A closer look at ADA ramps to nowhere

Why do these ramps leading nowhere exist?

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - You pass them every day. Americans with Disabilities Act compliant ramps. Many covered in yellow bumps at curb corners, designed specifically to help the disabled.

But not all ramps are created equal.

While a ramp like this might meet ADA standards, it doesn't lead anywhere. 

You'll see them in our community, ending in grass, sometimes dirt, and in one case, a pile of rocks. 

No sidewalks. Ramps to nowhere. 

Nathan Gutierrez knows what ADA ramps should be, having been in a wheelchair since he was young. 

"I don't know what the purpose is of those ramps. As you can see, this doesn't lead anywhere," observed Gutierrez.

So why do these ramps leading nowhere exist? We received a few different answers. 

According to Caleb Blaschke, the City of Bakersfield's ADA Coordinator, and Michael Connor, the Street Superintendent of Bakersfield, local governments are simply following ADA and state rules.

"A lot of that is just requirement, if we touch a street, federal requirement, state requirements that we put access ramps on the corners," explained Connor.

But those requirements stop at the curb they say, adding the city is not mandated to put in sidewalks.

"[The] property owner is responsible to put in sidewalk, so regardless of what area they're in, it's always the responsibility of the property owner," added Blaschke.

The city says even homeowners with ramps nearby, are primarily responsible for putting in sidewalks.

When it comes to Kern, County Public Works Director Craig Pope sees things a bit differently, saying Caltrans ties project funds to ramps even if the ramps do not lead anywhere. He says sidewalks are his department's responsibility.

"Our goal is to build ramps that are useful and to tie them into walkways and to make life better for those people out there that need them," said Pope. 

A Caltrans spokesman emphasized if a ramp leading nowhere is installed or funded, the intention is pedestrians will use them in the future.

"If there's nothing like that planned, Caltrans will not build any ADA ramps in that area," said Caltrans PIO Christian Lukens.

But ramps like this one on Highway 43 still appear alone, part of an ongoing $3 million, 56 ADA ramp installation project between Wasco and Shafter.

At the federal level, the Pacific ADA center, which provides local ADA assistance to California, says it does not mandate new ramp construction "in the absence of a pedestrian walkway with a prepared surface for pedestrian use."

Yet they still exist.

The average cost of each curb cut? Between $1500 and $3500 according to the city and county.

One resident who lives near a curb off of Union Ave, said it's a waste of money and an eyesore.

The new gas tax bill passed last month by the legislature, will send money from the increase at the pump, in part towards more ADA ramps.

We asked Mike Turnipseed of the Kern Taxpayers Association if ADA ramps that don't lead anywhere are a good use of taxpayer money.

"It would be far down the list...what's more helpful to you in a wheelchair? Is it services of other types or is it $2000, $2500, $3500,  that we're spending cutting, where there's dirt anyway and they're not going to ride the wheelchair," said Turnipseed. 

The city does work to remedy these issues in high need areas. construction started mid April on a new sidewalk leading to downtown's central park extending from a previously installed ADA ramp. 

"The access ramp stopped right here, and it was just dirt from here on, so we were able to identify this through outreach, and then now we're able to budget for it and fix it," explained Blaschke.

The sidewalk completed a week later, costing just over $11,000.

Nathan Gutierrez argues designing with input from those who will ultimately use the services the most would save time and money.

"Everybody wins in that case too because the more independent people become, the less they're reliant on services that are often times strained," said Gutierrez.

City Public Works Director Nick Fidler offers another reason for these ramps to nowhere, saying they can provide 'safe harbors' for people with wheelchairs needing to get out of the roadway at an intersection, and off of the street. 

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