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How Does The Kirkwood Ave. Closure Affect Access For Those With Disabilities?

Kirkwood Dining 3

(Mitch Legan, WTIU/WFIU News)

Bloomington City Council voted to extend the closure of Kirkwood Avenue on weekends to allow for restaurants and businesses to offer outside seating for customers. That program now is scheduled to run through the end of the year, and several councilmembers believe it will be reinstituted next year.

READ MORE: Kirkwood Ave. Closure Extended Through Dec. 31

Our City Limits project was asked if the street closure is accessible enough for people with disabilities.

Marilyn Behrman works close to downtown and frequently walks down Kirkwood Avenue to visit local restaurants and shops.

She said when she first heard about the city shutting down the street to cars, her first thought was about parking. She said she has several friends who have physical disabilities and rely on handicap parking spaces for their mobility.

“Even if there’s not a space for them to park, someone often will drop them off in front of the restaurant or the business they want to go to and then go park the car somewhere and come back," Behrman said. "So, I don’t see that being an option.”

The weekend street closure stretches from Indiana Avenue all the way to Walnut Street and eliminates multiple parallel parking spots outside businesses.

The cross streets Dunn, Grant, Lincoln and Washington remain open for vehicles passing through, but don’t provide additional parking.

"I have been to Nick’s and eaten outside once, and it was very nice to be outside with my family," Behrman said. "It was just a very pleasant experience. So, I get that part.” 

The overall feedback from restaurants themselves has been positive as well.

“Ever since we started taking part, especially on the weekends when they close the street completely, we’ve seen really great, safe business taking place. So, we couldn’t be happier with it," Manager at Uptown Cafe Galen Cassady said. 

Cassady said based off his experience thus far, the street closure could be a viable option moving forward.

Several members of the Bloomington City Council said they have heard enough feedback and support from businesses owners, and that’s why the closure was extended.

Council president Steve Volan said the few parking spots the closure affects should not make a huge difference in customer traffic.

“I think that closing the street, you know part of the time at least, is a fantastic id," Volan said. "I don’t think that one or two parking spots is going to damage anybody’s business.”

Volan said he predicts the council will revisit this program to be adopted next year when the weather warms up.

“I think this has been a great forced experiment, and I think that in the long-term this is a great idea and I think a lot of businesses would be in support of possibly closing it down permanently to make it really just a pedestrian roadway," Cassady said. 

But not all businesses on Kirkwood are on-board with a plan of turning the street into a pedestrian-only corridor.

READ MORE: Kirkwood Ave. Restaurant, Business Owners Divided On Whether To Extend Street Closure To Winter

“The idea that you’re going to recreate this thing where people are going to flock to a physical space just because they can walk in the middle of the street if they feel like it. I just don’t understand the logic in it," Manager at Tracks Jay Wilkin said. "I mean what, you think people aren’t coming downtown because the sidewalk is too crowded?”

Wilkin said the closure hasn’t been the most beneficial to non-restaurant establishments.

“But on the other hand, I think it’s been very important for the people in the restaurant business and I think generally, we and other people down here have been willing to make some sacrifices to help them out," Wilkin said.

Wilkin said if the restaurants can’t operate and generate business downtown, the rest of the shops would suffer and experience less customer traffic.

But Behrman said closing the street permanently still brings the question back to access for those with disabilities.

The city said the street closure loses two ADA parking spaces.

"The City is deeply committed to facilitating access for all of our residents, so losing those two spaces was weighed against the tremendous potential for benefit the parking changes could produce," City Communications Director Yael Ksander said in an email. 

Behrman said since those spaces are lost, the city should provide other services to accommodate those who use them.

“The possibility of maybe having a shuttle available with a phone number to call, so they’d know where to pick you up," Behrman said. "I don’t know whose job it is to do that, but it does seem the city put this into place, so maybe the city should provide a shuttle.” 

Behrman said in the end the businesses need the public, and the public needs the businesses, and that means every customer needs access to them.

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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