Lynnwood City Council discusses ways to bring city’s sidewalks, curb ramps into ADA compliance

Lynnwood Public Works Director Bill Franz (bottom center) presents city staff’s recommendations to bring Lynnwood’s sidewalks, curb ramps and right-of-way facilities into ADA compliance.

Plans to make Lynnwood a transportation-friendly city have hit a few bumps in the road as thousands of sidewalks, curb ramps and public right-of-way facilities do not meet federal mandates to serve residents with disabilities, according to a recent study conducted by city staff.

The Lynnwood City Council at its Sept. 21 work session discussed the city’s ongoing Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Self-Evaluation and Transition Plan Project, which includes looking at all city parks, sidewalks and facilities to ensure they are ADA compliant.

The fact that Lynnwood’s oldest sidewalks are more than 50 years old, coupled with new ADA requirements, means the city needs to address the issue sooner rather than later, Public Works Director Bill Franz said. And that’s especially true since Lynnwood has been positioned as a transportation-friendly city.

“Transportation issues in Lynnwood are critical to our success,” he said.

Franz said the city has two options regarding sidewalk maintenance. If the city code regarding sidewalk maintenance remains as is, property owners would be responsible for fixing adjacent sidewalks in need of repair. Conversely, the city could change the codes and assume the responsibility — and cost — to repair the sidewalks, making them ADA compliant.

Since 2017, the city has been evaluating sidewalks and meeting with focus groups that included people with disabilities to ensure barriers are removed to meet their needs. According to the city’s findings, 2,800 curb ramps in the public right of way — as well as 137 miles of sidewalk adjacent and 5,528 driveways that cross sidewalks — were not ADA compliant.

City Engineer David Mach said one reason the city does not meet ADA mandates is because much of Lynnwood was built before the ADA came into place. Other factors affecting compliance include changes to ADA mandates, improperly constructed ramps and tree roots upheaving sidewalks.

“There’s a lot of things that are happening in our right of ways every day that have made a lot of our sidewalks noncompliant,” he said.

The cost to bring all of the city’s sidewalks, curb ramps and right-of-way facilities to full ADA compliance is estimated at $200 million to $300 million. Of that, Mach said the city is responsible for updating its curb ramps, which is estimated to cost $60 million. He said the high cost reflects the difficulties that go into planning, designing and constructing an ADA compliant ramp. 

Since 2015, Mach said, the city has received 13 claims alleging that injuries were caused by substandard ADA facilities. Three claims have been settled out of court and one claim is still pending. The rest did not result in payouts.

To resolve the issue, city staff are suggesting street improvement projects include plans to update nearby ramps, which would cost $240,000 a year. Staff also recommend requiring new developers to update frontage and ramps and spend $500,000 each year on ramp upgrades.

“We feel that if we do these things that we should minimize the risk to the city and also be able to implement quality ADA facilities in our community,” Mach said.

While the city code states property owners are responsible for repairing sidewalks adjacent to their property, Washington state courts have ruled cities are also responsible. Deputy Public Works Director Les Rubstello said that even though the city is not legally responsible, staff have responded to and repaired sidewalk trip hazards in the past. If the city decides to keep the current code, he suggested the city spend $50,000 a year grinding down sidewalks to remove tripping hazards.

Other suggestions included:

  • Notifying property owners of the issue and giving them two months to fix the sidewalk or billing them if the city has to fix it.
  • Creating a sidewalk repair fund financed by a new property tax or monthly utility charge
  • Using some of the city’s existing utility tax.
  • Requiring homeowners to repair damaged sidewalks before selling their property.

During the council’s discussion, Councilmember George Hurst suggested a voter-approved property tax advertising a “Walkable Lynnwood.”

“That’s really what we’re trying to push and if we don’t have sidewalks then it’s not very walkable,” he said.

Councilmember Ian Cotton said he would favor finding a way to fund ADA improvements as the city improves streets. Additionally, instead of requiring homeowners to repair sidewalks before selling their property, Cotton suggested having a portion of the property sale go toward the repairs.

“From a risk management standpoint, I think it would be good stewardship to make sure we’re doing something,” he said. “So, if somebody does bring forward a serious offense, we have a fairly substantial backstop to say, ‘We’re working on it.’”

In other business, the council received an update on the city’s housing action plan — a document that will guide the city by offering a comprehensive plan to bring a variety of housing options for people of all income levels. The plan will address the city’s current housing needs and the needs of the projected future population.

During the meeting, city staff presented the housing needs assessment, a report identifying the city’s existing and future housing needs that will serve as a foundation for policy recommendations. The assessment contains summary data and information about population characteristics, workforce composition, existing housing stock and an assessment of gaps.

Senior Planner Kristen Holdsworth said the plan aims to address the city’s need for affordable housing. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines “affordable housing” as a household that spends more than 30% of their income on housing, which includes rent/mortgage, utilities and home repairs.

“Lynnwood especially is having difficulties with housing affordability,” she said. “In our community, nearly 40% of the households are spending more than 30% of their income on housing.”

