Caltrans to invest more than $1.6 million to make Ashby Avenue more accessible

Jasmany Flores/Staff

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Starting this fall, Caltrans will invest more than $1.6 million in construction to make Berkeley sidewalks more accessible to people with disabilities.

Caltrans will be widening sidewalks and regrading curb ramps on the portion of Ashby Avenue that lies between Shattuck Avenue and Seventh Street, among other projects. The project monies were allocated as part of $814 million in transportation funding from the California Transportation Commission, toward 135 projects across California designed to improve traffic and road conditions.

The new improvements stem from a 2010 update to the Americans with Disabilities Act that mandated new requirements for sidewalks and curb ramps. The original act, approved in 1990, required that public accommodations throughout the country be made accessible to people with disabilities.

“When it comes to pedestrian access, it comes down to complete access — making sure our streets are usable by everyone,” Caltrans spokesperson Robert Haus said.

The funding will bring additional changes to the Bay Area, such as replacing the Estero American Bridge in Marin for $14.7 million. Additionally, improvements are planned for Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco and I-80 near Vacaville.

In Berkeley, Campus Access Specialist Ben Perez said the city’s sidewalks pose problems for those with disabilities, such as sections where tree roots have made the concrete uneven.

“Berkeley sidewalks are a work in progress,” Perez said. “They are like many city sidewalks — old.”

He added that the repairs and modernizations of the sidewalk were indicative of local and state agencies’ “commitment to providing accessibility” but that better access to public streets requires greater access to information, such as what areas are currently difficult or impossible to navigate.

Caltrans, which normally oversees state highways and other forms of public transportation, will focus on Ashby Avenue because the street forms part of Highway 13, according to Haus. While Caltrans construction crews retrofit Ashby Avenue, Haus said the city of Berkeley will also be conducting work to ensure its own streets are compliant with the 2010 update.

The $1.667 million falls within the scope of normal for this type and size of project, Haus said.

Recent UC Berkeley graduate Kim Pham interned with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency last summer, in its accessible services division. Pham hopes the city will not only improve major thoroughfares but also residential areas that may have spottier accessibility.

“Personally I have seen sidewalks in these residential areas that are so damaged or narrow so that it would be difficult for someone using a wheelchair to navigate without caution,” Pham said in an email.

The timeline for Berkeley’s expected renovations has not been finalized, according to Haus, but they are expected to begin sometime in the fall and finish in about five months.

Contact Anna Sturla at [email protected].