Visalia outlines ADA path in downtown

Shot of cracked sidewalk and pavers around a tree planter located on E Center St and S Santa Fe looking west.(Kenny Goodman)

City of Visalia works to accommodate residents with disabilities with ADA compliant project widening a pathway along downtown sidewalks

VISALIA – The city is in the process of improving the sidewalks along Main Street to address cracked pavement and path-hindering tree wells for residents with disabilities.

The overall goal of the project, referred to as the Tree Well Project, is to make the sidewalks from Santa Fe to Willis Street more ADA (American with Disabilities Act) compliant. After its planning stages are complete, the project will extend a pathway along the sidewalk to give disabled residents an easier time maneuvering the path and bring improvements to downtown overall.

“Everybody should be able to navigate downtown, and whatever that’s going to take, we need to figure that out, and this is the start of that process,” Visalia councilmember Steve Nelsen said.

The project will make the sidewalks along Main Street more ADA compliant by making improvements to the tree wells – the spaces of dirt around the trunks of the trees along the pavement. According to city civil engineer Chantha Chap, the city will extend the pathway and ensure ADA compliance by adding steel grates over the plots of dirt, bringing it over the minimum ADA requirement of a three-foot pathway to the city’s preferred five-foot path.

“It would improve safety and beautify downtown as well,” Chap said. “It would also improve the overall quality of life for the citizens.”

In addition to steel grates, the project will also take care of broken up areas found around the tree wells; which according to Chap, are due to the natural growth of trees under the pavement and have potential to create safety concerns.

“The roots are picking up the concrete, creating these trip hazards and cracks in the sidewalks,” Chap said.

At its June 5 meeting, Visalia City Council gave the city’s public works department the authorization to move forward with the design of localized repairs to the sidewalk. Chap, who is also one of the project managers for this development, said the next step is to meet with stakeholders as part of the project’s preliminary design phase for discussion of topics like project cost and how to break it up.

All together, the project is estimated at $2.6 million. Roughly $1.4 million will be supplied from a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) received by the city, which must be utilized by a deadline of June 30, 2025 or the city will lose the funding, as noted by councilmember Nelsen.

Arrangements will also be made with the property owners along that stretch of downtown for each individual piece of property affected, as well as the Downtown Visalia Property Owners Association; a professional business improvement district. This is because each property owner is responsible for their parcel up to the curb of the lot, which includes the tree wells and sidewalks, as it is established in the city’s municipal code for the matter.

Nelsen, as a representative of downtown Visalia, said he will convene with each respective property owner and submit a proposal to the Property Owners Association, which has a specific amount of funds it can contribute to environmental enhancement improvements, to see what each one can contribute to the project.

“We’re kind of under the gun,” Nelsen said regarding the timeline on getting the CDBG funds distributed for the project. “I’ll be meeting with [city staff] and figure out what we need to do as property owners, what we are going to look at first and then I’ll reach out to property owners. We got to get this moving.”

An area in particular that Nelsen confirmed would likely be a good starting point for the project is the sidewalk on Main Street in front of Bank of America, especially if the funds turn out to be limited. In that circumstance, he noted the importance of starting with priority areas first and steadily working down from there.

“What this does is give us various contributors to solve the problem – and it is a problem,” Nelsen said in a description of the overall project. “If you’re in a wheelchair, if you’re in a walker or are walking with a cane, you’re not paying attention. It’s a trip hazard.”

This project marks three of three ADA compliant-efforts for the city, according to Chap. Before addressing the tree wells along Main Street, the city started putting together a similar project of creating an ADA pathway from Main Street to the Transit Center, which is still currently under design.

The first project of the three was the audible pedestrian crosswalk project. This upgraded the pedestrian push buttons along various stop lights to speak when it’s time for a resident to walk, either confirming safe crossing or naming the street that can be crossed; the prior system only triggered the crosswalk symbol but did not provide a voice option.

The projects were initiated by the city’s Disability Advocacy Committee after the city received Community Development Block Grant funds. After some collaboration with the city, the three projects were determined to be a priority and are meant to accommodate ADA complaints for disabled individuals.

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