July 30, 2008
City repairing two walkways to help handicapped persons
Two Tallahassee sidewalks will become safer for people with disabilities.
City workers Tuesday neared completion of a detour around a sidewalk-blocking oak tree in the 1400 block of North Martin Luther King Boulevard. And the county has agreed to repair a mile of cracked and uneven sidewalk along Ross Road.
Both had become impassable for people in wheelchairs and people with impaired sight, forcing them to use the road and dodge auto traffic.
The city agreed to fix the sidewalk on Martin Luther King after getting calls from disability advocates and residents of the Levy Park/Sunniland neighborhood. The county agreed to repair the Ross Road sidewalk after residents in two Goodwill Industries-sponsored complexes, Oakridge Village (disabled) and Oakridge Townhomes (elderly), threatened a lawsuit.
“People were getting injured,” said JR Harding, an Americans With Disabilities Act consultant. “I’m pleased to say sometimes government does something right, and this is one of those times.”
The decades-old sidewalk at Martin Luther King and Seventh Avenue originally was level beside the oak. But over time, the roots buckled and cracked the sidewalk and damaged the water lines of two adjacent homes.
The city won easements from the two property owners to curve the sidewalk into their yards, in exchange for rebuilding the water lines and paving driveways for both homes. The project cost $15,000.
“My wheelchair turned over a couple times (on that sidewalk),” said Robert Lee Lewis, a disabled pastor who travels Martin Luther King in an electric wheelchair to buy groceries at Publix. “There are many sidewalks in this neighborhood that need to be straightened out. But this is a start.”
Ross Road, which is outside city limits, connects Woodville and Crawfordville roads. Many residents in the Oakridge complexes do not drive, and they use the sidewalk to visit a nearby grocery. But tree roots, crossing driveways and weather have turned the 25-year-old sidewalk into a hodgepodge of shifting elevations, broken pavement, grass and sand.
Oakridge Village resident Steven Lines circulated a petition, signed by 67 of the 100 residents in the two complexes. The nonprofit North Florida Center for Equal Justice agreed to represent them in a lawsuit against the county for not complying with the ADA. But the suit was forestalled when the county agreed July 18 to repair the sidewalk. Construction is expected to be complete Dec. 1 and cost $100,000 to $150,000.
“We had to use the law to threaten them a little bit,” said Lines, whose girlfriend, Michelle Harrison, had become afraid to use her wheelchair along Ross Road. “But I’m glad they’ve agreed to fix the sidewalk. It’s been dangerous out there a long time.”
DEMOCRAT SENIOR WRITER