If Shel Silverstein were to write this story, it might be called “Where the sidewalk ends… and the mailboxes begin.”
For years residents on the west side of Saratoga Lake have been complaining about the strip of Union Avenue that runs from the light at Regatta View Drive down to the bridge over the northern end of the lake. When traveling from the west, the road slopes down to the lake and makes a turn to the right, creating difficult site lines for drivers.
A curved road reduces visibility for drivers
This stretch of road sees a great deal of traffic. On two separate days recently, a Sunday and a Wednesday, a reporter counted cars passing by during non-rush hour. On average for both days seven cars a minute passed by, often at speeds higher than the posted speed limit. That’s one car approximately every nine seconds.
And until recently, this stretch of road had no sidewalk, making it a dangerous place for pedestrians.
“When the kids walked down (to Stewarts on the other side of the lake) they couldn’t go alone, they had to have an older brother go with them,” says Amy Schmidt. That’s because without a sidewalk the route was treacherous.
Schmidt lives at 16 Regatta View Drive, not far from Union Avenue. She says now that the sidewalk has gone in she feels a lot better about her kids heading down the street for some ice cream. “Now they can take their scooters, we can take our bikes. It’s great.”
Jennifer Scarano of Vallera Road agrees. “It certainly wasn’t as safe walking here before. They made it a safer environment.”
The problem though is the way the sidewalks were built. There are mailboxes sticking out of the nice, white concrete.
The sidewalks were built by the city of Saratoga Springs this summer. The work followed the construction of a new bridge over the lake. The city removed the mailboxes, poured the sidewalks and placed the mailboxes back, fitting them into PVC pipe “sleeves” placed right in the sidewalk.
"It’s odd,” says Schmidt. “We were wondering what they’re going to do with the mailboxes.”
It’s not only odd – it’s illegal. The sidewalks are out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The ADA was passed more than 20 years ago. Title II requires that publicly owned buildings, streets and pedestrian walkways be made accessible to people with disabilities. Under the ADA guidelines the “minimum width for an ADA-compliant sidewalk is 36 inches (3 feet).” The recommended width is five feet. The minimum width provides enough room for wheelchairs, which are about 27 inches wide, to move without falling off the sidewalk. It also allows room for people who are visually impaired to move about.
The actual sidewalk along this particular stretch of Union Avenue is five feet wide, the recommended width. However, the width of the sidewalk at the mailbox is less than 30 inches.
As with much government regulation, the rules are complicated. Certain obstructions may be allowed, but for no more than a two foot stretch of sidewalk at a time. The mailboxes would fall into that exemption, except for one thing. Even under this exemption, the remaining sidewalk must be at least 32 inches wide. That’s not the case on this stretch of Union Avenue.
There’s also another problem. The issue of mobility does not just affect people in wheelchairs. Those who are visually impaired can also have difficulty traveling if the ADA regulations are not followed. And those regulations also say that objects cannot stick out from an obstruction by more than four inches.
Dominic Marinelli works for the United Spinal Foundation, and he’s an expert on accessibility issues. He says people requiring the use of a cane while they walk “can easily detect an obstruction, such as a post.” But the cane won’t give them any indication that there is something projecting from that obstruction. “They can’t detect the mailbox overhanging the support,” he says.
Under the ADA, the maximum distance something can legally project from a post is four inches Marinelli says. Because the mailboxes extend beyond the post well beyond four inches, they too are illegal.
These mailboxes extend beyond four inches
The city’s department of Public Works is responsible for building the sidewalk. Commissioner Anthony “Skip” Scirocco says he was approached last year by a state engineer. The engineer, says Scirocco, mentioned that the state was re-building the nearby bridge, and told him “It would be nice to partner with the city to put in sidewalks.”
“They were going to put in curbing and prep the area,” says Scirocco, “And we’d just have to put in the concrete.”
And the state did just that – they built a curb, and left the mailboxes in place. “All we did is complete what they did,” says Scirocco. And until now, he says, no one has complained.
State officials, meanwhile, say they had nothing to do with the current sidewalk. A spokesperson for the Department of Transportation says the sidewalks were designed and constructed by the city, and all the state did was issue a highway work permit and provide curbing. “This is a city project,” says Carol Breen. “We don’t have jurisdiction to oversee it.”
ADA expert Marinelli says it’s not unusual for cities to have such problems. “I think sometimes the thought is the requirements won’t impact that public sidewalk, but they do.”
So the question now is what might the city do about the problem, now that they are aware that the sidewalk is illegal.
Sometimes a lack of space makes it difficult to comply with regulations. But in this case there is a large grassy space beyond the sidewalk that could be used, with a right of way that extends some distance because of a buried water line.
On the other side of the bridge, sidewalks apparently had a similar problem. But an additional strip of concrete was placed to the side of the mailboxes, bringing the sidewalk into compliance.
Proper sidewalk east of the Saratoga Lake bridge, near Stewarts
But Scirocco says such a fix would be costly. He says the easy fix in this case would be to place a concrete pad behind each mailbox, creating room for wheelchairs to move around them. But that does not resolve the issue of the overhanging mailbox.
When interviewed several weeks ago by Saratoga Wire, Scirocco said they’ll fix the sidewalk if someone complains. “We’ll go back in to make sure we meet the ADA requirements.”
Now, prompted in part by those questions, that’s just what they’re doing. As of Tuesday morning, the city has begun work to fix the sidewalk by extending the walkway around the mailboxes.
Work underway on illegal sidewalks
Measurements by Saratoga Wire indicate that at least one of the fixes still may not be legal. However, the regulations are complex, and it depends on how the sidewalk is measured. One of the molds is not squared with the mailbox itself, so the one side does not project 32 inches beyond the mailbox. It is not clear if this makes the repair illegal or not.
Also not resolved is the issue with the mailboxes sticking out beyond the posts that carry them.
Patty Garrett meanwhile says “That mailbox thing is a bit odd.” One of those mailboxes belongs to her and her husband Tom. But even though she says she’s never seen anything like it, she still won’t criticize them. “I’m really happy to have sidewalks.”
And Patty’s neighbor simply says, “That stretch of road used to be very dangerous before the sidewalk. Cars would pass each other on the shoulder. It’s better than what I had before.”
ON THE WIRE