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ADA turns 20, we look ahead to Complete Streets

Today, July 26, marks the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

One of the important achievements of the ADA was to require that facilities in the public right of way are built to accommodate users with disabilities. This led to improved standards for items such as crosswalks, curb cuts, sidewalks and pedestrian warnings and signage. The ADA has been remarkably successful in expanding transportation accessibility. However, there is still work to be done.

While we should take today to celebrate this historic achievement, let’s also take a moment and think about the work remaining to be done. Twenty years after ADA, and almost 40 years since the first requirements for curb cuts in Federal projects, it’s shocking that lack of access is still an issue anywhere in the transportation system. The fact that it is still an issue highlights the entrenched nature of State DOTs and local public works agencies that are so resistant to change. Where the ADA has forced transportation agencies to integrate the needs of people with disabilities into planning and projects, the needs of everyday pedestrians, transit users and, of course, cyclists are still routinely overlooked or dismissed. And don’t forget, the ADA didn’t require sidewalks – it says that if they are present, they must be made accessible. That’s why Complete Streets is so critical and is part of the unfinished business of ADA, and that’s why the disability community has been such a leader in the Complete Streets movement.

Complete Streets policies ensure that transportation agencies routinely design and operate the entire right of way to enable safe access for all users. Similar arguments were made about cost, control and need; but for many of us it’s tough to imagine going back to the time before the ADA made accessibility a part of the everyday work of planners and engineers. The League, in conjunction with other national partners, is working on instituting Complete Streets at the federal level, and there are many state and local campaigns currently going on that you can support. We look forward to the time that we try to remember what life was like without Complete Streets. We certainly can’t afford 20 more years to make it happen.

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