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The brick intersection of Court Street and Union Street, Jan. 22, 2024, in Athens, Ohio.

Walkways to be replaced with concrete on Court, Union streets

Bricks play a big role in the homey feel of Athens, but they push people with disabilities away with their uneven placements on walkways.

The bricks at the intersection of Court Street and Union Street will be replaced with concrete, hoping to become more accessible, and the construction for the repaving will begin soon after the spring semester, Deputy Service-Safety Director Andrew Chiki said. 

Chiki said completion of the pavement should be in late summer or early fall 2024. 

However, the improvements to the Court and Union Street intersection are part of a bigger city project; the Ath-uptown Area Improvements, Phase 1, will improve sidewalks, crosswalks and streetscapes throughout the uptown area. Chiki said most of the concentration is toward the north end of Court Street. 

The Court and Union Street intersection is the exception to the project, and he said this area is likely to get prioritized to get redone because of how highly it affects those navigating through the uptown area. 

“Many people who have physical disabilities have a problem going across the crosswalks — and those are intersections — because of the unevenness of the bricks,” Councilmember Jeffrey Risner, D-2nd Ward, said. “People who are in wheelchairs or walkers or other devices, just have a hard time negotiating that.”

The Athens City Commission on Disabilities has recommended that the city make adjustments for easier walkway travel. 

“People get stuck on them all the time,” Chairperson on the Disabilities Commission Davey McNelly said. “I've been stuck on a brick multiple times.”

As someone who uses a power wheelchair, McNelly said people who have disabilities don’t even come uptown because of the bricks.

​​“When people think of Athens they think of Court Street,” McNelly said. “When people with disabilities think of Court Street they think of potholes and not being able to get around.”

The City of Athens is out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, McNelly said. 

He said curb cuts are supposed to be one-fourth of an inch off the sidewalk, but some areas of the intersection are about 2 inches. It also violates the act because there should be a continuous surface between one curb cut to the next, but with crushed, missing and misplaced bricks along the road.

“It's just one of those things that, in the past, no one paid attention to, but now, people are more aware of it,” Risner said.

Risner said this has been on the city’s mind since Steve Patterson became mayor in 2016.

“The issue has always been finding the time, the financing, getting it up on the list of priorities and things that need to be done immediately,” Risner said. “That's finally risen to the top and now we can act on it.”

Many bricks have one-to-two-inch gaps between them, which McNelly said could call for a major lawsuit against the city. 

“Some years ago, my faculty adviser was walking over to Lindley Hall, and I believe her shoe got caught in one of those cracks and it tripped her and she fell down and broke her arm,” Risner said. “That's just from a person with no disabilities at all; you know accidents happen.”

The Disabilities Commission is hosting a “Walk, Talk, and Roll” event on Court Street in April to show problem areas to business owners, city officials, and engineering and public works employees.

“We take a walk with people who have disabilities to show specific areas and things that are going well, and things are not going well,” McNelly said. “We do this specifically to point out certain things.”

McNelly said he hopes with this event, more people will become aware of accessibility issues in the city.

Change is a lot for people, like Ohio University students who think the bricks are what gives Athens its “feel.”

“The brick roads and everything are a very big part of Athens’ story and it's a big part of the history,” Ashlyn Welch, a first-year student studying English—literature, culture and writing, said.

However, to not lose that aspect, the Streets Department determined they would simulate the look of bricks on the concrete.

“The plan is to hire a person from the city to put stamp concrete to look like bricks,” McNelly said. “It provides a smoother surface for people walking without tripping or stepping into a place where a brick is missing.”

A tradition for OU seniors is to take a brick when they graduate, leaving an empty hole in the street, and causing issues for people with disabilities who could potentially get stuck. 

“It would be safer than having to replace bricks all the time,” Welch said.


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