Staff Editorial: Lauded park access comes with troubling caveat

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City officials pledged to replace the wood-chip play surface at Lafayette Park this spring after more than a year of complaints that it didn't meet ADA requirements. (Brian Kapur/The Current/April 2017)

The District is filled with parkland, with a host of recreational amenities and natural settings available within the city limits. Our good fortune is underscored in an April report by the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence, which ranked D.C. highly in many categories.

Notably, compared to other high-density American cities, the District has the highest percentage of its land area used as parks (21.9 percent) and the most parkland per capita (12.9 acres per 1,000 residents). Moreover, 97 percent of the D.C. population has “walkable park access,” defined as living within half a mile of the nearest park.

These are worthy achievements, and credit goes both to the National Park Service — which operates the largest tracts of D.C. parkland — and the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, which is responsible for the smaller facilities sprinkled among various residential communities.

However, one demographic all too often lacks this lauded access to parks in the city: people with disabilities. In particular, we’ve followed with concern an issue regarding apparent Americans With Disabilities Act violations in at least two D.C. playgrounds — a flaw first brought to the attention of the city’s parks department and Department of General Services more than two years ago, yet still not properly addressed.

In early 2015, the agencies oversaw the renovation of Lafayette Park in Chevy Chase, which included a new playground. But the wood chip playground surfaces don’t meet wheelchair accessibility standards, as a Chevy Chase neighbor promptly warned city officials.

The agencies did nothing in response to her complaint. Nor did they remove the wood chips when the D.C. Office of Disability Rights confirmed that the playground was in violation. Instead, they proceeded with similar wood chips in Adams Morgan’s Kalorama Park. Threatened with legal action last summer, the agencies agreed to at least look into the issue. At last, they said early this year that they’d replace the play surfaces — yet they still have not done so.

It’s bad enough that the agencies designed and constructed expensive new playgrounds that didn’t meet ADA standards. The foot-dragging in addressing the issue is almost beyond belief and shows a troubling indifference to federal rules and to residents with disabilities. We hope the problem will be addressed soon and that these design flaws do not recur.