Ever hear the phrase, “low hanging fruit“? It is the most annoying phrase in planning circles, and it abounds in all industries. It means to accomplish the easy stuff first. And I think it presumes that when the easy stuff is accomplished, then the hard stuff will be attempted next. Right?
That. Rarely. Happens.
The City of Chicago settled a lawsuit in 2007 that required it to spend a $50 million over 5 years (2007-2011) in “new money” (not previously budgeted to repair sidewalks) to fix curb ramps at crosswalks to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It turns out that what’s accessible to people with disabilities really makes things accessible to everyone. In each construction season, Loop workers saw many curb ramps change in a matter of days. And it happened all around the city.
The photo above shows the southwest curb ramps of Kinzie Street and Clark Street. There is a step on the north side and a curb on the east side. There are no ramps here. Based on the curb height and the slopes of the two streets, this installation seems atypical than the majority that were modified.
Thus, the $50 million has covered a lot of the low hanging fruit, but it’s time to fix the “high hanging fruit”. I don’t know if there’s an opposite or a next level. I searched for it online (“opposite of low hanging fruit”) and found “meat in the sky”.
P.S. I’d say the City has a good history of bungling “meat in the sky” projects. Like congestion parking pricing in 2008 and 2009. Or foregoing the power of parking pricing to manage congestion and raise revenue simultaneously by cheating itself, via a contract in the vendor’s favor, the parking meter deal, in 2009. These both would have given Chicago real command over its streets, reducing congestion and increasing the quality of bus transit. And the parking meter deal, as we quickly found out, make it harder to create protected bike lanes.
P.P.S. If there’s any indication of the apathetic attitude towards accessibility on the part of construction workers, who must follow Illinois construction standards, and city inspectors (do they still exist?), who must enforce the laws, this is it:
The sidewalk has been removed, there’s no sign, no barrier, no detour for people walking. Everyone I witnessed walked through the dirt-filled construction zone to get to the other side. It was either that or turn around and cross the street.