachael Long
By RACHAEL LONG
The City of Brentwood is setting off on a project to make Brentwood more accessible to the disabled community.
To that end, city staff have budgeted $700,000 for retrofits of public spaces to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Governments found not in compliance with the ADA may not be eligible for funding from the federal government, but city engineer Mike Harris says that’s not why Brentwood is investing in the upgrades.
“The real intent is to accommodate people,” Harris said. “It’s not just compliance with the law, but it’s about accommodating the public and doing what’s best for the community at large.”
The first $100,000 is set aside for the proposed FY 2020 budget, and the remaining funds are parceled into three installments of $200,000 each for the next three years.
There are some guidelines that make a structure ADA compliant, according to its design standards. Rules also exist for how to go about planning retrofits, such as the installation of an ADA Coordinator, guidelines for complaints and grievance procedures, and a published notice of non-discrimination.
It also requires the city to have a “Transition Plan,” which documents all the areas that may pose a challenge to a person with disabilities. The identified deficiencies will then be prioritized in terms of areas most trafficked, Harris said.
The plan, Harris said, is due to the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) by the end of the year and will go before the City Commission for public comment before it is finalized.
One example of a city retrofit has already begun, Harris said. Wherever new developments or road work is done, Harris says the city has already begun installing truncated domes on sidewalk corners. Truncated domes, also known as tactile paving, are textured surfaces installed to alert visually impaired or disabled people that they are about the step into a street.
Harris says the city has also been trying to install traffic signals for pedestrians with a longer allotted crossing time, so as to enhance the safety of elderly walkers or people who cannot cross the road as quickly.
“Every time we redo a signal or put in a new signal, we make sure it complies with the new walking rate or speed,” Harris said.
Harris also said pedestrian traffic signals have now been engineered that make a sound or vibrate so as to signal to someone visually or auditory impaired that’s its time to cross the street.
“Most of us look at the little symbol and you see it counting down,” Harris said. “Well someone who couldn’t see, they might hear this chirping noise and it will get faster, so that lets them know, ‘I’d better hurry up.’”
While the ADA was enacted in 1990, many cities have recently begun to create Transition Plans. Nearby cities with a Transition Plan in place include Spring Hill, Franklin, and Gallatin. In Brentwood’s case, Harris said the city’s desire to increase accessibility could be due to the aging population and its need for increased ADA compliance.
“I think when the law was first enacted, most places looked at it as, ‘If someone has an issue, we’ll address it,’” Harris said. “But I think what you’re seeing now is people becoming more proactive in trying to address this.”
While creating the Transition Plan is new to the city, Harris said the designated ADA Coordinator, Mike Worsham, and the grievance procedures have been in place for quite some time.
“If you go back several years, you’ll see that note about accommodation is on the public meetings notices,” Harris said.
The note he referred to can be found on any City Commission agenda or other public meeting notice, and says: “Anyone requesting accommodations due to disabilities should contact Mike Worsham, A.D.A. Coordinator, at 371-0060, before the meeting.”
Having a grievance procedure in place, Harris said, is important because it gives people a mechanism to make a governmental entity aware that they are having trouble accessing its services.
“There could be some other types of disabilities that come along that we haven’t even considered,” Harris said, noting that disabilities are vast and complex. “You would call the department or someone at the city and say, ‘Hey, I have this disability, and I’d like to be able to do X or Y, can you help me?’ And to the best of our ability, we should help them.”
ADA compliance doesn’t always look like physical changes to buildings, Harris said. It can also include the addition of signage directing people to options for accessibility such as a handicap restroom, hearing aids or a written copy of meeting minutes. In some cases, if a government building is too old or has historic significance which cannot be altered, Harris says it is also acceptable to hold the meeting elsewhere.
Public Works will be in charge of several of the roadway improvements, but Harris says the retrofitting may be a multi-departmental effort, depending on where the retrofits need to be made.
Either way, it won’t be a quick process, and Harris says there’s no timeline according to the law on how quickly the improvements must be made. But with large amounts of money set aside for the next four fiscal years, it’s safe to say the city is preparing to get the job done.
“It’s a significant investment, I think,” Harris said. “When you look at Brentwood and the number of trails that we have and that traffic is always a big concern, we feel like making areas more pedestrian friendly is an important thing for the community.”
For more information about the city’s ADA accessibility, contact Mike Worsham with the City of Brentwood at 615-371-0060, or visit the city website here.