First, some background: the ADA is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. It is also a civil rights law ensuring that people with disabilities have equal rights and opportunities. Thanks to the ADA, all public entities need to ensure their services, programs, or activities are accessible to people with disabilities.
At SDOT, our ADA Program is responsible for planning and making improvements that help people of all abilities have access to Seattle’s sidewalks. Our infrastructure includes elements like sidewalks, parking, transit stops, and more. Features such as curb ramps, detectable warnings, and street crossings are important parts of making our pedestrian network accessible.
Many of our accessibility improvements, such as sidewalk repairs, new curb ramps, and accessible pedestrian signals, are made possible through the Levy to Move Seattle. Large Levy-funded projects, like the ones we recently completed on 15th Ave S and 15th Ave NE, also contain a variety of accessibility improvements. Thanks to you, we can make Seattle a better and safer place to walk and roll.
A curb ramp is a slope cut into the sidewalk down to the level of the street. Curb ramps help people using wheelchair and other mobility aids to move from sidewalks into crosswalks or other parts of the street. Curb ramps also feature a high contrast (typically yellow), raised, tactile surface. These surfaces alert people with visual disabilities that a pedestrian area is transitioning to a potential hazard area, such as a street crossing, parking area, or transit boarding location.
Our goal is to add at least 1,250 accessible curb ramps to Seattle sidewalks each year. This year, we’re on pace to significantly exceed that goal and have already built nearly 1,000 curb ramps. Many of these curb ramps are built as a part of major paving projects, for example last year we built nearly 450 curb ramps as a part of the Green Lake and Wallingford multimodal improvements project. We also build at least 150 curb ramps each year based on requests from the public. Most of this work is funded by the Levy to Move Seattle, and we also require private developers to build accessible curb ramps as a part of any private construction which they are performing on the sidewalk.
There are eight standard curb ramp designs. But more often than not, a standard curb ramp isn’t feasible given the layout or topography of the street, or other impediments such as utility infrastructure or limited space in the public right-of-way. In this case, we use a combination of options to improve accessibility, including (but not limited to):
What makes a sidewalk accessible? A lot of things! For a sidewalk to be usable by people of all abilities, it needs to be:
We also sometimes add additional tactile features on sidewalks and walking paths. These help people to remain in the designated paths and out of the way of bikes, vehicles, or transit.
The majority of new sidewalks in Seattle are constructed through private development. When we do build new sidewalks, such as through the New Sidewalks Levy-funded program, we build them to strict standards of accessibility.
When it comes to the city’s currently existing sidewalks and curbs, our Sidewalk Repair Program oversees the maintenance. However, adjacent property owners share with the City the responsibility to keep sidewalks in good repair and safe for public travel. This includes keeping sidewalks clear of obstructions like vegetation overgrowth or snow and ice.
In the first two quarters of 2022, we’ve completed more than 11,000 sidewalk spot improvements funded by the Levy to Move Seattle’s sidewalk repair program. We also complete sidewalk improvements through other programs too, including all major paving projects. Improvements and repairs include placing a small patch of asphalt over cracks or uplifts on sidewalks to create a smooth surface or repair curbs.
Accessible Pedestrian Signals make street crossings more usable for people who have low vision, are blind, or are Deaf-Blind. Many features go into making the push button accessible, including:
Our ADA program aims to install accessible pedestrian signals in at least 10 locations every year. We often choose these locations based on requests we receive through our customer service request process. Generally, our priority is to install APS devices in areas where they will benefit the greatest number of people with disabilities.
Do you want to discuss how SDOT can improve your mobility around the Seattle’s streets and sidewalks? Do you need more curb ramps in your neighborhood? Do you like the tactile features on your nearby walking path? Is there anything else that might make you feel more safe or comfortable traveling through your community?
We want to hear from you. Please send your comments to SDOT ADA Coordinator Tom Hewitt at 206-615-1974 or by email at [email protected]. Finally, you may make an ADA request online here.
Beyond it just being a legal requirement, we strive to improve accessibility and inclusion within the public right-of-way because it’s the right thing to do. And our pedestrian infrastructure is just one area we do this work in—there are many others not covered in this blog post.
In alignment with our key values and goals – equity, sustainability, livability, mobility, safety, and excellence – we’re going to keep working with you, Seattle community members, to learn how we can do better and improve accessibility in all our projects.
Check out some additional resources below to learn more about the past, present, and future of accessibility work at SDOT:
Thank you for taking the time to learn more about these accessibility measures! Public awareness and understanding of ADA standards are an important part of helping to make Seattle more accessible for everyone.
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The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is on a mission to deliver a transportation system that provides safe and affordable access to places and opportunities for everyone as we work to achieve our vision of Seattle as a thriving, equitable community powered by dependable transportation.