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A World with No Barriers: ADA and Pedestrian Design at the Human-Scale

By Dustin Kuzan

I graduated as a civil engineer in May 2007 and started my first job as a roadway designer with the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) one month after. Despite little-to-no training in the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), I was assigned a sidewalk design job as one of my first projects and completed the plans for construction in 2009. In 2010 I moved into another role as the statewide Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator and began partnering with the Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) to participate on Roadway Safety Audits (RSA). At the time, RSAs began to focus more on pedestrian safety. During one of my first audits I realized that everything I thought I knew about the ADA was just scratching the surface. This enlightenment began when I found myself on an RSA along the sidewalk I designed, only to find out that my ADA ramp design caused two pedestrian injuries – one for an elderly woman and another for a woman in a motorized wheelchair, both people that my design was supposed to serve. I designed the ramp to meet federal and state ADA regulations, but I didn’t design it to meet the needs of the users. I later realized that this ignorance wasn’t reserved to just me, but it applied to most of the highway design industry. Our industry has simplified the ADA rules and standards that restrict our designs and sometimes inhibit our ability to implement the intent of the ADA law. Fortunately, my flawed design was corrected, but that experience sent me down a path of enlightenment that would further define my career as an ADA designer and pedestrian safety professional. I began discovering what was referred to as “Human-scale” design.

Understanding the Human-Scale

After realizing my design led to two injuries, I immersed myself in the world of ADA and pedestrian design. I researched and became familiar with all different types of guidelines and best practices from around the country. In 2015 I started a new job in which I focused on ADA accessible design and inspection. I acquired a certification as an Accessibility Inspector/Plan Examiner (AI/PE) under the International Code Council (ICC), and as part of my work I reviewed transit facility, office buildings and maintenance shop plans for the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA). In this capacity I realized how little I previously knew about designing for people with disabilities. As I applied the principal of human-scale design to my work I began to understand what it is like to navigate our world in the shoes of a person with a disability. This makes all the difference in a design. People are constantly making decisions based on their physical environment. Visual, auditory, and even olfactory cues are constantly influencing a person’s decision-making process when navigating their environment. This is even more true for people with physical limitations. A person with mobility impairments must look well ahead to decide on their route choice, or they might become stuck and must turn around. As civil engineers we build our environment but have little-to-no understanding of how the built environment we create influences people’s decisions, particularly at the pedestrian level. Human-scale design is this understanding. It requires us to go beyond meeting design requirements; it’s understanding how our design affects people.

Carl Lewis, a professor of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a nationally recognized accessibility expert who led the US Access Board from 1996–2004, shares this sentiment. In an interview by Kathryn H. Anthony, Mr. Lewis was asked what he thought lacked in the training of architects who implement the ADA, and he responded, “In my opinion, there is not an understanding of how people with disabilities function in space.” He went on to say that the scale he requires his own students to use to present their work is the “human-scale.” Human-scale design is the process of designing to influence the decisions and actions of the human user, specifically in this case, a person with a disability. This “human-scale” has been my journey over the past nine years. I now recognize that having a grasp of this scale of my design is the difference between a good facility and a great facility.

Human-scale design goes beyond understanding code, standards, and guidelines. It requires understanding the details of how and why the ADA and roadway design guidelines evolved into standards, and the difference between guidelines and code. It’s recognizing when it’s appropriate to deviate from guidelines. It’s also understanding how a design will influence a person’s decision and how they will perceive the ease of usability of the design. I’ve realized that understanding these intricacies in the field of ADA and pedestrian design sets an expert designer apart from a good designer. Simply implementing a design that meets standards will yield a satisfactory product most times, but rarely an exceptional design. As designers, we should never settle with delivering a satisfactory product; we should ensure a high-quality product every time we can do so. We should strive to deliver products that don’t just meet standards but meet human-scale needs.

