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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
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Accessibility at forefront for Cedar Rapids six years after ADA compliance settlement
City has spent $34 million to improve infrastructure accessibility
CEDAR RAPIDS — The city of Cedar Rapids has spent $34 million to bring public sidewalks, parks and other facilities into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act since executing a settlement agreement with the U.S. Justice Department in 2015 to eliminate physical and communication barriers in city infrastructure.
Cedar Rapids was among more than 200 local governments the Justice Department targeted as part of Project Civic Access, an initiative to make city infrastructure, facilities and programs more accessible and bring them in compliance with the 1990 federal law.
The Justice Department closed the file in 2019 after the city requested an extension to have more time to complete the work as Cedar Rapids had shown documented progress. Staff have continued working since then to address a checklist of deficiencies in its infrastructure, including its website.
What’s happened since
The settlement agreement has brought accessibility “to the forefront” of city processes, City Program Manager April Wing said.
The biggest expense as part of the settlement agreement involves reconstructing all non-compliant curb ramps that have been constructed or altered since Jan. 26, 1992, when the ADA went into effect.
Wing said staff identified 4,322 curb ramps as needing to be reconstructed — including sidewalk curbs that have no ramps at all, or sidewalk curbs with pre-existing ramps that are out of compliance with current standards.
To date, the city has repaired 3,897 of those curb ramps and spent about $15.8 million on that alone. Tim Mroch, capital improvement projects program manager, said the rest are slated to be completed next year.
“This curb ramp replacement repair is basically going to become a recurring program every year where we’ll go out and continue to tackle those ramps that need to be repaired,” Mroch said.
The Public Works Department also has been coordinating with the Transit Division on design for a number of ADA transit stop upgrades, Mroch said. A project will be bid in early 2022 for construction starting in the spring.
Plus, the city is updating to accessible pedestrian signals whenever signals need replacement or are added as part of construction, Wing said.
See the ADA improvements
The city’s website, cedar-rapids.org, shows the ADA improvements. A map with locations of completed curb ramps and ramps that are pending replacement is available on the Public Works ADA Accessibility page. A list of locations of accessible pedestrian signals can be found on the Traffic Engineering page.
Cedar Rapids has worked on updating parks by quadrant, so northeast and northwest quadrant parks are completed — including Twin Pines Golf Course and the new ADA-compliant Mini Pines miniature course, as well as Ellis Harbor, said Facilities Maintenance Supervisor Jeff Koffron. That facility next spring will launch a barrier-free dock system with fully accessible loading into boats, kayaks and canoes.
The city will look to start on the southeast and southwest quadrant parks next year.
Cedar Rapids also has completed work on high-use facilities such as Veterans Memorial Stadium, the ImOn Ice Arena and the Alliant Energy PowerHouse, and on both public library branches. Work is underway on the Ground Transportation Center, Paramount Theatre, Animal Care and Control facility and more.
ADA-upgraded city facilities
• Parks in northwest and northeast quadrants
• Veterans Memorial Stadium
• ImOn Ice Arena
• Alliant Energy PowerHouse
• Libraries (Downtown & Ladd)
• City Hall
• City Services Center
• Police Station
• Water Administration
• Water Pollution Control
• Skywalks and parking ramps
Projects currently under construction
• Ground Transportation Center
• Transit Bus Garage
• Paramount Theatre
• Animal Control
Projects to be completed in upcoming years
• Parks in southwest and southeast quadrants
• Fire Stations (Central, No. 3 & No. 7)
• Veterans Memorial Building
• Third Avenue & 5 Seasons parking ramps
• Other water facilities
Koffron said making sure facilities are compliant involves a variety of things — including checks of the parking lots, amenities inside a facility such as restrooms, and routes into and throughout a building.
“There’s literally hundreds, if not thousands of different items that we check — everything from door weights and pressures, closing speeds, latch speeds,” Koffron said.
The city’s ADA Advisory Committee, which has met since 2012, has an opportunity to preview the improvements and take trips to each site to see the updates, Wing said. Oftentimes, she said, Koffron will show committee members upcoming changes while a project is in the design phase so they can offer input.
As new facilities come online, Wing said the city now makes sure they are accessible. Staff take pictures and measurements, and match that with a transition plan from the city’s accessibility consultants to have proof that everything was compliant. And an engineering specialist checks for compliance on all things in public right of way areas.
Contractors do not receive their final payments for projects financed by Cedar Rapids until there is an audit making sure it is fully accessible, Koffron said.
Additionally, Wing said the city’s website is checked annually for compliance, and those audits turn up things for the city to fix. Content editors are trained on ADA so, for example, they know to include a description when uploading a picture so that if someone is unable to see, the individual can tell what they are clicking on.
Under the settlement agreement, Wing said all city employees who interact with residents were required to complete a four-hour training.
The city did that for four years and then came up with its own program of ADA training requirements, where everybody has an annual one-hour basic ADA training. Each department then has its own continuing education requirements, Wing said. Workers satisfy those requirements tailored to their department and then submit those to human resources. They typically receive four hours of training every two years.
Mroch said the city has received citizen feedback expressing appreciation for the improvements. Before the settlement agreement, Wing said the city team assumed that everything was built in line with the ADA, but it turned out to be somewhat of a blessing to see there was work to be done.
“From the agreement, it really opened our eyes and brought a whole awareness and perspective to the importance of ensuring that our programs and facilities were all accessible,” Wing said. “I think now, we clearly are a lot more knowledgeable, we have way better processes in place and (are) a lot more intentional with our new projects and our programs.”
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