According to Holdsworth, many Lynnwood residents are being priced out of the city due to rising housing costs. She said residents who grew up in the city are moving their families to more affordable cities. Older folks on fixed incomes who wish to retire and remain in Lynnwood are also finding it difficult to stay in the city, she said.

Holdsworth said staff are reviewing the city’s current codes and policies regarding housing to see if those elements will conflict with the plans to bring more housing to Lynnwood. Staff will bring their recommendations to the council next month.

The council also received its regular update regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and the impacts it’s had on Lynnwood and Snohomish County. Following the council’s update on the latest COVID-19 data from Lynnwood Police Cmdr. Chuck Steichen, Councilmember Jim Smith requested that the council be provided with information about the underlying health conditions and ages of those who have died from the virus. In recent weeks, Smith has requested that information about the health of those who died as a result of the coronavirus be shared with the council to examine whether it was the virus alone that caused the deaths or other health issues.

Steichen said it may be possible to get the age groups for those who have died from COVID-19, but other health conditions they had might be protected by Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). He added that the Snohomish Health District does not retain all of the information from the medical examiner’s office, but information on the health district’s website could potentially answer some of his questions.

In response to Smith’s request, Councilmember Ruth Ross said the ages and underlying health conditions of those who have died as a result of the virus are irrelevant and staff should not be responsible for getting the information.

“Regardless of how old or sick people are, they still didn’t need to die and if you want information on statistics, there’s lots of it out there,” she said.

Smith said he was asking for the information that would make decisions regarding the city’s response to the virus easier.

The council also continued a previous discussion regarding a proposal by Councilmember Smith to set aside $50,000 of federal CARES Act funds to assist the Lynnwood Food Bank in purchasing a vehicle. The vehicle would provide mobile food bank services throughout the community, as well as direct deliveries.

After the city recently received additional funds to aid its COVID-19 response, the council initially proposed allocating $100,000 to the city’s community relief program, which helps Lynnwood residents impacted by the pandemic cover the cost of rent and mortgages. However, at the council’s Sept. 14 business meeting Smith said that since the community relief program still had funds, the council should only allocate half of the amount and use the rest to help the food bank.

According to Steichen, the total cost to purchase and configure the vehicle for the food bank would be close to $90,000. In addition to the potential $50,000 from the city, the food bank planned to receive funds from Verdant Health Commission and community donations.

During the Sept. 14 discussion, some council members said they were concerned about awarding federal funds to a local nonprofit organization after previously deciding not to do so. Instead, the council agreed to distribute funds directly to community members and local business owners in impacted by the pandemic.

“As much as I love the food bank…so far, none of our community funds have gone directly to a nonprofit,” Council Vice President Shannon Sessions aid at the Sept. 14 meeting. “I would hate to just leave another local nonprofit out without talking about that since we haven’t done that.”

Steichen said if the council awarded the funds to the food bank, the city would have to monitor the use of the vehicle as a city asset for 10 years. Additionally, if the food bank sold the vehicle, Steichen said the funds from the sale would have to be returned to the city and redistributed.

“If council feels very strongly to provide that level of funding to the food bank, I would push that level of funding to be more used for products they provide to the public that’s easily identifiable when within the parameters of the grant,” he said.

Steichen also reminded the council that time was a factor with CARES Act funds. In order to receive the funding, the city has to identify how those funds will be spent by Nov. 30. He said the vehicle could take longer to purchase than the deadline allows, and the city would risk not receiving that portion of the funds

Smith’s initial proposal came after the council learned that the Communities of Color Coalition (C3) — which the city contracted with to distribute the community relief funds — had been slow to allocate funds due to a combination of an overly extensive application process and too few applicants who lived within Lynnwood city limits. Since then, Steichen said C3 has revised its application process and funds are being distributed at a faster rate.

Councilmember Cotton — who in the past favored providing funds to the food bank — said since C3 is closer to awarding the $200,000 allocated to the community relief program than it was earlier this year, it should receive the full additional amount. 

“As much good as the food bank does and as noble as their mission is, I think the original intention of (the funds) was to get money in the hands of people that were at risk of losing housing,” he said.

Also during the meeting, the council interviewed candidates for multiple city boards and commissions including:

  • Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission candidates Daniela Altamirano-Crosby, Marcia Smith and Joshua Binda.
  • Parks and Recreation Board applicant Katie McKeown
  • Arts Commission applicant Teodora Popescu

The council also discussed the reappointment of Rosario Reyes to Position 4 of the city’s Public Facilities District Board. 

–By Cody Sexton

  1. I’m wondering about disparity in sidewalks. We live off the 36th Improvement corridor and those sidewalks are great. Our cul-de-sac was wooded, then those woods were replaced with new homes. The new homes have sidewalks. But those of us in btw have to walk in the street to get to 36th. If our wheelchair bound neighbor can’t navigate our old sidewalk-less street to get to the ADA sidewalks, whats the point?

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