Identifying Human-Scale Design Gaps in Our Profession

Many issues people face when using our roadways stem from the failure of the designer to understand how their design affects the thought process of its users. For example, trails and sidewalks are often designed to meet code.  However, they are not often designed to eliminate inconveniences to persons with disabilities. Often, an engineer may design a roadway that encourages pedestrian mid-block crossings at a dangerous location, simply because they didn’t realize that subtle features surrounding the road influence pedestrian route choice to cross at that location. Many of these design flaws can be resolved with proper understanding of how users perceive and utilize our designs. This is the understanding of the human-scale.

Understanding is the start.  However, confidence and innovative are also required for implementation. Implementation of non-standard designs requires a firm and confident understanding behind the purpose of standard guidelines and code. Too often, as engineers, we let liability risk inhibit good design, and instead we strictly adhere to guidelines. If you’re the expert in your field, which we all should be, the court is likely to recognize you as an expert, and will honor your professional opinion over a guidance document, as long as you can demonstrate that it was appropriate to deviate from standard practice. A true expert can convince a court that deviation from standard practice was logical, reasonable and appropriate. No lawyer should be able to out-design an expert design engineer.

As an industry we don’t place enough value on human-scale design knowledge. When I worked as an ADA access plan reviewer for the MDOT Maryland Transit Administration (MTA), I noticed that engineers and architects generally do a great job of meeting ADA standards.  However, they sometimes failed to meet the needs of the human-scale, but it was never a concern. On new facility designs professionals typically meet ADA standards with only occasional omittance of small details. In retrofit designs, however, applying standards is much more challenging and sometimes access is compromised. The ADA allows for compromise in challenging design situations; however, where standards are waived human-scale design should be even more important. A design that is focused on the human-scale maximizes access for people with disabilities and other pedestrians despite falling short of technical ADA standards. In the field of roadway engineering, engineers design sidewalks and trails to be ADA compliant, but they aren’t always the most convenient or easy to use designs for people with disabilities. Often circuitous routes and frequent turning maneuvers are designed. Human-scale designers envision a person in a wheelchair seamlessly maneuvering through their designs. These designers recognize the most minor details and can make tiny alterations that result in large improvements to access.

As designers we need to recognize there is much benefit to employing human-scale design. The human-scale applies to all users, not just those with disabilities. The human-scale needs of bicyclists and higher-speed pathway users are often neglected by roadway engineers in sidepath designs. Designs by untrained engineers typically force cyclists into sharp zig-zag patterns at corners and sharp turns with vertical curb barriers. An understanding of the human-scale is an understanding of how the facility is used that extends beyond meeting standards. Parking lot designs notoriously lack human-scale understanding both for drivers and pedestrians. Parking lots have countless uncontrolled intersections and shared vehicle-pedestrian spaces that only operate safely when people pay full attention and yield to one another. As a result of the lack of human-scale design by site developers, parking lots accounted for 11% of all recorded pedestrian crashes in Maryland in 2018. One might even argue that the adoption of human-scale design practices is the key to Vision Zero.

Institutionalizing Human-Scale Design Practices

Several things will need to become more prominent in the engineering and architecture (A&E) industry before we begin seeing the institutionalizing of human-scale design practices. First, our designers and engineers will need to enhance their own skills and understanding on the intricacies of human-scale design. To encourage such professional learning, first a culture that values such skills in the industry will need to be established. Typically, the quickest way to establish value for a new skill is for government facility owners to clearly express that these skills are desired. Consultants will quickly follow suit to win work. For public facility owners to recognize such value, advocates may need to demand such expertise on publicly owned facilities. The more vocal advocates become on the subject, the more important the issue will become to elected officials, and thus, the more important it will become to bureaucratic leaders who govern public facilities. To raise awareness in the field of advocacy, it comes back to us, the technical experts. As technical experts we need to vocalize these differences in skill sets and highlight the importance of these skills in our industry. Advocates will recognize these gaps and will follow suit by educating decision-makers.

