Precast concrete ramps benefit not only disabled persons, but precasters, contractors and DPWs as well.
By Greg Snapper
A public access ramp is generally ignored and uncelebrated by its user, but to Ed Kochling, this hunk of concrete is a masterpiece.
A civil engineer for the Worcester, Mass., Department of Public Works (DPW), Kochling designed a specialized precast concrete public access ramp for the city. Kochling helped initiate a project to improve the current construction methods with a design goal of producing precast concrete ramps that offer several qualities:
- They must comply with the rules and regulations of the state’s Architectural Access Board (AAB) as well as those specified by the Americans with Disabilities Association (ADA).
- They must be practical to produce and install.
- They must be durable and functional.
- They must be easily recognized and aesthetically pleasing to the general public.
Kochling designed the product with a specific problem in mind: the construction industry’s struggle to comply with state and local regulations regarding public access ramps. Kochling determined that the primary reason for the problem was the method of construction. Currently in ramp creation, the flat part of the sidewalk is constructed first. A ramp is then cast in place between the existing walkway and the roadway. Using this method, the slope of the ramp must be varied to meet the sidewalk and roadway elevations. This can result in ramps that are inconsistent with ADA standards.
A precast concrete ramp would solve this sloping dilemma. By installing the precast concrete ramp first, instead of at the tail end of construction, control points would be provided to build the main sidewalk. This provides a smooth transition, which complies with ADA standards.
It is unlikely that the idea of precast concrete access ramps is originally Kochling’s, and there are reasons why it wasn’t considered a practical application until now. For one, the ramps were too heavy and difficult to maneuver. Second, every ramp location was unique. Finally, it was less expensive to build a ramp on site. These issues are addressed and solved by the use of precast ramps along with ushering in a new method of sidewalk construction.
The simple and practical approach of building the ramp first and then grading the sidewalk to meet it is gaining support. Contractors are just starting to find out that costs are cut when manufacturing these curb cutters.
“There is very little uniformity with cast-in-place ramps,” Kochling says. “By using precast, you take that factor out and end up with a win-win situation for the installer, precaster, users and owner of the project.”
Ed began this self-proclaimed “hobby until he makes a fortune” only two years ago when the city of Worcester permitted him to build forms and pour product in the city storage yard. Kochling donated his first two forms to a Worcester Regional Transit Authority project, which consisted of a concrete pad and crosswalk being installed at a bus station shelter.
“This is a product that doesn’t go bad on the shelf,” Kochling says. “This product is really useful in cities like Worcester where the DPW is small. But if you can get a foothold with this product in big-city applications like in New York City, this can be a huge money saver.”
New York City has approximately 12,750 miles of sidewalks, making it a constant construction zone for pedestrian infrastructure, while Worcester’s 473 miles of sidewalks get considerably less foot traffic. Currently, three of Kochling’s precast ramps lay between sidewalk slabs on Worcester’s sidewalks. Showing the versatility of the product, Kochling praises the durability of the ramps due to a transplant of one of the ramps after resting two years in one location. Kochling believes this economical factor is sure to attract penny-pinching contractors and DPWs looking to cut corners.
Early detection and life-long advertising
An early detection system can be cast into the ramp as an added safety feature. It consists of heavy road tape with a rough surface texture placed on the curb at either side of the ramp opening. A piece of aluminum diamond plate or a bronze medallion would be installed in the center-top portion of the ramp. The tape and plate or medallion together form a triangle of sensory points that the vision impaired can detect with their feet or their canes. This triangular system will help people locate and orient themselves on the ramp.
Pedestrian traffic as well as the appearance of walkways will see significant improvement along with an additional special option for clients: sponsorship. Local businesses and individuals can be part of a sponsorship program in which a donation would provide funds for a new ramp. The sponsor’s name is emblazoned onto a bronze medallion, advertising or memorializing the firm or individual. This program has the potential to create community support and cooperation as well as reduce the cost of ramp installation fees and overall project costs. The medallion and early detection device, both about the size of a compact disk, can be cast on the surface of the ramp to the buyers’ specifications.
Wheelchair users can tell right away that Kochling’s precast ramp is a safe bet, says Mike Galvin, Worcester Police Department City official for handicap affairs. Galvin, a wheelchair user, is an advocate for the Worcester disabled community.
“Every ramp has the right specs so you have proper pitch and slope,” he says. “Wheelchair users see it as a safe ramp, and they know this just from the ease of daily use.”
Matching Galvin’s enthusiasm for the ramp is Barbara White, co-creator of Independent Network of Citizens with disABILITIES, an informal committee addressing the abilities, not the disabilities, of the Worcester disabled community. White, who has suffered from degenerative disk disease since 1992, has used a wheelchair since 2000. She is concerned that the general public lacks education about the potential multipurpose use of Kochling’s precast ramp.
“I think that if people got the chance to use it, it would become obvious that it’s a wonderful public product for seniors and parents with baby strollers, and that it’s not just for the disabled,” White says. Her adamant belief that access is for everybody – that this product is not just for the disabled – could bolster efforts to popularize precast concrete public access ramps in the construction industry. Showing its multipurpose benefits not only to the general public, but to precast manufacturers, contractors, local, state and federal governments and businesses as well could bolster support to mass produce the product.