WENATCHEE — When Chris Gilman walks her dog, she can’t leave her block. She's lived in her home near First Street and North Emerson Avenue for 40 years, and in her wheelchair, the surrounding sidewalks are either impossible or too dangerous for her to navigate.
At 80, she doesn’t see herself driving her wheelchair van for more than five years and worries the accessibility issues won’t be fixed by then. She can't access the bus stops near her house without going into the street where traffic is.
“I'm so discouraged right now,” she said Thursday. “I went out for a walk this morning, and it's really hard to just be able to go a little way, and then by the time I get on my way back home, I'm starting to resent the fact that nobody really wants to help.”
Issues like those in Gilman's neighborhood are widespread across Wenatchee, but the city is developing plans and a timeline to address them and make the sidewalk network accessible through its ADA transition plan, said city engineer Gary Owen.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including local government services. The ADA requires that sidewalks have curb ramps at pedestrian crossings and some transportation stops to make those areas safe for people using mobility devices to navigate.
The transition plan, which will include many individual projects throughout Wenatchee, aims to bring the city's sidewalk network up to the standards established by the ADA. The timeline for implementing the plan is still unclear, as it depends on the magnitude of barriers to accessibility and available funding.
Jacob Huylar, engineering services manager for the city, said the city hopes to have the plan completed in the next 12 months. It will focus on curb ramps initially and will be updated as progress is made on non-compliant ramps to focus on other accessibility issues.
Currently, the city has 1,717 identified curb ramps, not all of which meet ADA standards, Huylar said, and those 1,717 don’t include any street corners in the city that don’t have curb ramps at all.
He said the cost of all the projects included in the transition plan is difficult to quantify, but for perspective, when the city replaced 185 curb ramps as part of its 2020 Pavement Preservation project, each ramp cost approximately $6,500.
“It’s a great big deal,” Owen said of ADA compliance issues in Wenatchee and across the nation. “It’s not going to be solved for a long time because there’s not enough money for it.”
Huylar said projects that will be in the ADA transition plan are funded by both grant and local funds. Funding sources for recent Wenatchee projects include the Community Development Block Grant, Transportation Improvement Board, Safe Routes to School and Surface Transportation Program.
The city is currently assessing the sidewalk network citywide to find where things don’t meet standards, and plans to assemble a committee of community members to assist in determining high-priority areas to address, Owen said.
Until the city has the transition plan set up, sidewalk maintenance is a complaint-driven system, and the city deals with issues of accessibility on a case-by-case basis.
Joshua Hackney, community advocate and assistant director of Central Washington Disability Resources, said transportation accessibility has come a long way since the ADA became law in 1990, but things like sidewalks still have a long way to go. The best way to advocate for greater accessibility, according to Hackney, is to talk to city officials.
"One voice necessarily doesn't always carry weight, but when you have signatures and a lot of voices, it does," he said. "Where it starts is the voice, and for somebody to come to you and say, 'Hey, I've been facing these barriers. I want to advocate and I want to get my voice out there. I want the community to know the barriers that people with disabilities face.'"
Gilman said she’d be interested in participating in a committee to give feedback to the city, but for now, she’s fed up with trying to get help and will believe the city’s plans to make her neighborhood more accessible when she sees results.
She said she’s contacted the city numerous times, but struggled to find the right outlet to file her complaint and was told by employees that the issue wasn’t under their jurisdiction or that it couldn’t be fixed to code. Owen, the city engineer, said her requests didn't sound familiar.
“It's just not worth it to me anymore,” Gilman said. “It was at one time, but now it's just sort of like, well that's the way it is, and that's how it's gonna stay.”