Columbia Surplus Money Will Make City More Accessible

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COLUMBIA - New playgrounds, parking spots, crosswalks, and paratransit hours are coming to the city after the Columbia City Council approved the 2012 budget surplus plan last week. $100,000 of the nearly $2 million surplus was allocated to four projects suggested by the disabilities commission. The four projects are:

  1. Replacing the mulch at the Lions-Stephens playgrounds with poured rubber.
  2. Adding more accessible parking downtown.
  3. Making the crosswalks at the Providence and Broadway and Broadway and College intersections audible for pedestrians. 
  4. Creating a pilot project that extends paratransit hours on weekdays so passengers can attend city related meetings. 
Columbia's Deputy City Manager Tony St. Romaine said the disabilities commission made a list of projects around the city that need to be completed and submitted it to the city council last February. 
"When the city's disabilities commission found out, along with everybody else, that we had the potential for some surplus funds to be spent this year, one of the things they looked at was some of the projects that still needed to be completed that they felt were priorities. They came forward with several items and prioritized them," St. Romaine said. 
In addition to the four projects the city council selected, the disabilities commission suggested the following projects be completed:
  • Washboard safety islands on Worley and Park de Ville.
  • Marked, lighted crosswalk at Fairview and Worley.
  • Improved barricades for the Stadium corridor projects.
  • Bus shelter replacements and additions.
  • Pool lifts at the ARC and other pools.
St. Romaine said Columbia implemented a transition plan in 1992 to make the city compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act that was signed by President George Bush in 1990. 
"We started working on our transition plan in 1992 and finished it in 1994. It was a snapshot in time of some of the deficiencies we say with our city that needed to be addressed. From 1994 until today, there really hasn't been much of an effort made to make sure we're staying up with those improvements because we built more facilities, more buildings, more sidewalks from 1995 to today. So the process we've just gone through is to update that report and make it more current, and see what deficiencies still exist and find ways to address funding to make sure we can make some of those improvements," St. Romaine said. 
Homer Page is a member of the disabilities commission. He said the improvements passed by the city council benefit everyone in the community.
"The issue of accessibility is not just an issue for people with physical disabilities. It relates to people with all types of disabilities. One of the projects specifically addresses the issue of accessibility for people who are blind--audible traffic signals. It's important to realize that these projects are aimed at the entire community," Page said. 
St. Romaine agrees that the goal of the four projects is to improve access for everyone in Columbia. 
"Typically when we've talked about disability issues, we're only really looking at one small segment of the population's need. The more frequent term utilized these days is universal access. For example, we have an aging population, so maybe that's someone 60 or 70 years old who maybe doesn't have a disability from a regulatory standpoint, but, for example, having sidewalk cuts in pavement certainly improves access for everybody. The idea of universal access in our streets, sidewalks, buildings, and homes is certainly a concept that is starting to catch on," St. Romaine said. 
The city hopes to start all the projects in the next year. 

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