New Baby, New Perspectives: Accessibility in My City

If you are able-bodied and independent, you walk easily on most sidewalks and enter/exit stores without problems, other than the occasional surprise of a very heavy door or pushing/pulling when you should be doing the opposite. Cobblestones, bricks, steps, small doors – none of these bother you. Some stores might have small aisles, but other than it being cumbersome at times, it doesn’t slow you down too much. At least that is how I moved about my city – with ease.

Yet, over the past 4+ months, I have navigated the sidewalks and stores of Burlington, VT with a stroller. Suddenly, I gave thought to the condition of the sidewalks, the types of entrances, and the width of aisles. Frankly, the sidewalks of Burlington are horrendous if you are on wheels. Stores are a mixed bag of accessibility. I have plenty of appreciation for stores that are stroller friendly and plenty of empathy for anyone attempting to get around with a stroller or in a wheelchair.

Generally when you pushing a stroller, people are very kind and will hold open the doors for you. And you learn the turning radius and proper spatial distance needed for your stroller. You get better at avoiding sidewalk bumps because you don’t want to wake the sleeping baby, nor jostle her fragile head. You know which streets are best to take. And the list goes on.

Battery & Maple, Burlington, VT. #presinpink

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(The building block above would be easy to make accessible.)

However, there are some limitations with a stroller, and I would imagine with a wheelchair. I spend a fair amount of time stroller walking. Depending on weather, I might pop in and out of stores to browse or run errands. While Christmas shopping, I realized that I could not take my baby into a few of my favorite shops because there were not accessible entrances (read: only steps, no ramps). Sometimes entrances are elsewhere in buildings, but if there is no sign, that does not help, as I cannot leave the stroller on the sidewalk to go in and inquire. Additionally, some stores have accessible entrances yet the aisles or displays are so close together that even my narrow stroller has a tough time navigating between everything.

A favorite Burlington block from another angle. #presinpink

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(It’s hard to see in this photo, but my favorite building block has a few stores without accessible (or at least obviously found) entrances.)

I wondered about how many people face this challenge. Is the percentage of lost customers so small that it doesn’t affect the businesses? What if you’re in a wheelchair, what do you do?

Most businesses have modified their entrances to accommodate all customers. Unfortunately, this often replaces character defining features of historic entrances, or obscures them. The National Park Service Brief 11: Rehabilitating Historic Storefronts discusses the importance of entrances and their rehabilitation, but its only suggestions for access issues are as follows:

Alterations to a storefront called for by public safety, handicapped access, and fire codes can be difficult design problems in historic buildings. Negotiations can be undertaken with appropriate officials to ensure that all applicable codes are being met while maintaining the historic character of the original construction materials and features. If, for instance, doors opening inward must be changed, rather than replace them with new doors, it may be possible to reverse the hinges and stops so that they will swing outward.

(How would you make the above entrance accessible?)

It makes sense that this would be a case-by-case basis discussion; however, I think we need a collection of good examples. And a discussion. What are the challenges to improve entrance accessibility? Are small businesses at risk of losing business if they cannot improve accessibility? Does this affect you? As historic preservationists, how can we find the balance between character defining entrances and not limiting accessibility? What haven’t you considered in your environment until you had to consider it?

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Section 106 & Section 4(f) Exemptions from the Exemption

Exemption from the exemption? If you’re in the regulatory + infrastructure world, you’ve likely come across this. If you are not, step into our world for a few minutes.

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The “grasshopper bridge” in Lyndon, VT, carries Route 5 over I-91 and is an exemption to the Section 106 & Section 4(f) exemption. Meaning, this bridge is subject to project review, even though I-91 is not.

By law (the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966), all projects that receive federal funding are subject to review under Section 106. Review includes identifying historic resources that are listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Any project receiving transportation funding is required to be evaluated under Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966.

But, what happens when one of largest resources in the nation becomes eligible for the National Register? By that I mean the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways (more commonly known as the Interstate Highway System). This 46,700 mile interstate highway system became eligible for the National Register on June 29, 2006, which was its 50th birthday. (Read more about Interstate history here.)

As a transportation resource, this would typically require Section 106 and Section 4(f) review on this historic resource. Imagine the amount of project review that would have spurred as a result. A majority of work on the interstate is simply paving or repairs or line striping. Basically, this had the potential to bring unnecessary paperwork and delays to state and federal levels.

Instead, the bulk of the Interstate Highway System was declared exempt from being considered a historic resource under Section 106 and Section 4(f). In other words, the Interstate Highway System was exempt from project review. This is addressed under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU, Public Law 109-59, Aug. 10, 2005) / provision (Section 6007).

