Public open space and parks have a great opportunity to embrace design for all users by incorporating the principles of Universal Design.
Universal Design considers human differences across the spectrum of age, gender, race, culture and ability/disability.
A good example of this is the recently altered bosque trail that runs between Central and the siphon, and will eventually run to Montano.
The crusher fine stabilizing surface and uniform width of the trail allows for parents with strollers, wheelchair users and slow walkers to experience the beauty of the bosque and river that was once off-limits to them.
Importantly, the trail meets Americans with Disabilities Act compliance and is one of the few trails in the city that does so successfully.
It is not the city’s only compliant trail, but it is the most visually impressive of our accessible trails.
The setting of the river bosque, with its gentle to flat slope and grade is one of the very best locations for accessible design implementation. Most of our city has terrain that cannot easily be made ADA accessible for recreational trail purposes.
No one wants to see 20 switchbacks staggered up the side of the foothills for wheelchair ramps. But when the city can adapt trails in the river terrain for wheelchair and stroller use, it must.
The Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law in 1990, requires that all U.S. municipalities meet ADA guidelines for various public facilities, including recreational spaces, or risk being found noncompliant and risk U.S. Department of Justice enforcement.
But the recent trail issues go beyond building codes and surface materials.
The ADA is a civil rights law, not a “building code.” It ensures inclusion and access for users of all abilities to programs and facilities that receive state and federal funding.
The riverfront and cottonwood forest that was once a private enclave for only the physically able is now opened up to the public.
We can all discover the beauty of water birds, the breeze in the cottonwoods and the sense of our city’s awesome shady bosque as a refuge from the streets, noise and concrete.
Other voices in the media claim the trail is “not ADA compliant,” but this is not true.
They state if too many people use the trail, it will “destroy the wildlife and environment.” The bosque is not a private forest retreat for Sierra Club members and their lobbyists, rather it belongs to every citizen of our city and can be enjoyed by anyone entering it’s healing trails.
It gives a child the ability to look up from a stroller or wheelchair and see the shadow of cottonwood leaves, hear the sound of birds, watch the flow of water along the trail.
One can touch nature on this trail.
And now everyone can use it.
This is what inclusion and accessibility looks like.