Colin Mills: Springing Forward Into a More Accessible Reston

Colin Mills/File photoWith the RCA election in full swing (vote now!) and my time as President winding down, I’ve been trying to fill you in on what we’re doing before I depart. It occurs to me that I haven’t talked about the Reston Accessibility Committee lately. 

Happily, Ken Fredgren and his committee are still working hard to make Reston’s commercial buildings and facilities more accessible to people with disabilities. This week, I’ll bring you up to date on some of their most recent projects.

When I last discussed RAC’s work, I shared the success of a major effort by Ken and other advocates to make Virginia’s building codes friendlier for people with disabilities. This was a major, multi-year effort, and I’m thrilled that it came to fruition. But I know the completion of that effort was also something of a relief for RAC’s chair. He no longer needs to travel back and forth to Richmond, and he’s able to focus his efforts back home in Reston.  That renewed focus is reaping significant benefits for the community.

Because most RAC projects deal with outdoor facilities (parking lots, sidewalks, and the like), construction tends to take place in the warmer months. This can make winter a somewhat frustrating time for RAC, as progress slows down considerably. The bright side is that come springtime, there’s often a surge as several projects move forward almost simultaneously. I will report on three projects in this installment, but there’s more good work in progress.

Two of RAC’s recent successes are actually updates on long-standing projects. One of them, Hunters Woods Village Center, is actually up for a third go-round. In 2009, RAC worked with the then-owners to add accessible parking spaces and access aisles, curb cuts, and crosswalks. When Edens & Avant purchased the center in 2012 and planned to redesign the parking lot, RAC engaged them to ensure that the existing improvements would be preserved. Not only were the improvements retained, but the accessible spaces were moved closer to the buildings, making them even more convenient.

There was one remaining holdup: At RAC’s suggestion, Edens had promised to add additional accessible spaces to the lot. Unfortunately, due to a miscommunication with the paving contractor, no additional spaces were added. Ken maintained a good-faith dialog with Edens, and last month, he found that a new accessible space and access aisles had been added, replacing two regular parking spaces. Kudos to Ken for his persistence, and to Edens for keeping their word to make Hunters Woods more accessible.

The second project is at Reston Corner, the office park where RA’s headquarters is located. In 2009, RAC made a series of recommendations for the building at 12007 Sunrise Valley Drive: addition of automatic entrance doors, the addition of access aisles and curb ramps in the parking lot, and an update to the signs on the accessible parking spaces. The doors were installed, the signs were updated, and the access aisles were added; unfortunately, the contractor didn’t install curb ramps or correct the slope of the accessible spaces.  This meant that people with disabilities could now get out of their cars, but they couldn’t get safely from the accessible spaces to the sidewalk.

RAC met with representatives of Cassidy Turley, the property manager, and made a clever suggestion: add asphalt to the accessible spaces to raise them up to the level of the curb. This would both fix the slope of the spaces and allow safe access to the sidewalk without having to install curb ramps. Cassidy Turley adopted the suggestion, and last month, they revamped the spaces to make them fully accessible and compliant with ADA regulations.

When Ken drove by the lot to check out the improvements, he spotted a woman helping her mother, who uses a walker, out of the car in one of the improved spaces. He asked the woman what she thought of the new layout, and she said, “It’s so much better!” This was a perfect example of how RAC’s efforts make concrete improvements in the lives of people with disabilities.

RAC’s third project deals with Carrabba’s Restaurant on Sunset Hills Road.  Ken brought the site to RAC’s attention when he noticed that their parking lot contained only two accessible spaces. The law requires three accessible spaces for a lot that size, and given Carrabba’s popularity, RAC felt that four spaces would better reflect the need. The signs on the accessible spaces were also in need of updating.

RAC contacted the restaurant’s owner. He replaced the signs right away, but said that Carrabba’s corporate headquarters would need to address the accessible spaces.  RAC followed up with corporate, only to discover that the site’s landlord was in charge of the parking lot.  Undeterred, RAC reached out to Dwoskin, the property manager, to follow up.

Happily, Dwoskin was responsive to RAC’s outreach, and made plans to add accessible spaces. They were scheduled to complete the work early this month; the next time I go for dinner there, I will check it out myself.

All in all, not a bad haul for the past month!  (Of course, all of these successes are the result of months or even years of calls, emails, letters, meetings, and friendly but persistent effort by the RAC team.) As the warmer weather continues, RAC should have more progress to report soon.

Working with Ken Fredgren and RAC on behalf of Restonians with disabilities has been a highlight of my time with RCA.  Ken is an inspiration and a true friend, and the members of RAC are a pleasure to work with.  That’s why, even though I’m stepping off the RCA Board, I plan to continue working with RAC.  I believe in RAC’s mission, and I want to see their successes continue.

If you share my support for improving access to Reston’s buildings and facilities, I hope that you’ll become a member of RAC.  The bigger RAC grows, the more good they’ll be able to do for the community.  I hope to see you at RAC’s next meeting.

Colin Mills is the president of the Reston Citizens Association

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