However, this exemption has exemptions! Elements of the Interstate Highway System that exhibit a national level of significance, as defined by the National Register of Historic Places, are not considered exempt, and will require project review. States submitted properties for consideration, and the final list was determined by the ACHP (Advisory Council on Historic Preservation) and FHWA (Federal Highway Administration). Find your state here.

Vermont has three elements, including the “grasshopper bridge” on I-91. Officially it is a steel rigid-frame bridge (built 1970) significant for its engineering. See the photograph at the top of this post. The official statement of significance is,

“This type of bridge is very rare on interstates in New England. In Vermont, two are on I-91; one each on northbound and southbound lanes carrying the interstate over Rte. 9 in Lyndon, Vermont. As of inspection on 01/12/05, structurally both bridges are in very good condition. Engineering-wise, this style was an experiment in 1960 and 1970 to determine if steel construction could take the variable weight loadings of an interstate environment. It was designed by a New York City firm, Blauvelt Engineering Co., and received a merit award from the American Institute of Steel Construction in 1974. The overall length of the bridges is 227 feet, 6 inches.”

Sadly, the steel arched deck truss in Brattleboro, VT that carries I-91 over the Williams River was not included in the list. It is uncommon bridge in Vermont, but not uncommon elsewhere on the interstate. Thus, it’s significance was not national. And when the bridge came up for replacement, no preservation law could save it. Thus, while not every bridge or element could be saved, the list is substantial, and better than exempting the entire system. Does your state have an interstate exemption? Have you seen it? Has your interstate lost an element not on the list?

Revisiting an Abandoned Vermont property: Fair Haven Depot

I’ve been photographing abandoned and neglected Vermont properties since 2011. This year I’ve been revisiting some of these properties to find out if anything has changed. A few have found better fates, but the majority remain vacant and neglected.

The Fair Haven Depot is located just outside the center of Fair Haven. The train depot is on the Clarendon & Pittsford Rail line, formerly owned by the Delaware & Hudson Railroad, and now owned by Vermont Rail System (VRS). Until 2010, Amtrak stopped at this depot, though the stop was not inside the building. Passengers waited in a small shelter across the street. The building was surveyed in the 1980s by the Vermont Historic Sites & Structures Survey, at which time it was vacant and not used as a passenger station. That’s 30+ years ago. From what I’ve learned, the railroad is not responsive to any town or historical society attempts inquiring about the building.

Additionally, the 1930s concrete bridge that leads to the depot has been closed for a few years. There is another way around and not much traffic, so they fate of this bridge does not look good.

Interested in a walk around the depot with me? Read on.

View from the bridge. The depot looks pleasant thanks to yellow & green plywood painted to look like doors and windows. 


Vegetation and evidence of backsplash.

  

The trackside of the building. If you look closely at the foundation you can see water damage. The water pours down the hill (to the left of this photo) and flows into the foundation. 


Foundation and damage to the bricks, from water and deferred maintenance. 

  

Closer view of the damage. 


Cracks in the bricks. Critters can easily fit under that door. 

  

More brick spalling and the stone holding the bracket, which holds the roof, is not long for this world. 


More of the same. 

  

Foundation damage. 


Vegetation next to a building foundation is not good for long-term building health. 

  

The precipitation splashes from the ground to the bricks. And, as evident by the moss, there is not much sunlight to dry the ground. 


  

The side of the building that you see from the bridge. 

Something about this building breaks my heart. It must be my fondness for railroad depots. Depots are such valuable buildings to communities: transportation hubs, meeting places, often architectural gems in the town. Railroad buildings were built to last. There are many success stories of railroad buildings throughout Vermont.

What a shame that the railroad neglects its history and its beautiful, historic buildings throughout Vermont and the rest of the United States? Restoring a railroad depot always benefits the community – socially and economically and in all realms.

Do you have a similar story from your community? What advice can you offer? I’d love to know. This depot deserves to be saved. Have some thoughts? #savethefairhavendepot

YUP: Bikes, Beer & Buildings

The media tells us, with valid evidence, that appreciation for historic buildings is on the upswing, and the number of craft brewers continues to grow, and alternate modes of transportation are catching on in urban areas.

Where can you find all of these in one place? Check out Rochester, New York. The Young Urban Preservationists (“YUP”) of the Landmark Society of Western New York hosted its second annual BBB – Bikes, Beer & Buildings – scavenger hunt on Saturday July 11, 2015. Caitlin Meives (UVM HP Alum 2008), Preservation Planner with the Landmark Society, gave me the rundown on the event and the group.

