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Addressing local curbs important

Altoona isn’t alone among the cities of America in being home to substandard curbs, including curbs that are in violation of the federal Americans With Disabilities Act.

Some cities are engaged in the process of installing curb ramps that allow people in wheelchairs to get on and off sidewalks, most often at intersections, while other communities are woefully behind in addressing substandard sidewalks as well as deteriorated curb conditions.

How Altoona’s curbs and sidewalks stack up against other places in Pennsylvania probably never has been ascertained. However, the fact that city government hasn’t been investing any money in an organized program of curb repair or replacement is indicative of how big the problem might be.

This is another example of a problem in which major inroads could have been made years ago — at a much smaller cost — but unfortunately didn’t garner the attention that it deserved. Maybe that was a product of being in Act 47 at that time.

Altoona isn’t alone on that front; fortunately, the city isn’t facing a federal directive and timetable for bringing curbing into compliance with Disabilities Act standards.

Consider what is happening in Philadelphia. Four disabled residents of the City of Brotherly Love and three advocacy groups are suing the city in federal court for alleged violations of the federal disabilities law in regard to its sidewalks and curbing.

Among the specific problems on which the lawsuit focuses are curb ramps in poor condition or non-existent — a situation detrimental to people with impaired vision and one that leaves wheelchair-bound people with virtually no other option but to travel in the streets with traffic.

The lawsuit also spells out incidents in which individual plaintiffs were injured due to poor walkway conditions.

Altoona’s long-running cold shoulder to curbing needs apparently is about to change — a commendable development. At a city council meeting on Aug. 26, leaders approved a five-year capital-improvement plan that involves borrowing $8 million in the coming two years, with $251,000 of that money to be allocated for curb replacement — enough to finance but a pittance of the work that’s in fact needed.

Some city officials might be reflecting privately on how much curb work could be accomplished if a major infrastructure-funding initiative were to be forthcoming from Washington, although one probably won’t be.

Local officials realize that there are other important infrastructure needs as well.

Meanwhile, Altoona officials are launching the curbs effort on a correct note; they envision allocating money annually to rehabilitate, replace or add curbing in a rotation similar to the one used for street resurfacing.

In Altoona, homeowners and business owners are responsible for maintaining sidewalks along their properties, but it is the city that has the obligation to keep curbs in good shape and in compliance with the Federal Disabilities Act.

Amid all that lurks the question of whether — or how much — the city should focus on installing curbing in areas where no curbing currently exists.

Altoona must be careful regarding its future spending, having experienced years of state distressed status. However, allowing deterioration to go unchecked to avoid spending money is not the right answer either.

The curbing on which city officials have begun focusing represents a good — even if anemic — start.

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