SPRINGFIELD – In many areas of Springfield, mobility in a wheelchair is at best, a fight, and at worst, impossible.
“A lot of the sidewalks are so bad. I’ve literally got trapped on them,” said Melinda Preciado, Ms. Wheelchair Oregon 2022 and Springfield resident.
Consisting of steep slopes, uneven paving, and obstacles such as garbage cans blocking the sidewalk, these conditions put wheelchair users in danger of tipping over or getting hit by a vehicle.
For Preciado, this is an issue of both safety and awareness.
“The more people that actually do come forward and say something to legislators about it, change will happen faster,” Preciado said. “It’s putting people at risk.”
In 1990, Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. Under ADA, amended in 2008, Congress found that “physical or mental disabilities in no way diminish a person’s right to fully participate in all aspects of society, yet many people with physical or mental disabilities have been precluded from doing so.”
The issue of ADA accessibility in Springfield is one with multiple facets. The biggest obstacle being funding, which is why progress is often complex and time-consuming.
David Loveall, Lane County Commissioner, is pushing to make bathrooms accessible in the many properties that he owns.
One of which is a Springfield hotspot, The Washburne Cafe, which Loveall has owned for 17 years and still does not have wheelchair accessible bathrooms.
“It’s a concern to me,” Loveall said. “That kind of woke me up to the issue and the problem … People don’t think about accessibility until they’re in a wheelchair.… They walk into a door. It’s 28 inches wide and they don’t think that it needs to be at least 36 to accommodate a wheelchair … It’s important for us to do what we can. Obviously, in some configurations, there’s a limit to what we can do, but I think we should at least all strive to do something,” he said.
According to Jeff Paschall, community development director for the City of Springfield, “The need is greater than the funding resources … we have to prioritize certain areas to address first.”
As an active community member and advocate for people with disabilities, Preciado says speaking up makes a difference. “I have had a lot of people say they look at things differently now,” she said. “They say I’ve opened their eyes and now when they go places they think about if something is ADA compliant.”
Another resident of Springfield, Manny Newman, who is a part-time wheelchair user, shares similar concerns as Preciado.
“I see full-time wheelchair users having to drive their wheelchairs up and down the street because they don’t have access to the sidewalk,” Newman said. “It’s a safety issue. I’m worried that myself or somebody else is going to get hit.”
According to the City of Springfield’s ADA transition plan, adopted in 2017 by Springfield City Council, “The City is committed to bringing all its facilities in full compliance with the ADA as soon as possible, subject to available funding and other resources.”
The plan’s prioritized facilities are City Hall, Springfield Justice Center, Springfield Operations Building, and fire stations three, four, five, 14, and 16.
“Not only do we have ramp needs, we also have sidewalks in disrepair that create barriers,” Paschall said.
Under the same transition plan, the City has also slated certain city streets, sidewalks, and curbs as priority: intersections within a quarter-mile of schools, public buildings, hospitals, parks, and intersections within an eighth of a mile of transit stops.
Preciado says street and sidewalk conditions get progressively worse heading east on Main Street, culminating at 42nd and Main streets, where Preciado was almost hit by a car while crossing the crosswalk in broad daylight.
“It is very technical and very complex when you’re rehabilitating ramps,” Paschall said. “Anything from right-of-ways to slopes to adjacent properties can pose engineering challenges. These challenges also drive up costs. The more complex it gets, the more expensive it gets.”
Significant funding came through in 2018, though, when the citizens of Springfield passed Bond Measure 20-296, a five-year $10M general obligation bond to fund repairs of a list of proposed city streets.
With the funding, the City of Springfield installed over 100 new ramps and updated crosswalk signals to increase street quality, and therefore, ADA accessibility.
“It’s really been through federal aid projects that we have been able to make the biggest impact, when we are able to improve entire corridors,” Paschall said.
The City of Springfield plans to make additional significant improvements by 2027, according to the 2023 City of Springfield Capital Improvement Program.
The program is reviewed every two years, processed by the planning commission, and then adopted by city council.
According to this plan, the City has already completed construction of the Mohawk Boulevard and Olympic Street corridors. During the same timeline and with a budget of $999,000, the City has also repaired the High Banks and Thurston Road corridor.
With a budget of $335,000, the City has also improved school crossings on G, 21st, 5th, and M streets.
Because of proximity to schools, hospitals, and public transit, these areas are where the City has been able to make the greatest impact, Paschall said.
In partnership with the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), the City of Springfield plans to rebuild Mill Street between A Street and Centennial Boulevard in the next few years, installing new sidewalks, bike lanes, and ADA ramps.
“Over the past few years we have had a number of projects throughout the state that focus on adding or upgrading ADA ramps because the need is so great,” said Angels Beers Seydel, public information officer for ODOT.
Also under this partnership is the plan to install ADA compliant curb ramps at all four corners of the intersection of 126 B and 54th Street.
These projects are expected to commence in the next few years, but the projected completion date has not yet been determined.
“We’re working to make it safer for everyone to use the transportation system. Ramps that are safer and easier to use, compliant with federal ADA standards, are a key part of that and reflect our strategic goals of an equitable and modern transportation system,” Seydel said.
The next draft of ODOT’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Program, which will be released for public review in March, includes plans to install over 700 ramps on various state roads in the Springfield community. Construction is anticipated to occur in 2026.
“It’s really good news to hear that … But of course, it won’t happen overnight and I definitely understand that. We can dream, but it won’t happen overnight,” Preciado said.