Sometimes it takes a fire alarm to get attention. When an alarm rang through City Council Chambers at Boise City Hall on Aug. 30, one citizen took the opportunity to bend the ear of Council President Elaine Clegg as everyone exited the building. For the record, there was no fire, but what the citizen told Clegg was alarming nonetheless. He recounted to her a scene in which he spotted a woman using a wheelchair unable to reach a crosswalk button at State Street and Veterans Parkway/36th Street.
The timing couldn't have been more ironic. At the moment the fire alarm went off, the City Council was getting an update on pending transportation projects—near the top of the wish list the city would soon send to the Ada County Highway District were improved street crossings on State Street.
After everyone was allowed back in City Hall and Clegg gaveled the council workshop back into session, she shared what she had just heard from the citizen who approached her.
"He told me that he spotted a woman in a wheelchair that was unable to reach the button and was unable to get the crosswalk turned for her. The man watched her quite a while and when he was finally able to get out of traffic, he circled around to help her," Clegg told the audience. "We've got to be looking at all of the crosswalk buttons to make sure that they're meeting accessibility standards and that they're indeed accessible. We have to prioritize that."
City of Boise Transportation Planner Karen Gallagher looked at ACHD Project Manager Ryan Head, whose agency is responsible for crosswalks and streets throughout the county.
"I would ask that you go out and immediately look at that button at State Street and Veterans Parkway, and make sure those buttons are accessible for folks in wheelchairs," Clegg said.
"We'll go take a look," Head assured Clegg.
Later in the week, officials at ACHD were insistent walkways and crosswalk buttons were compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal law since 1990.
"It's fully ADA compliant," said ACHD Chief Information Officer Craig Quintana. "All of the buttons have good access to them, no curbing or any other obstructions."
It's true there is access but reaching those crosswalk buttons is awkward at best and could be nearly unreachable for someone who uses a wheelchair. In addition, the buttons at the northeast corner of State and 36th streets are mounted on an elevated pole (shared by streetlights and traffic lights) on the far side of an additional curb.
The U.S. Department of Transportation Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, section 4E.08, states pedestrian pushbuttons should be "unobstructed and adjacent to a level, all-weather surface to provide access from a wheelchair."
Clegg later told Boise Weekly she left another phone message with ACHD, suggesting an extender or "mast arm" be affixed to the crosswalk button for better access.
The intersection at 36th Street isn't the only section of State Street Clegg says warrants more attention. She said a new pedestrian crosswalk at State and 34th streets is long overdue.
"Given the tragedy at that intersection, we should expedite that," Clegg told Gallagher and Head at the Boise Council workshop session.
Clegg was referring to the April 14 incident when 31-year-old Dwayne Poulton, disabled after a long childhood battle with brain cancer, was struck by a car heading eastbound on State Street near 34th Street, where there is no crosswalk. Poulton, a lifelong Boise resident who lived on a small disability income and was a well-liked volunteer for Camp Rainbow Gold and the American Cancer Society, died a short time later. The cause of death was blunt force trauma.
Bike/pedestrian advocates argued the area desperately needs options for safely crossing of State Street, where more than 30,000 vehicles speed by on a daily basis.
During the Aug. 30 workshop, the Boise Council heard ACHD had plans for a pedestrian crossing at State and 34th streets.
"But we need to get that done ASAP," said Clegg. "We've been requesting this for years. Is there any way to expedite this?"
The proposed crossing could get final ACHD approval as soon as Wednesday, Sept. 8. The plan has already been included in ACHD's FY 2017 budget, which goes into effect Saturday, Oct. 1.