As designers, we should all care about human-scale design, particularly human-scale ADA design. We are in the business of serving people, not simply building infrastructure. Americans have a 1 in 3 chance of becoming disabled at some point in our lives. Most of us will develop a disability as we age.  However, many of us will be disabled, even if only temporarily, from an accident. Usually this means the inability to work.  It doesn’t need to if we keep disability design in the forefront of our designs. While we are designing these facilities now, we should expect that one day we may want to access the facility with a disability. As designers we should also take pride in opening access and enhancing the quality of life for all people, especially people that have historically been trapped in their own homes. As an industry we have a choice – we can be professionals who design facilities; or we can be human-scale designers who enhance lives. I know how I want to be perceived. Do you?


Birdhouses and Bluegrass

The sight of Glenn Palmer is a familiar one in Warrenton

By Pam Kamphuis

Warrenton residents will be very familiar with the sight of Glenn Palmer. On the weekends, he sits in the parking lot of Murphy’s Motor Sports on the Route 29 bypass selling his

Photo by Kara Thorpe.

birdhouses. Every Saturday and Sunday, he loads up his inventory into the trailer of his lawn tractor and pulls across the street from his house into the parking lot where he sits all day with his handmade wares. “I’m out there every weekend if it’s not raining. Try to be anyway,” he said.

It was a rainy, damp spring day when I went to interview Mr. Palmer at his home. At the door, I was told, “He’s in his work shed, he said to tell you to go on around back.”

I followed the path around the house, passing a whole row of beautiful peonies in bloom. In a corner of the backyard I found Mr. Palmer under his canopy, just outside his woodshed. Bluegrass music played loudly from a radio. He greeted me, and turned off the music. “I have to have my bluegrass,” he said. “That’s the only kind of music I know. I have it on here 24 hours a day.”

Since it was raining, we stayed under his canopy. He sat easily on a stool, and offered me a place to sit on the seat of his lawn tractor. I could smell the pine wood from the shed, and we were surrounded by his worktable and tall stacks of all kinds of birdhouses and bird feeders.

A man of few words, when I asked him to tell me about himself, he replied, “Well, I was a bricklayer for 39 years and had to retire because of my eyesight and my diabetes. I lost my leg 20 years ago. Started doing birdhouses as a hobby. That’s about it.”

A native of Orange, Virginia, he lived in Manassas until about 5 years ago when he moved to Warrenton. A widower, his daughter had arranged for him to live in a nursing home: “My daughter put me in a nursing home and I was there for four months then I got out of there. I’ll never go back to another one of those places.” Indeed, it is difficult to imagine this productive, busy man in a retirement facility without his wood and woodworking equipment, and his bluegrass music.

And busy he is. He hates to sit still. “I can’t just sit in the house,” he says. He works on his birdhouses year-round, weather permitting. Up by 3:30 every morning and at his workbench around 4 a.m., he produces a good number of birdhouses each day. “I cut ten out today, I put nine together this morning. They were all cut out, I just had to finish them up. But I build seven or eight, maybe ten or twelve at a time.” I asked him what he did when the weather was too bad to go outside. “Sit around and pout,” he admitted. “That’s about it. I build my birdhouses year-round, as much as I can. I try to make a habit of it, to keep going.”

When I asked him how he became interested in birdhouses, he answered, “When I couldn’t drive any more, and I had to quit bricklaying, I had to do something. I couldn’t just do nothing, I’d go crazy. The lady I was living with, we went walking one morning, and someone had thrown away some pieces of lumber. She said, ‘why don’t you pick those up and build a couple birdhouses?’ That’s what started it.”

Not knowing anything in particular about birds when he started, he learned as he went along. “About 20 years ago when I started this, I learned a little bit about the bluebirds and the purple martins. I’d heard of them but didn’t know anything about them. This is not so much about birds, it’s more about the woodworking,” he said. He uses
standard carpentry tools: a table saw, a mitre saw, hammer and nails, and screws. “But I use a hand drill to put the big purple martin houses together,” he said.

“I get my wood at Groves Hardware in Remington. They’re real nice down there. I give a call down there, and they always bring it up within a day or two. They know I don’t have any way to get down there and haul it up here. They cut it in four-foot lengths for me.”

