The Hopkins City Council adopted a transition plan April 17 to comply with regulations set by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In an effort to bar discrimination against individuals with disabilities, the act requires that public entities provide equal access to services, activities and programs. This includes, for example, the city’s sidewalks, intersections, snowplowing procedure and other amenities.
Although ADA has been in effect since 1992, many state and local governments are not in compliance. Eric Klingbeil, assistant city engineer, explained why this is happening now instead of nearly 30 years ago.
“When it was put into place, there was basically no teeth in the regulation. Every public entity put it off because it was an expense that had really no federal funding to support it ... Now, it is time to be eligible for some federal transportation grants. Most every city and public entity is moving forward with adopting it,” he said.
Historically, Hopkins met the regulations on a project-by-project basis. Recently, city staff members and ADA experts collected extensive data on the city’s pedestrian infrastructure to identify physical obstacles that limit accessibility and create a comprehensive plan to address those obstacles.
“[We] inspected every single pedestrian ramp, signalized intersection and walked every foot of sidewalk within the City of Hopkins,” Klingbeil said.
The city has nearly 30 miles of sidewalk and 42 percent of those sidewalks are ADA compliant. Twenty-two percent of signaled intersections and 17 percent of curb ramps met accessibility criteria.
“These numbers appear low, but they’re actually in line or better with a lot of surrounding cities in the metro area,” Klingbeil said.
An item was considered noncompliant if it did not meet all of ADA’s multiple criteria. The layperson would not notice any noncompliant items, according to Klingbeil.
“They’re just out of compliance for one minor thing that most people wouldn’t know it’s out of compliance. They’re pretty specific,” he said.
Reaching full compliance with ADA regulations will take several years, mainly due to cost. Although the law requires the city to have a plan in place, it does not require a specific schedule or timeframe to be in full compliance.
“It’s under the assumption that everyone should have a 30- to 40- year goal to achieve compliance because we all recognize that money is not unlimited here. If we had all the money in the world, we could get this done, no problem,” Klingbeil said.
The plan, which focuses on critical areas, will be referenced for project prioritization. However, the city has already planned to reconstruct many of the identified areas as part of other projects.
“A majority of these areas that had some of the worst failure rates have been or will be the focus of recent or upcoming projects, such as the Blake Road project. The light rail coming through is going to take care of a lot of areas and street projects in the five-year [capital improvement program]. Most of the failures are, kind of, concentrated in those areas,” Klingbeil said.
While the goal is to reach full compliance, it is not necessarily realistic. Natural or uncontrollable factors—such as weather, snow or even weeds—may affect compliance.
“Full compliance is really unlikely because the goalpost does change … But just because full compliance isn’t easily or even realistically obtainable, doesn’t mean we’re not doing our best,” Klingbeil said.
A historic downtown like Hopkins’ can make compliance more challenging.
“It looks like Mainstreet had quite a few failures on there, and we just reconstructed Mainstreet. You would think it would all be passing. But with a historic downtown, we have a lot of tight corridors, a lot of historic buildings … There’s physical constraints that you can’t always get around in an older part of town,” Klingbeil said.
Nevertheless, Hopkins won’t have to undergo as many changes as some other cities.
“We kept a pretty tight ship beforehand … Some cities had to make major changes in a lot of programs they did. Luckily, in Hopkins, we don’t,” Klingbeil said.
The plan will also establish a formal, documentable process that the city can use if someone has an accessibility issue.
“This isn’t a static document that will be put on the shelf. It will be used,” Klingbeil said.