Thank you for the opportunity to submit my comments. I live in Houston, Texas which is approximately 50 miles from Galveston Island. I remember spending some of my best times on Galveston beaches as a youngster and up until about 5 years ago with my wife, daughters, parents and grandparents. Since the early 1980’s the City of Galveston has slowly closed its public beaches to vehicular access and denied the general population access to our public beaches. My grandfather loved the beach and as he grew older and less mobile we were able to take him to the beach by driving directly to the hard-packed sand up to the water’s edge. He was happy sitting in a folding chair with his feet in the water, watching the waves and his family playing in the surf or on the nearby sand. As he grew older and needed to use a wheelchair, my father and I could still push him near the water on the hard packed sand. We couldn’t get my grandfather on the beach after the City of Galveston banned vehicular traffic from the beach. My grandfather lived to be 100 years old, but the last few years of his life he was effectively denied access to one of his greatest pleasures — enjoying the beach. This is unexcusable to me.
Getting a wheelchair from an unlevel off-beach parking lot across a dune walk-over, over 50-75 feet of loose sand and to the water’s edge is impossible. Often times signage is lacking identifying public beach access with areas for handicapped parking. Today, dune walk-overs still have steps, steep inclines and narrow pathways. A person with a disability using a walker or wheelchair cannot travel across these structures. The 50-75 feet of loose sand from the end of a dune walk-over to the hard-packed sand near the water’s edge is a significant, impassable barrier. I believe serious consideration should be given to allowing persons with disabilities vehicular car/truck/van access directly to the water’s edge. Otherwise, individuals like my grandfather will have to enjoy the beach from afar and unable to join their family members on the beach.
Making all these provisions and regulations into law is one thing — paying for them or placing them high on a priority list is another. One of the City of Galveston’s biggest excuses for not providing persons with disabilities with access to our public beaches is lack of financial resources. What angers me are the millions of federal dollars spent on our public beaches for nourishment, seaweed raking and other improvements, yet the general public’s access has become seriously limited and persons with disabilities’ access is nil.
Beach access off Galveston’s seawall is also limited and dangerous due to narrow parking spaces very near quickly moving traffic. There need to be guidelines for parking space specifications that would allow for a person with a disability to safely exit and enter their vehicle to access the public beach.
In general I believe the following recommendations would greatly improve access for persons with disabilities:
– Off-beach parking lots and spaces that meet State/Federal Accessibility Standards. The Texas Accessibility Standards seem to apply to everything (parking lots at grocery stores, amusement parks, malls…) except parking lots and spaces near to or on the beach.
– On-beach parking lots that are very near the water… right up to the water’s edge on the hard-packed sand so a person with a disability could access this area unassisted. Bollards could be placed very near to the water’s edge.
– Dune walk-overs that meet State/Federal Accessibility Standards offering wide travel areas, turn-arounds, gradual sloping… for those individuals that want to access the beach only to the end of the dune walk-over. ADA compliant dune walk-overs should be available every ½ mile of beach with public handicapped parking nearby. In some places on Galveston’s West End the streets in beachfront sub-divisions are marked as "Private Road — Violators Will Be Towed".
– Walkover structures that allow a person with a disability to travel over a geo-textile tube to get to the water.
– Parallel Handicapped Parking that meets State/Federal Accessibility Standards next to seawalls, boardwalks that would allow a person with a disability to safely exit and enter their vehicle from any vehicle door (driver/passenger/rear).
– Handicapped Signage on Public Roads that are easily visible and can withstand the corrosive elements of the sea air.
– The option for beachfront cities, communities to allow vehicular traffic (cars/trucks/vans) directly on the beach when they cannot provide reasonable access to persons with disabilities.
– Severe financial fines/penalties for not following these regulations and implementing these changes within a stated amount of time. It has taken years just to get signage posted in Galveston. Withholding federal funding for beach projects that are not ADA compliant or handicapped accessible. Federal government departments do this in other areas… Why not here?
I have attached a few pictures to illustrate some of the issues we are having to contend with in Galveston, Texas. I hope you are able to address these long-time unresolved issues because one day I will most likely be joining the ranks of persons with disabilities and would like to enjoy the public beach with my family. I believe persons with disabilities have waited long enough for these changes.
Thank you for taking the time to review my comments.
Ronald M. Rodriguez
3716 Bellaire Blvd
Houston, Texas 77025