More than 15 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act required local governments to build wheelchair friendly sidewalks, a plan is in the works to bring the Spokane Valley into compliance.
At its meeting Tuesday, the City Council heard its options to fixing sidewalks and keeping them cleared of snow.
The discussion came after complaints in January by a group representing the disabled said many parts of the city are impassable in a wheelchair. The group threatened legal action against the city if it didn’t fix the problem.
In the years following ADA’s passage in 1990, local governments around the country took a mandatory inventory of their public facilities and drafted plans to make them accessible. But city officials are unsure how much, if any, of that work was completed by Spokane County before Spokane Valley incorporated.
“We haven’t been able to find that,” City Attorney Mike Connelly told the council.
Spokane Valley is now responsible for the inventory as well as a long-term plan to bring all of the city’s buildings and sidewalks into compliance.
New developments and any upgrades to existing sidewalks must be accessible, he said, though the law does not require that new sidewalks be built on the miles of residential Spokane Valley streets that don’t have them.
Another issue before the council is keeping sidewalks usable in the winter.
The city’s nuisance ordinance requires that they be shoveled, but it doesn’t cite offenders unless there is a complaint. By the time the city follows its code enforcement procedures, the snow has often melted.
Complicating the issue is a number of streets where a sidewalk sits beside the adjacent property owner’s back fence.
“To expect a homeowner to climb the fence to clear the snow would probably be too much,” said Councilman Rich Munson.
He suggested the city identify high traffic sidewalks like those leading to schools and said he was interested in what it would cost for the city to clear them.
More systematic enforcement in retail areas could keep busy streets in front of businesses clear, said Councilman Steve Taylor.
After talking about ways to tighten the city’s enforcement of snow shoveling, the council told staff members to research how other cities deal with the issue. The staff also will continue working on a transition plan to upgrade the city’s sidewalks over the next several years.
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