Preface: I am not an ADA “activist”, but I believe I can provide a constructive voice that just might help developers, architects and government officials fix access problems before they happen. So I will be writing about issues, both positive and negative, that I encounter around San Diego.
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When the San Diego Naval training Center was converted into Liberty Station, the original historic buildings became the NTC Promenade, an amazing new center for arts, culture, science and technology. I was president of the San Diego Watercolor Society at the time and we were thrilled to become part of this complex.
However, due to a combination of missed opportunities and the challenges of dealing with city and community organizations, there was one notable exception: to cross the 60-foot wide street next to our gallery (Dewey Road) and get to the studios on the other side required a wheelchair to travel nearly 1/4 mile and make three street crossings. When I brought this to the attention of the management of the NTC Promenade, their Director of Operations, Lew Witherspoon, invited me to meet with him to review the next phase of their expansion into the original barracks buildings so that this kind of problem could be avoided.
Before doing so, I took another look at the already completed portion of the barracks (not part of the NTC Promenade but part of the overall Liberty Station development), and discovered an even more unfortunate lack of access.
Running down the middle of the former barracks – now businesses and retail – is a beautiful mall more than two football fields long. Crossing the mall every hundred feet or so are sidewalks connecting the mall to buildings on either side. Those sidewalks end in steps that a wheelchair would not be able to negotiate. For me in a power chair, it was a simple matter to retrace my path and travel 200 yards to get to the supermarket from the mall. But if I were in a manual wheelchair it could be an exhausting problem. And if it was raining and the only shelter was blocked by a step, it would be very frustrating.
The really disturbing thing was when we took a tour of the future development of the NTC Promenade barracks buildings we saw the very same thing could happen. Fortunately, since the Operations Director had offered to include me in the planning, there is a better chance that the mistakes made in Liberty Station will not be repeated in the NTC Promenade.
It turns out the solution could be very simple. Although the central part of the mall has already been landscaped and the sidewalks are in place, they end about 20 feet short of the raised sidewalks inside the archways of the barracks buildings. This gives room to slope the new sidewalk to meet the grade of the existing building walkways, at very little extra cost.
So thank you Lew Witherspoon of NTC Promenade for letting me represent the needs of the physically disabled community — before the concrete is poured!