Though it goes hardly noticed, the Town of Smithtown’s curb cut program has made more than a dent in the last 20 years.
Kelly Brown, the housing rehabilitation administrator in the town’s planning department, has been supervising the creation of several hundred curb cuts throughout the town for the purposes of increasing accessibility for people who are disabled. Though she said she did not have a way to give a precise number as to how many have been created around Smithtown, she estimated the town has made more than 700 cuts in the two decades the program has been around.
“We’ve been doing the handicapped curb cuts in neighborhoods where there are sidewalks, and if the handicap ramps in an area are not up to code we redid them or where there weren’t any we put them in,” Brown said. “Some of these developments go back 40, 50, 60 years, and handicap accessibility wasn’t on the forefront like it is now.”
“You need to do it, and there are handicapped people that under the Americans with Disabilities Act need to access the sidewalks properly. “
— Tom McCarthy
Current plans for curb cuts will address sidewalks between Gibbs Pond Road and Andreoli Park as well as Woodview Drive and Nichols Road. Those spaces are priorities, Brown said, so that people who use a wheelchair or are otherwise disabled can more easily access the Nesconset public park.
Town Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) is the liaison to the planning department and has overseen a lot of the cuts.
“You need to do it, and there are handicapped people that under the Americans with Disabilities Act need to access the sidewalks properly,” McCarthy said. “[Brown] does a fantastic job with it. She gets it down without any fanfare, and that’s just how [she] is.”
Though the program goes often unremarked, advocates for those with disabilities say it makes a huge difference for people who simply do not have the ability to take the step off a sidewalk. While the ADA requires all new sidewalks to be installed with disability accessible curb cuts, on older streets without them many people see their independence severely limited.
“They’re critical, they’re absolutely critical,” said Frank Krotschinsky, the director for Suffolk County’s Office for People with Disabilities. He speaks from experience, as he has used a wheelchair since he was a kid growing up in Queens. “I get annoyed if there’s no curb cut, I got to try to find a driveway to go up or risk falling out of my chair if I try to jump the curb.”
While it is a simple change to existing streets, the disabilities office director said these slopes in sidewalks do more than just help the disabled. It’s something called the “curb cut effect,” where changing things to benefit people with disabilities also helps society at large.
“It’s good for not just people in wheelchairs — it’s good for people pushing baby carriages or shopping carts.”
— Frank Krotschinsky
“It’s good for not just people in wheelchairs — it’s good for people pushing baby carriages or shopping carts,” Krotschinsky said. “It’s all part of universal design, it’s just a good thing.”
Other curb cuts being considered for this year include Meadow Court and Whitecliff Lane; Plymouth Boulevard and Central Road; and River Road and Long Hill Drive in Smithtown. In Commack, Brown said they are considering intersections with Parnell Drive including Hollywood Drive, Concord Land and Roosevelt Drive. Whether cuts get installed depends on how much funds the planning department has before the start of the new year.
The curb cuts are funded through a Suffolk County Community Development Block Grant, the 43rd year of the program, which provides federal assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Though Brown said once the planning office received $300,000 in total block grant funds, it got just $130,000 for the current year. More than half of this year’s grant money is slated to create curb cuts.
“I don’t know how long I can continue this program,” Brown said. “I know we will have funding into next year, but we go year by year.”
Krotschinsky said the number of curb cuts have increased drastically in only a few decades in Suffolk County, and local governments should continue to fund programs that install them.
“Things have improved a lot, and are they perfect yet, no, but they have improved,” Krotschinsky said.