Saturday, September 11, 2010

Chelm-on-the-Deschutes Revisited: The Curb Ramp Fiasco

Posted By on Sat, Sep 11, 2010 at 6:29 PM

The humor writer Sholem Aleichem set many of his funny tales in Chelm, an Eastern European village whose inhabitants, according to folklore, were all complete idiots.

For instance, here’s a Chelm joke:

Two men from Chelm got jobs on a construction site. One day the foreman saw one of them standing on the shoulders of the other, holding up a long pipe and dropping a tape measure from the top of it.

“What on earth are you doing?” the foreman asked. “Why don’t you just lay the pipe on the ground and measure it that way?”

“Boss,” one of the men from Chelm explained, “we don’t need to know how long it is – we need to know how high it is.”

There is no evidence that Sholem Aleichim ever visited Bend, Oregon, or even heard of it. But there are days when I feel almost sure that Bend was the inspiration for Chelm.

Like when I read the story the other day about the city’s latest ADA screw-up.

The Americans With Disabilities Act requires public sidewalks to have ramps cut through the curbs to provide wheelchair access at street corners. It seems that 90% (you read that right, 90%) of the more than 7,000 curb ramps in the city don’t meet ADA standards.

Estimated cost to fix them: $34 million. For a city that’s already staring into a multimillion-dollar budget hole.

Okay, it wouldn’t be a big surprise if a few – hell, even a few dozen – curb ramps were improperly built. But 90 frickin’ percent???

As City Councilor Jim Clinton said, “You think at random they’d get something right.”

I’m not an engineer, but I suspect that building a curb ramp is not on the same order of technical difficulty as, say, launching the space shuttle or performing a heart transplant. I also know that the ADA specifications for curb ramps are not some arcane secret; they have been public for a long time.

Presumably the contractors who built these ramps had specifications to follow. And presumably the city had some knowledgeable person or persons inspect the ramps after they were built to ensure they had been built according to those specifications.

Which leads me to ask three questions:

1. Who signed off on those defective curb ramps?

2. Are they still employed by the city?

3. If so, why?

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