Answer Man: Why do sidewalks have those red bumpy areas?

News-DemocratDecember 6, 2013 

What purpose do those red rectangular areas with the little bumps serve at the end of sidewalks? -- Rex Shanks of Troy

If you're able to read this, try to imagine being visually impaired and going out for your daily stroll.

Just 25 years ago, you usually did so totally at your own peril. As you approached an intersection, you'd have to carefully probe with your cane to feel where and how far you would have to step down off the sidewalk so you didn't stumble and fall into the street.

But when President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law on July 26, 1990, traversing the urban landscape became at least a bit less tricky for those with sight and other major physical disabilities.

Shallow ramps began to be installed at the ends of sidewalks. Curbs had sections missing so that the road and sidewalk met on the same level, allowing wheelchairs to roll easily and the blind to avoid potentially dangerous spills. And near the ends of sidewalks you began seeing those reddish rectangles with the bumps.

In fact, they're called ADA panels, and as you've likely surmised by now, they're there to alert the disabled that they are about to cross a street, according to John Harwerth, a supervisor at Hank's Excavating and Landscaping in Belleville. Made of a fiberglass material, they serve as a visual alert for those in wheelchairs, and, perhaps more important, they are tactile cues for the blind when their canes run across the bumps.

So now whenever Belleville, for example, replaces part of its 125-mile sidewalk system, the city follows the rules and regulations in a "thick, little book" to make them ADA-compliant, City Engineer Tim Gregowicz told me. Guidelines include the slope of the sidewalks, the slope of those end ramps -- and those ADA panels.

They come in pre-measured panels to fit various widths of sidewalk, and they generally cost about $30-$40 per square foot depending on the area needed, Gregowicz said. You'll see them more and more as deteriorating sidewalks are replaced.

Back in business: The ceiling has been fixed, so the clientele of the Catholic and Community Credit Union will find the welcome mat out again at 9 a.m. Monday at its west Belleville branch at 6100 W. Main St.

Two weeks ago today, the office had to close up shop when employees looked up and noticed the ceiling was starting to sag and crack. Since then, repairs have been made so the office can reopen, said Vicki Westerfield, the credit union's marketing spokeswoman. The problem? As explained to Westerfield, wind somehow was making its way around the roof, putting pressure on the ceiling.

Listen up, Pilgrim: My Thanksgiving column on the Mayflower brought warm childhood memories to Paul Henning, of Smithton.

Henning is a native of Plymouth, Mass., where the Pilgrims established their colony in 1620 after arriving on the Mayflower. The original boat was scrapped soon after, but in the 1950s, people in England raised enough money to build a replica. It sailed into Plymouth in 1957 and now serves as a floating museum at the Plimoth (original spelling) Plantation three miles south of town.

"My grandmother was in a big parade as a Pilgrim to commemorate the arrival," Henning wrote. "I worked in a restaurant across from the Mayflower for four summers and have been on the Mayflower dozens of times. It is small to us modern people."

Imagine spending 66 days on rough seas with 101 other passengers on a ship barely 100 feet long and 25 feet wide. For more interesting tidbits, go to www.historicplymoth.com or www.plimoth.org.

Today's trivia

What was the first movie to receive a PG-13 rating? R? X? NC-13?

Answer to Thursday's trivia: If you're like me, you may have thought the Beatles' 1967 hit "Strawberry Fields Forever" came out of some drug-induced reverie. As it turns out, it apparently was inspired by something heartwarming: John Lennon's memories of playing in the garden at Strawberry Field, a Salvation Army children's home near Lennon's boyhood home in Liverpool. That's according to Barry Miles, who has written numerous books on the Beatles and the rock music culture. I thought I remembered seeing the debut of the music videos for "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" on ABC's old Saturday night variety show "The Hollywood Palace." Sure enough, when I looked it up, some now say they may have been the first MTV-style of music videos ever shown on television _ way back on Feb. 25, 1967. (Actor Van Johnson was the host.) Soon, other shows were easing time limits for psychedelic music performances.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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