Witt: Downtown Winchester accessibility issues

Published 10:30 am Tuesday, May 7, 2019

This is sort of a continuation of last week’s column on downtown walkability.

There are many aspects of Winchester’s downtown infrastructure that need attention, some by city government, some by property owners, some, perhaps, by the state.

It is easy to fall into the habit of overlooking the shortcomings of our surroundings. Passing by the same conditions day after day numbs one to the sights which would arouse the attention of the casual passerby.

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To illuminate the deficiencies is not to suggest there are not individuals and groups and organizations trying to address them, but the slowly-turning wheels of government and the inattention of property owners mitigate against speedy resolutions.

Main Street, high side. This section is long past due for adequate access by disabled persons. The steps at both sides of the Lexington Avenue-Main Street intersection deserve ramp access. Imagine someone in a wheelchair having to travel in the street from Lexington Avenue to Court Street in order to reach a ramp which would take them to the high side. To aggravate this situation, the existing ramp does not meet current ADA accessibility requirements.

Further, many locations along the steps of the high side present hazardous conditions because the risers are not consistent, or too high, or the treads are too narrow, sometimes requiring a person to turn his or her foot sideways just in order to be able to make the step.

There are also too few handrails available for those using the steps.

The downtown Master Plan addressed most of these issues; it’s time to start implementing that plan. The high side steps are an integral part of the history of downtown Winchester, but it’s time to bring them into the 21st Century with necessary improvements.

If a compliant ramp is not constructed at the intersection of Main and Broadway soon, some provision should be made at the steps there leading down to Broadway to provide a way for someone in a wheelchair to stop. The slope of the sidewalk as it approaches that corner is quite steep and poses a challenge to those in wheelchairs. A barrier of some sort should be constructed that would allow a person to stop before plummeting down the steps in an uncontrolled roll.

The sidewalk on Cleveland Street, north side, is an accident waiting to happen. Not only does the wall along that walk present a hazard to vehicles backing into parallel parking spaces, there is no safety rail along that wall, which would be required if it were new construction. Additionally the steps down toward the courthouse annex are uneven and lack adequate handrails and guardrails. It would be fairly simple to construct a handicap ramp at this location, setting it into the yard area beside the steps, but as conditions are now, anyone in a wheelchair cannot continue westward; they would have to backtrack and either travel in the street or cross over to the courthouse side.

On the opposite side of the courthouse along Court Street, the south side of the street presents several hindrances to walking. That side is flanked by historic buildings and some wonderful local shops, but the conditions along the walk at the upper end almost make one want to cross over to the courthouse side of the street rather than navigate around the power poles, the trash containers which consume too much width of the walk (and are always there), and the sad condition of the old railing adjacent to the building.

All the conditions noted here can be fixed. Some will take more time and resources than others; some are easily addressed.

It will take a sense of “can do, will do.”

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.