Sidewalks for all: making it easier for those with handicaps

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka

Salisbury Post

If you haven’t noticed, several Main Street intersections in downtown Salisbury have become more friendly to the handicapped.

Credit the N.C. Department of Transportation and one of its contractors, Safrit Landscape Construction.

At Main Street corners that previously loomed as mountains to the disabled, Safrit and his crew have dug out the old, poured new concrete and sloped the sidewalks to the street at the federally required grade.

They also have embedded into the new concrete red blocks of vinyl PVC — Americans with Disabilities Act domes — to aid the blind when they approach the intersections.

A blind person using a cane can hear and feel the different texture of the sidewalk when he or she hits the ADA domes, which are like a sheet of bubbles in the sidewalk. The different color, red in this case, also helps the visually impaired.

Safrit guesses he has made about 100 sidewalk ramps for the DOT during the past several months.

Just the other day, he noticed how easy it was for a motorized wheelchair to navigate one of the improved corners on Main Street. And numerous passersby have stopped and thanked Safrit’s crew of Bradley Watson, Mike Stamper and Steve Casper for the new ramps, saying “what a difference it makes,” Safrit says.

“It gives you an awareness, when you’re out here doing this,” Safrit adds, “of how many people have a problem.”

Randy Hemann, executive director of Downtown Salisbury Inc., says he also has heard favorable feedback about the improvements and knows of people who have been waiting for years for some of the sidewalk ramps along Main Street.

DOT District Engineer Chris Corriher says adding the ramps is something the DOT has been doing for several years along state routes that have been resurfaced, such as Main Street (U.S. 29), Monroe Street, Old Wilkesboro Road and Innes Street.

The new ramps are put in where sidewalks exist with curbs and gutters.

Either DOT crews or contractors such as Safrit do the work. Corriher says the new ramps with the truncated domes have been installed in several locations throughout the Piedmont as part of resurfacing projects.

As simple as it might look to slope the sidewalk to the street, Salisbury’s Main Street corners often presented challenges to Safrit’s crew.

At times, for example, the demolition uncovered buried utilities that no one knew existed. Even the average curb drop of 6 inches at a corner could prove tricky, depending on some of the other obstacles.

The biggest challenge may have come at West Bank and South Main streets on the corner closest to the old Empire Hotel.

Safrit’s crew faced a 16-inch step down in elevation from the sidewalk to the street.

Workers also had to deal with a fiber optics vault in the middle of the sidewalk and a pole, telling pedestrians to “Walk” or “Don’t Walk.” It stood right where people would be crossing.

The South Main Street grate for stormwater drainage also was immediately below the sidewalk. It was the first, shaky step for any pedestrian wanting to cross the street.

Safrit says he thought long and hard about how he could meet the ADA slope requirements while coping with all the obstacles. But he seemed to have a plan that would work Thursday afternoon.

“I knew this one was going to be a doozie,” Safrit said amid the dirt at the corner. “I put this one off to the last.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or