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PiP: Tell me about Bikes, Beer & Buildings. 

CM: Bikes, Beer & Buildings is a great way to explore Rochester’s neighborhoods, see some lesser known landmarks, and learn about ongoing preservation projects. Organized by The Landmark Society’s Young Urban Preservationists (“YUPs”), BBB is Rochester’s first bike-based scavenger hunt. The YUPs provide the clues and you (and your team of 1-4 people) hop on your bikes and hunt down the buildings (or architectural features, parks, structures, etc).

PiP: How many years running? Where did you get the idea and the name? 

CM: This was our 2nd year. Last year, shortly after we formed, one of our steering committee members said he wanted to organized a bike scavenger hunt. So we did. Coming up with a clever name for events is always annoying so we thought, “Well, it involves three of our favorite things: bikes, beer and buildings….so why not just call it that!”

Happy participants! Photo provided by the Landmark Society for Western New York.

Happy participants! Photo provided by the Landmark Society for Western New York.

PiP: What’s the purpose or goal of BBB? 

CM: To have fun. To get out and see the city on two wheels. To see the exciting adaptive reuse projects that are happening all over the city. To see neighborhoods, parks, and buildings that a lot of people wouldn’t otherwise see or notice. Big picture, we (the YUPs) are also trying to engage as many youngish folks as possible. There is a an ever-growing community of young people in the area, especially in the city of Rochester, who are committed to their communities and are preservationists at heart.

PiP: Was it a success? 

CM: Yes, it’s a big hit and we’ll definitely do it again! This year we had 33 teams and just over 75 participants! We also had a bunch of local businesses and organizations who sponsored the event and provided in-kind donations of their awesome products for our prize baskets.

The beer garden! Photo courtesy of the Landmark Society of Western New York.

The beer garden! Photo courtesy of the Landmark Society of Western New York.

PiP: What was the best part of the event? 

CM: Watching everyone enjoy a cold beer or the purple “Pedaler’s Punch” that Lux Bar & Lounge prepared for our hot and tired cyclists.

Happy bikers and building lovers enjoying a cold beer. Photo courtesy of the Landmark Society of Western New York.

Happy bikers and building lovers enjoying a cold beer. Photo courtesy of the Landmark Society of Western New York.

PiP: Who are the YUPs?

CM: The YUPs are a group of youngish folks interested in preservation and community revitalization. We come from various walks of life and various professions—lawyers, planners, doctors, veterinarians, architects, writers, artists—but we all have one thing in common: we care about our communities and we believe our historic resources play an important role in any community’s revitalization.

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What does “young” mean? Whatever you want it to! We’re targeting those oft-maligned by the media “millennials” (aged 20 to about 40) but, more importantly, we want to connect with like-minded people who are invested in their communities and are young at heart.

PiP: Sounds awesome! Can you offer any advice for groups wanting to do something similar to BBB? 

CM: Four tips for you:

  1. You need a dedicated and committed group of organizers. You don’t need a lot of people, you just need organized and committed people. In fact, if you have too many people it can become unwieldy. How you structure the organizing of an event like this depends on the structure and dynamics of your group. I happen to be one of the co-founders of the YUPs and I work for The Landmark Society, the organization with which the YUPs are affiliated, so it naturally falls to me to more or less lead the charge and to make sure we stay on track. In this case, delegating and giving people ownership of a task or an event can be challenging. However, in our 2nd year organizing this event, I found that people felt much more comfortable taking charge. If your group was formed more organically by people who just came together to form a group on their own, likely you’ll all have that sense of ownership to begin with. Regardless, I think it’s important to make sure someone is the point-person for the event as a whole or for each facet of the event. If everyone is running around doing a little bit of everything and no one is in charge of one thing, things can really easily slip through the cracks. Trust me. We had one or two last minute snafus.

  2. Partnerships are key. Starting an event from scratch is tricky, especially if your group/organization is new and doesn’t have a huge base from which to pull. Our first year, two days out from the scavenger hunt, we had three teams registered. Then one of our partners, a popular local blog that focuses on urban and preservation-related issues, shared the event through its social media. The flood gates opened and we breathed a huge sigh of relief.

  3. Start small and work your way up. You don’t want your first attempt to be a colossal failure. So don’t set yourself up for failure by biting off more than you can chew or by expecting unrealistic numbers.

  4. Learn and adapt. Your event won’t be perfect the first, second, or third time around. But have fun with it, make sure your participants have fun, and get feedback from them.

PiP: Where can we find the Landmark Society or YUP on Social Media? 

