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You Hate Construction In Seattle. But What If You Were Blind?

Mark Adreon’s guide dog is a yellow Lab named Trek.

"As in Star Trek,” Adreon said. “Trek and I have been working together since Sept. 1st."

Adreon is co-chair of Seattle’s Commission for People with Disabilities. He has lived in Seattle for the last 25 years – and he has noticed that construction sites are making it harder to walk around.

In last five years, nearly 60,000 new residents have moved to Seattle, according to U.S. Census data. In every corner of the city, new apartments, condos and commercial spaces are going up. As someone who is blind, Adreon said navigating construction can be challenging.

He took KUOW to Capitol Hill to demonstrate. His destination was a small grocery store on the corner of Pike and Bellevue. He started his route about three blocks away.

"Trekker halt. Trek forward. Let's go. Find a curb. Hop up. Good boy. Little treat. Let's get you a bigger treat. There you go pup. OK, Trek. Forward and go right. Trek right. Right."

He navigated his first construction site relatively easily. But then, he hit an obstacle.

Two large placards were placed in the middle of the sidewalk – there to signal to oncoming pedestrians that there is construction ahead. But to Adreon, that’s confusing. He doesn’t realize that it refers to the construction site he’s already walked through and starts making plans for a large detour.

"What’s going through my head is that I ran into a sign, which to me says there's construction ahead of me, not behind me,” he said. “The logic isn't working for me on this one at all."

He continued down Bellevue Avenue where construction crews were putting up a seven-story, mixed-use building, where Bauhaus Coffee used to be.

"OK, so the dog is telling me we can't go forward,” he said. “Chain link fence. But, OK, Trek hold on, I'm gonna get my cane out."

The sidewalk was completely blocked. Adreon tapped around to figure out what to do.

"The scaffolding sticking out here in the sidewalk is giving me mixed messages, like perhaps there's a pathway through the scaffolding,” he said. “The signage or the gate or whatever that's blocking it is halfway past the scaffolding. So we're crossing the street."

He crossed the street and back again.

Two construction sites and a few misplaced signs later, he finally made it to the corner store.

Brian de Place, who directs the city’s Street Use Division, said the city has taken steps to make Seattle more accessible for people with mobility challenges.

A new rule requires developers to close sidewalks only as a last resort. If sidewalks must be closed, the curb lane is then converted into a walkway.

Instead of orange cones, the new standards require a barrier between the street and sidewalk.

"If someone has a cane, they can detect the outer edge of the sidewalk and know how to navigate around the construction zone safely and predictably," de Place said.

He said the city is planning to do more to help people with disabilities get around, and that the passage of Move Seattle – the $930 million transportation levy – will make a big difference.

"There's a huge priority on pedestrian access in the levy, and we'll be marching through this year, implementing a lot of those projects," he said.

Back on Capitol Hill, Adreon offered additional solutions, like an app or website that would provide up-to-date information on which sidewalks are blocked.

"You could put in where you're going, where you're starting from, and it could literally say, ‘You're going to walk around this.’”

Adreon said barriers caused by construction projects may slow him down, but they aren't going to stop him. "If I need to there, I'm going to get there," he said.

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