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HUD   >   State Information   >   Washington   >   Stories   >   2013-08-06

ANACORTES - What's true of people is true for downtowns. First impressions matter. On a first-time visit to a downtown, most of us are struck architecturally or historically interesting buildings, public statuary or art work, the cleanliness of its streets and the appeal of its signage and facades or the mix of stores and businesses and restaurants.

But sometimes it's the smaller things that make the biggest, most lasting impression. Smaller things like curb cuts. The vast majority of us who are, as the saying goes, "temporarily able-bodied" don't pay them much mind. But for those who have to use a wheelchair to get around, they're a very big deal.

Visit Anacortes, a city of some 16,000 between Seattle to the south, Vancouver, British Columbia to the north that's probably best known as the gateway to Washington's San Juan Islands. Every year, it receives a small allocation - around $100,000 - under HUD's Community Development Block program which annually provides almost 1,200 counties, cities and towns with flexible funds principally to help meet their "bricks-and-mortar" priorities. Like most other communities, Anacortes uses its CDBG funds to preserve and expand the stock of housing affordable to its low-and-moderate income residents and to maintain and modernize the public infrastructure in their neighborhoods.

But whenever possible, the City devotes a small portion of the funds to build curb cuts downtown. Over the last three years, it's spent about $57,000 to construct 28 curb cuts in downtown and at parks and community facilities.

Lilly Longshore of Vancouver, Washington, is glad it did. Earlier this summer, she enjoyed a "wonderful vacation" in Anacortes. And what did she like most? Curb cuts.

"I had the pleasure of visiting the City of Anacortes last week. It was a wonderful experience-your town is not only beautiful, but is welcoming in many way," she wrote in a letter to the City.

"Most notably for me is how easily wheelchair accessible your downtown, parks, swimming pool and marina are, just to mention a few areas. Although ADA (the Americans with Disabilities Act) has been a law since 1990, I am frequently amazed at what poor accommodations I have run into over the years. This was not the case in Anacortes-it was a wonderful breath of fresh air and easy wheeling. Even the curb cutouts and ramps at intersections throughout downtown were in consistent locations, at the corner each time. For folks like me who are in wheelchairs and have vision issues, it makes navigating so much easier.

"Please pass on my thanks to your Building, Code Enforcement, Planning, and Public Works departments and any other department involved in this achievement. They have clearly worked diligently to attain success in wonderful wheelchair accessibility throughout your beautiful town. I appreciate it more than I can say!"

Public resources well spent for public improvements well received. That's as perfect as outcomes can get.

These days there's a growing movement to make America's cities more "runnable" and "walkable." It makes them, say the advocates, more "livable." Anacortes has, no pun intended, gone a step further, spending very modest sums to also insure its downtown is "rollable." And, as Ms. Longshore's letter suggests, that small investment is making a very big, very positive impression. As she notes, it's a downtown made for "easy wheeling."

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