Civil engineering students conduct accessibility survey for the city of Columbia
In late August, while most people in downtown Columbia shopped for end-of-summer bargains, a team of University of Missouri civil engineering students devoted their time to an American with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility survey in the area of Columbia that has been designated “The District.”
Officials from the city initially approached the College of Engineering about the possibility of lending aid in the analysis of sidewalk and crosswalk ADA compliance in one of Columbia’s highest pedestrian traffic areas.
“Tony St. Romaine, the city’s ADA coordinator, had worked with the College of Engineering on another project and I had worked with Dr. Sun on a traffic study, so we thought of them as we strategized on how to work on the project,” Dave Nichols, Columbia’s assistant manager of Columbia’s Public Works Department, said. They made the contact and Carlos Sun, an MU professor of civil engineering immediately agreed to work with them.
“I volunteered to help because this project is a really good fit for us. ADA issues are an integral component of transportation engineering,” said Sun, whose undergraduate research assistants participated in the pro bono project. “Part of our mandate as a state university is public service.”
Undergraduate research students performed the field investigation, and received course credit for doing so. All seniors, Brian Roth-Roffy served as lead on the project, aided by Andrew Robertson, Alicia Palmer and Sawyer Breslow. The team used the federal Public Right of Way Accessibility Guidelines (PROWAG) to make their assessment after first attending what Roth-Roffy described as a “crash course” on the subject at city hall.
Gerald Morgan, ADA coordinator with MU’s campus facilities, and Mike Edwards, the Missouri coordinator of the Great Plains ADA Resource Center, acquainted the MU students with the guidelines, and city officials talked about the scope.
“We decided to first concentrate on high use areas that we have gotten comments on from the city’s Disability Commission,” said Nichols. “There were a lot of issues to work through because accessibility requirements encompass people in wheelchairs, as well as those who are hearing and vision impaired. Each group has different needs. We gave the students some parameters, but they came up their own methods.”
Roth-Roffy developed a check sheet with approximately 20 variables that weighed features such as degree of slope and curb ramp landings; crosswalk markings, slopes and quality; sidewalk width clearance; and “obstacles” such as furniture and plantings.
The city supplied the equipment required to do the work, including electronic levels to measure slopes, which Roth-Roffy said, quickly became the project’s most important pieces of equipment.
Roughly, the area surveyed extended three blocks north and south from Broadway, from Providence Road on the west to Waugh Street on the east, an expanse that encompasses approximately 40 city blocks.
“We numbered each block and split into two groups to collect the data, which we recorded in books,” Roth-Roffy said, adding that they noted the intersection’s assigned number on a whiteboard, placed it in the surveyed area and took a photo for a visual reference of their findings.
The group’s results were tallied and Roth-Roffy and Robertson presented their findings to Columbia’s Accessibility Commission in early November.
“We found quite a few faults, but a lot of them were minor,” Roth-Roffy said. “They were thankful for the work we did.”
“They were very organized, and that was key,” said Nichols. “From an engineering standpoint, I think they did a really great job.”
Nichols, a self-described “proud” Mizzou alumnus who received his degree in civil engineering in1984, said that he enjoyed working with the students and welcomes these collaborative projects. “They are mutually beneficial since they give students the opportunity to experience real world projects. And the work they did really does affect people in the community,” he said. “This report will be instrumental in helping us budget those projects,” he added.
“We really have to give credit to Columbia for their compliance plan,” said Sun. “This is a long-term project and we have discussed where to go next, places like the medical facilities and public housing areas.”
Nichols said that public transportation starting and stopping points to various destinations are high priorities.
The students are completing a final written report for their honors research project that will go to both the city and Sun. Roth-Roffy said that he has enjoyed the compliance fieldwork, which was unlike anything he had done before. He will graduate in May and hopes to find a job in the transportation field.
“It was nice working on a real project and getting that experience,” he said, adding, “I find myself looking down and thinking of the guidelines whereever I go.”