Each house is made for a particular bird species, he told me. “Different bird, different size hole, different size building. Robin, you have to have a three-sided house, one side completely open. A bluebird needs a small house with about an inch-and-a-half hole to enter through. The house wren needs a one-inch hole, and the purple martins go in a two-inch hole. Sparrows, they’ll go in anything they can fit into.”

In addition to the birdhouses, he also fashions bat houses, bird feeders, squirrel feeders, and bee traps. All his products are made from pine, and they are all waterproofed, except for the bee traps. The purple martin houses are painted with two coats of paint. But the others are just water sealed. “People like to see the natural grain of the wood,” he explained.

What’s his bestseller? “The bluebird houses,” he said. But the bee traps are selling really well also right now. “I started last summer making them, and they’ve been going real good, especially in the last month. The trap sits on the shelf, the bees go down in there and will not come back up. They used to be called boring bees, but I think everyone calls them carpenter bees now. I think just about everyone’s got them now, everyone with a wood house or porch.”

Palmer has a good stock of all his products, and also takes special orders. “Somebody wants something, I pretty much have it. If I don’t have it, I can make it within a day or two. I have a lot of repeat business…customers will come back year after year.”

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I hope to do it another 20, but I doubt it though.” Somehow, I think he’ll give it a pretty good shot. As I left, the bluegrass resumed, and he went back to his birdhouses.

Pam Kamphuis is an editor and writer for the Piedmont Virginian Magazine and Warrenton Lifestyle Magazine. Contact her at


A Landscape Saved: Garden Club of Virginia Continues to Keep Virginia Green

Historic Garden Week:  April 18 – April 25, 2020 

The women of the Garden Club of Virginia (GCV) have always had their own way of getting things done. Be it wielding axes against unsightly billboards or making tree tags to properly name (and save) every tree on Richmond’s Capitol Square, the results are the same – a greener, more beautiful Virginia for all to enjoy. Today, as concern for environmental issues builds, that mission is more important than ever before. 

The non-profit might be uncomfortable with the term “girl power,” just as it shies away from the spotlight. But the story of the Garden Club of Virginia and its signature public event, Historic Garden Week, is impressive. “In the early 20th century there weren’t outlets for educated women to become politically active. They couldn’t vote yet,” explains Jean Gilpin, President of the female-led non-profit. “Some worked for suffrage. For others, the formation of garden clubs was a way to be impactful in their own back yards and communities.” 

Photo by Georgiana Watt, Middleburg.

The first garden club in America was founded in 1891 in Athens, Georgia. While many started with the goal of exchanging horticulture information and cuttings, they soon adopted larger missions. The garden club movement became affiliated with historic preservation when the restoration of the gardens and grounds associated with important structures became projects. “The Garden Club of Virginia was among the first and the most ambitious to undertake landscape restoration projects,” Gilpin continues. 

Coming originally from England, early Virginians brought with them an inherent love of the land. They built homes with formal, extensive gardens. Without organized protection of this irreplaceable inheritance, the Garden Club of Virginia foresaw its inevitable destruction. Starting in 1929, they made it their most important work to preserve historic gardens that are now open to the public. “Historic in the name Historic Garden Week, refers not to the properties that are opened, but to the mission of the organization. The first tours were organized to support restoration work at Kenmore in Fredericksburg, George Washington’s sister’s house,” Tricia Garner, the event’s State Chair, points out. 

“From Monticello, Mount Vernon, Bacon’s Castle, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, to the State Arboretum in Winchester, to name just a few – a full diversity of gardens is represented in the GCV’s projects,” Lynn McCashin, the non-profit’s Executive Director says. Historic Garden Week proceeds continue to fund the restoration and preservation of nearly 50 of Virginia’s historic public gardens and landscapes, a research fellowship program that documents significant gardens, and a five-year project with Virginia State Parks, in celebration of the GCV’s Centennial in 2020. “The Garden Club of Virginia was instrumental in establishing these parks, coincidentally, also in 1929, the year of the first Historic Garden Week tours,” McCashin notes. 

