Residents express safety, aesthetic concerns about ramp design
By Ann McCreary
Plans for new accessible pedestrian ramps at each corner of the four-way stop in Winthrop drew criticism, concern and some support when state transportation officials presented their ideas to the community last week.
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) held a public open house prior to the Winthrop Council’s Aug. 17 meeting to let community members view the crosswalk and ramp design, and discuss the plans with WSDOT staff members. About 30 people attended the open house.
The proposed new ramps at the intersection of Riverside Avenue and Bridge Street are part of a project that will pave State Route 20 through Winthrop next spring. Federal law requires that WSDOT upgrade the existing sidewalk curb ramps to meet standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as part of the $1.3 million paving project.
The proposed design would create “bulb-outs” at each corner — bulb-shaped ramps that adjoin the existing boardwalks. The concrete ramps gradually rise to the level of the boardwalks to comply with ADA slope requirements.
WSDOT has held meetings with Winthrop’s Westernization Architectural Committee and town officials since February to come up with a design that meets federal requirements and blends with the town’s western theme, said Dan Lewis, project engineer, in a presentation at the council meeting.
The concrete of the ramps will be colored and stamped with a wood plank pattern to look similar to the existing wooden boardwalks, he said.
Some downtown business owners, however, said the ramp structures were too large and inconsistent with the town’s Western theme, and questioned whether pedestrians would walk within the designated crosswalks.
The design places the ramps alongside the boardwalks at the intersection, rather than at the end of the boardwalks. That means the new painted crosswalks would not be directly in front of the existing boardwalks, requiring pedestrians who step off the boardwalks to move a few steps to the right or left to be within the crosswalks.
Doug Mohre, owner of Sheri’s Sweet Shoppe, predicted that pedestrians would cross outside the painted area.
“You’re taking able-bodied people and putting them out where there is no crosswalk,” said Mohre.
“We looked at putting ramps off the crosswalks, but they would extend into the driving lane. We were restricted to putting them on the side,” Lewis said.
“We looked at numerous designs but this was the only one that could meet standards and fit,” he said. “Typically if people see a striped crosswalk they will walk into it. It gives them a sense of security.”
In addition to providing wheelchair-accessible ramps, the new crosswalk design improves pedestrian safety, he said.
The curved area of the sidewalk ramp that extends beyond the boardwalk provides a “refuge” for pedestrians, and indicates to motorists that the pedestrians intend to cross, Lewis said. The design also shortens the distance between the sidewalk ramps, reducing the time that pedestrians are crossing the street by five or six seconds.
The design also had to accommodate passage of large trailer trucks up to 67 feet long without jeopardizing pedestrian or vehicle traffic, he said.
Mohre, a former WSDOT employee, asked whether WSDOT had other design alternatives, and said the proposed design “destroys the aesthetics of this intersection, which is one of the most photographed intersections in Washington.”
“We’re trying to compromise as much as we can, to make it blend in as much as we can,” Lewis said.
Bart Bradshaw, who owns an accounting business downtown, urged the council “to stall this out” and ask WSDOT for additional designs. “I’d like to see a less intrusive design,” he said. “In my opinion this doesn’t meet the Westernization ordinance. I think we can meet all ADA requirements with a more thoughtful design.”
Lewis said WSDOT engineers developed the design as a result of input from town officials during meetings over the past six months. “We tried to engage the community,” he said.
He said engineers tried to keep the bulb-outs as small as possible, while creating uniformity among the structures on all four corners of the intersection.
One designated parking spot in front of Three Fingered Jack’s Saloon would be eliminated, and a strip of town-owned land next to Jack’s would become inaccessible when the bulb-out is built. Owners Mike and Lisa Clayton said that area has been used for motorcycle parking and for the trash dumpster in winter.
Some people wondered who would be responsible for clearing snow off the ramps. Lewis said the town’s policy toward clearing sidewalks would apply to the ramps next to businesses.
The plans got positive feedback from Steve Oulman, who said he has a background in planning.
“I think what WSDOT brought to you is adequate to good,” Oulman told the council. “Pedestrians are the lifeblood of the town … this a great addition and improvement to downtown. I would encourage you to move forward on this.”
WSDOT needs to finalize the design by Sept. 5, because the project will be advertised for bid on Oct. 3, Lewis said.
Council members suggested WSDOT work toward some adjustments in the design based on public comment.
“We get lots of comments about ADA lack of compliance. I think there are some things [in the design] that they need to tweak — reduce the bulb-outs as much as possible,” said Rick Northcott.
Mike Strulic said his considerations focus on safety, functionality and aesthetics.
“Aesthetics comes in third. The main concern is making this functional and keeping people safe. I think some things could be tinkered with,” he said.
“We’re going to do what we can to tighten up the design of those ramps, “ Lewis said in an interview after the council meeting.
“What we hear from the community is they understand the need for ADA compliance but they would like something that has as small of an impact to the community as possible and fits in with the western theme of the community,” Lewis said.
WSDOT engineers asked the town officials to decide soon on the color and stamp pattern they want for the concrete to make the ramps mesh with the adjacent boardwalks.
Lewis said coloring the concrete and creating the wood-like pattern adds to the cost of the project. “This is a very critical location to the community so we’re willing to absorb some of the additional cost to match the context of this community,” he said.
“In the meantime we’re going to minimize the footprint,” Lewis said. He said two of the sidewalk ramps — the ones next to Sheri’s Sweet Shoppe and the Visitor Information Center — could be reduced in size because the ramp slope there is not as steep as on the other two corners.
“We will send it [the revised design] back to the City Council and Westernization committee to take one final review of it,” Lewis said.
The project will pave a two-mile stretch of Highway 20 through town, from just west of the intersection of the state highway and Rader Road to just east of the KOA Campground.
The work includes grinding out existing asphalt and repaving with a hot mix asphalt overlay. The majority of funding for the project is federal money, Lewis said.
Construction is planned to begin at the end of March. “We’re hoping to wrap up in early May by ’49er Days, but that is all contingent on weather,” Lewis said.