After settling two accessibility-related lawsuits in a year, Colorado Springs is making new efforts to bring the city into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
As part of the settlement for one of the lawsuits, the city is required to host quarterly forums to provide updates and receive citizen feedback. Accessible parking, handicap stalls, curb ramps and more were among the improvements touted by Colorado Springs’ Accessibility Manager Rob Hernandez at the city’s more recent accessibility forum. The forums are organized by the city’s Office of Accessibility, which is creating a transition plan that evaluates all of the city’s properties and notes where improvements are needed.
While years of non-compliance left many frustrated, and restricted access for people with disabilities, the recent progress is a welcome change for some community members.
“I wish it were done faster but the city is pretty large,” said Patricia Yeager, who heads the nonprofit Independence Center, which advocates for people with disabilities in the Pikes Peak region. “The fact that they’re doing a plan and following through with it is music to my ears.”
The transition plan is due by 2021 and evaluates hundreds of city properties, including 164 parks, 937 bus stops, 22 fire stations and 120 facility and administration buildings. The plan also evaluates the city’s airport, cemeteries, golf courses and facilities atop Pikes Peak.
Individual city departments are largely responsible for funding needed improvements, and completing each project noted in the transition plan could take up to 15 years, Hernandez said.
In order to make the newly-compliant facilities accessible, the city is installing curb ramps and improving sidewalks, mostly using funds raised by a 2015 voter-approved sales tax increase for road maintenance.
Federal law requires that anytime the city works on a road, its sidewalks and curb ramps must be evaluated for accessibility, and brought up to code if necessary, Director of Public Works Travis Easton said.
“Our main goal is to get in there and maintain the road,” Easton said. “If there’s pedestrian ramps there, we’re going to make sure they’re compliant.”
The second lawsuit settlement requires the city to install 15,400 curb ramps — an average of 1,100 new curb ramps each year for 14 years. The city now averages about 1,300 new curb ramp installations a year, which cost about $4,500 each, Easton said.
Easton said that projects are “ahead of schedule and right on budget,” and hopes that voters will reward that progress in 2020 when city officials seek to renew the roads tax. If not, meeting the requirements of the lawsuit will be a lot harder, he said.
If the tax isn’t renewed, the city would have to rely on its general fund, the Pikes Peak Rural Transit Authority, or in some cases, private developers, Easton said.
All of the projects are aimed at making the city available to everyone, Hernandez said. It may take years to reach full accessibility, but city officials maintain these projects are quickly bringing Colorado Springs up to federal standards.
“We’re doing leaps and bounds in improvements,” Hernandez said.