Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Cobbles under glass, Part 3: Another look at the ADA question

Continued from: [Part 1] [Part 2]

Since I posted article Scare talk: ADA, emails have apparently been flying around the town. There seems to be some concern that (and I'll quote from an email):
The writer of memphiscobblestones.com insists that the cobblestones are already ADA compliant since "The sidewalk along Riverside Drive provides an incomparable view of the entire length of the Cobblestone Landing -- and that sidewalk isn't going to be under water much of the time, like the one the RDC proposes."

That isn't quite the point I was intending to make, because I hadn't finished addressing the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] subject. But no matter, I will do so now.

The email flurry might have been triggered or encouraged by RDC officials because, as I said, they love to use scare-talk to achieve their purposes. ADA compliance is one of their favorite scare-topics, especially in this instance, as you may soon realize.

Figure: The sidewalk in question (see arrows above) would be ADA accessible, but would deny all of the use of a historic riverboat landing. Not only that, it would be underwater much of the time.

On the other hand, I'd prefer to take the writer's concerns very much at face value, and so I will. The writer raises a legitimate question. ADA is an extremely important subject, a national priority and not merely a requirement in the law.

It's a subject that always deserves concern, but often requires some careful thought and study, not just knee-jerk reactions as might be provoked with scare-talk. This is exactly one of those cases, and I welcome the opportunity to explore the issue with you.

The writer of the email goes on to say this:
I do not personally feel that the Riverside walkway will provide nearly the experience of the river or the cobblestones that the proposed walkway will [my emphasis]

I absolutely, unequivocally, applaud that sentiment!

I am thrilled that someone wants do more than just to "observe" the Cobblestones (with "appropriate interpretive signage"), as the RDC would have us do. The writer sincerely wants to experience them. It is the perfect word and it's right on point with an issue that needs to be thought about by all of us before it's too late.

It's the main issue. In fact, I started this web site precisely because I realized a bit over a year ago that the RDC's plans would deny all Memphians, not just those with disabilities, an authentic experience of the Cobblestone Landing. I and others warned the City about this problem, but to no avail.

How do people experience the cobblestones today?

They go down there by the busloads at around 2:30 pm, descend a ramp, walk across the cobbles, and board a riverboat via a gangplank -- just as it has been done by people and cargo for over 150 years. Since the founding of the City, in fact. Since well before the City got smart and paved the area with quarried cobbles, starting in 1859.

That was my first real experience of the Cobblestone Landing. (I'll bet it was yours, too.) I've been there many times since, for photography and other reasons, but I'll always remember my first riverboat trip on the Mississippi, embarking from the one best-preserved examples of a Cobblestone Landing in the USA.

But that opportunity to experience the Cobblestone Landing will end in a year, under the proposed plan.

So let me say without hesitation: If the problem to be addressed is to enable Americans, both with and without disabilities, the chance to authentically experience the Cobblestone Landing, just as it has been used and experienced continuously for well over 150 years (to this day, even), I welcome that problem with open arms. I want to solve that problem. Let's talk.

Surely there's a way to provide ADA access to the excursions without closing the Landing to riverboats, as the current plan would do.

Are you hearing my point?

You see, the RDC doesn't want to solve that problem. They want to solve the their own problem -- the problem of "those darn boats"*, and they are using you as an excuse and an unwitting ally. They are proposing to give you and I an alternative experience (cobblestone observer) in a way that denies all of us of the authentic experience of boarding a boat at the Cobblestones and taking a trip up and down the Mississippi. You are slyly being used, therefore, as a justification for decommissioning our great, historic, Cobblestone Landing.

I'm sorry, but I have to be brutally honest: Both you and I are being hornswoggled.

That is what concerns me. I hope you can applaud my sentiment. I hope you won't allow yourselves to be tricked into supporting this plan.

*If you want to learn how the RDC really feels about those darn boats, check out this article from last year's budget hearings (starting at the point when Council Member Boyd takes over the questioning). Listen to the audio I posted there. The RDC doesn't even try to suppress the disdainful sniggering. After that, read and listen to this hearing, which is all about the Cobblestones (with still more sniggering).

Further readings


Anonymous said...

How does the sidewalk at the bottom of the cobblestones prevent the riverboats from docking there? The RDC said in this week's meeting that they will continue to dock there and will use the existing historic rings to tie onto.

Michael said...

They are being cagey. When they say "dock" they mean "park". When not being used, the Memphis Queen will allowed to park their boats in the vicinity of the Cobblestones and tie into electricity and utilities, but will be picking upo and unloading passengers over at Beale Street Landing.

The sidewalk, retaining wall, and rip-rap serve as obstacles to boats using the Cobblestones as a landing. Only if the water is very high (well above the sidewalk) would a boat even risk the damage to its hull. Just a couple weeks ago a barge sank at Tom Lee from hitting against rip-rap.