Thank you, Caitlin, YUPs, and The Landmark Society of Western New York! Great job on such a wonderful event. 

Brookfield Floating Bridge

Brookfield, Vermont is the sort of town that refuses to have its roads paved. In fact, the National Register of Historic Places nomination specifically mentions the dirt roads as character defining features of the village. It is also home to one of the few floating bridges in the world. The floating bridge means just as much, if not more, to its residents as the dirt road. It, too, is listed in the National Register – as a contributing resource to the Brookfield Historic District.

The story goes that a man fell through the ice one winter and drowned, prompting residents to lay logs across the water and tie them together in the winter of 1820. When the ice melted the log bridge remained, creating a floating bridge. Over the centuries, the bridge was replaced many times, with wood barrels to float the deck and eventually plastic barrels. Remember this photo from 2010? That’s when it was the sinking bridge, and closed to traffic. This 1976 bridge was the 7th floating bridge across Sunset Lake, but it had seen better days.

December 2010, Brookfield, VT.

Because of the bridge’s historic significance and the determined people of Brookfield, the Vermont Agency of Transportation designed a new floating bridge to replace the deteriorating 1976 bridge. The bridge opened on May 23, 2015 in grand celebration, with probably more people than Brookfield’s seen in decades! I worked on the project a bit while at VTrans, so it seemed like a fitting celebration to attend. Here are a few photographs from the day.

Dirt roads through the center of Brookfield.

Dirt roads through the center of Brookfield. The main road is actually State Highway 65.

Hundreds gathered for the bridge opening.

Hundreds & hundreds gathered for the bridge opening.

Food, souvenirs, bands, red, white and blue!

Food, souvenirs, bands, red, white and blue!

The brand new floating bridge still contributes to the Brookfield Village Historic District.

The brand new floating bridge still contributes to the Brookfield Village Historic District.

All details were discussed.

All details were sweat over in the design process – including bridge railings, guardrails, and the connection from the bridge to the roadway.

View across Sunset Lake.

View across Sunset Lake.

View from Ariel's Restaurant in town to the bridge.

View from Ariel’s Restaurant in town to the bridge.

If you’re in Central Vermont, visit the Floating Bridge (and drive across it). It’s a trip!

Philly Forum 2014

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This week Philadelphia welcomes Forum 2014: A Keystone Connection, the Statewide Conference on Heritage / Byways to the Past. The 2014 conference is a partnership between the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions, Preservation Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Transportation, historic preservation, history, technology – this conference looks like it’s going to be great. Tickets sold out! Will you be there? I’ll be presenting on Thursday July 17 as part of the session, Crossing into History: Compatible Bridge Design in Historic Districts. Here’s the panel summary and speakers:

Bridges are not always mere conduits for transportation, but can play important roles in shaping, or affecting, the identity of a place.  While some bridges are small and unnoticeable, others are visual representations of a particular period in time and important elements of historic settings.  What happens when a bridge in an historic setting cannot be rehabilitated?   How do you design a new bridge that is compatible with the setting but does not end up looking historicized?  Is it better to design a bridge that is modern and does not attempt to imitate history or is it possible to develop compatible new designs that reflect their setting.  This session will explore these issues and offer insight into appropriate context sensitive design.

Moderator:

  • Monica Harrower, Cultural Resources Professional, PennDOT District 6-0

Speakers:

  • Michael Cuddy, Principal, TranSystems
  • Mary McCahon, Senior Historian, TranSystems
  • Barbara Shaffer, Planning and Environmental Specialist, Federal Highway Administration
  • Dain Gattin, Chief Engineer, Philadelphia Streets Department
  • Emanuel Kelly, FAIA, Philadelphia Art Commission
  • Kaitlin O’Shea, Historic Preservation Specialist, Vermont Agency of Transportation


Join us to learn about historic bridges, replacement projects, and historic districts!

Changing my Transit Ways

Happy Spring, all. If Spring has arrived in Vermont, it must have found you by now. I hope! A quick question for your Monday morning: what is your preferred mode of travel in the good weather? I’ve been calling these days the happy weather in Vermont. It’s warm, beautiful, people are out and about, everyone’s mood has lifted.

And after a refreshing weekend of barely any need for a car, I’m attempting to scale down my daily vehicle use and rely on the bus, if possible for work, and my feet and bicycle for in town trips. It’s not entirely possible or easy, but perhaps a good (affordable, healthy) challenge for the next five or six months.

Have you altered your transit? How and for what reasons? Financial? Environmental? Efficiency?

Pink dogwoods for spring.

Pink dogwoods for spring.