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The Sidewalk Doesn’t End: Making Work Zones Accessible for Everyone

Sustainable Raleigh Spotlight Feature

News posted Aug. 19, 2016 - 12:20 pm
Shipping Container Walkway

The sidewalk belongs to everyone. The concrete pathways lining our streets represent the liveliness and inclusiveness of our cities. But Raleigh’s sidewalks are often disrupted by construction and maintenance. For pedestrians, construction zones can make safe passage a chore. And for developers and contractors, accommodating pedestrians can seem impossible in tight, urban spaces.

“Coming out of the recession, we’ve seen a huge uptick in urban redevelopment and infill,” said Paul Kallam, City Engineering Manager in the Development Engineering Services division. “Everything’s coming back downtown.”

Kallam said that there’s been growing pains for everyone as urban development increases. One of the big challenges is accessibility in work zones.

Fortunately, Kallam and his team are experimenting with solutions. On Aug. 24 and 25 they are hosting an event for developers, contractors, engineers, architects, land planners, and City staff to brainstorm and share best practices.

“It’s new for all of us,” he said. “So we really want to get an open dialogue going and challenge each other with feedback.”

The training will be led by Melissa Anderson, the U.S. Access Board’s Transportation Engineer. Anderson has 17 years of transportation planning with a focus on accessibility for pedestrians.

Kallam said that for years the City and developers didn’t fully address the barriers that construction sites added to pedestrian’s pathways. Because new construction usually took place in suburban areas, where pedestrian traffic was low, there wasn’t much focus on accessibility.

“We had construction zones that pushed people out into the streets,” said Kallam. “Or they re-routed the sidewalk far away from the area.”

Construction sites can be especially difficult for those with disabilities.

Public spaces are required by the American Disabilities Act (ADA) to accommodate individuals with disabilities. Kallam attends the ADA’s annual conferences, and every year brings more of his staff with him.

“We get so many good ideas at the conference,” said Kallam. “We are bringing more and more awareness about accessibility to the City. “

For example, the City is working with developers to design unique pathways for pedestrians through construction sites. Some teams used shipping containers as a tunnel. A two-year construction project in North Raleigh lined up containers to create a 300-foot path outfitted with windows and railings. Some work zones have even painted murals on the containers.

“We’re open to partnering with community artists to spruce them up,” said Kallam.

The shipping containers are just one example of alternative routes for pedestrians. Kallam said that every site is different, so there’s not one model for safe passage.

“We’re always trying new things,” he said. “We keep chipping away at it. And we’re learning all the time.”

Kallam and his staff compiled a guide to accessibility in active work zones with best practices and lessons learned.

This Sustainable Raleigh Spotlight is one in a series of City of Raleigh sustainability stories.

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