For nearly a century the Garden Club of Virginia has been committed to preserving the beauty of Virginia for all to enjoy. The GCV advocated for maintaining the pristine beauty of Goshen Pass and the wilderness of the Great Dismal Swamp. It has worked to preserve the natural beauty of landscapes along Virginia’s highways and promoted the elimination of billboard blight. Since its formation in 1920 it has grown from a nucleus of eight founding clubs to 47 clubs with over 3,500 members. “It is the coordinated efforts of these talented volunteers, along with the generosity of nearly 200 private homeowners each year, who make Historic Garden Week possible,” Garner explains. 

“Much more than a fundraiser, Historic Garden Week is a beloved springtime tradition for the people who come from all over the world to attend tours,” Gilpin explains. “It promotes tourism while showcasing communities both large and small across the commonwealth. Perhaps most importantly, this enduring legacy brings the GCV membership together towards a common goal,” she says. 


Dulles Matters: DC’s Expanding World!

At Washington Dulles International Airport, the leading international airport in the National Capital Region, the global route map is rapidly expanding. Last year alone, Dulles welcomed four new airlines to its air carrier lineup and three brand-new international destinations with nonstop service. 

In May, Italian flag carrier Alitalia began service to Rome, while in June, EgyptAir commenced service to Cairo, Egypt and TAP Air Portugal began flying to Lisbon. Finally, Cabo Verde Airlines in December started its own transatlantic service to the island nation of Cape Verde.

In addition to these four new airlines, United Airlines, which maintains a hub operation at Dulles International, began flying nonstop to Tel Aviv, Israel in the spring.

This year, the airport is picking up right where it left off in 2019. On March 29, Swiss flag carrier Swiss International Air Lines will join United Airlines in serving Zurich with nonstop service from Dulles, and just over one month later, Iberia, the Spanish flag carrier, will begin service to Madrid on May 1. Finally, LOT Polish Airlines will add service to Warsaw on June 2, which will become the 37th global capital city with nonstop air service from Dulles International. 

In all, a total of 37 different air carriers serve 56 nonstop international destinations from Dulles with 58 daily departures – not to mention 88 other destinations in the United States alone. All told, Dulles International offers Washington, D.C., travelers 47 percent more nonstop destinations than any other airport in the region.

With a comprehensive – and still growing – list of connections to points near and far, Dulles International stands as an important travel hub for Washington, D.C.-area residents and visitors alike as they journey to and through our nation’s capital. 


Life is a Journey: Read or Written Any Books Lately?

By Ken Reiman

We all have a story to share. Our lives are living testimonies. Your voice matters. Ever tried to capture your voice by writing an article or a book yourself? You can choose to write for yourself or to share publicly. Writing is an excellent way to process your thoughts and share your ideas with others. I would argue it is a form of transportation.

When you read a book it can bring you to the present and take you through the past and into the future. It can transport you through a maze of plots and subplots. The best part is you control the traffic! Just hit stop on the audiobook device or place a bookmark. It’s just that simple. 

Next time you are caught in traffic consider reading a book or listening to an audiobook of your choice. Alternatively, have a journal where you can jot down your thoughts. For 16 years I simply wrote down some thoughts I had on a piece of paper and then typed it on my computer. Before I knew it, I had completed a book. If I can do it so can you. 

I’m living proof that you don’t have to come from a family of literary giants. I come from humble origins. My mother is an immigrant from Japan who taught Japanese at Arizona State University. My father cleaned hospital instruments for a living. None of us ever imagined that I would become a published author. Writing for me is another form of public service. I could no longer stay silent and watch others suffer. I wanted to share some ideas on diversity, tolerance, and inclusion. With that simple wish, Love Both Keep Both was born.

My memoir takes you on a multicultural journey through several regions and is a book on overcoming prejudice and adversity to fight for justice. It offers a glimpse into the past and a roadmap into the future. It aspires to make our world a more tolerant place for every human being on the same journey through life. I’ve benefitted from reading about the experiences of others. I hope now I can help inspire you to read mine. For more details see: Thank you!!