Colonial settlers first made the area now known as Richmond their home in the early 17th century and, while the city’s earliest infrastructure has been long since replaced, Richmond is still an old city with gaps in accessible pedestrian infrastructure. Now a top 100 population center in the United States, renewed attention to the accessibility of streets and sidewalks has come through Richmond Connects, a multi-year project to identify and prioritize multimodal transportation projects and programs in the City of Richmond.

Wheelchair users spending time in downtown Richmond (and in major neighborhoods with touristic appeal) will find most streets and sidewalks manageable, even if not fully accessible or ADA compliant.

Accessibility features like curb ramps and crosswalk signals are commonplace. The quality of sidewalk pavements is highly variable, with cement, brick, and stone tiles in use and in various states of repair. As is the case in many cities, the most accessible sidewalks are found in areas of new construction and in the city center.

Perhaps the most common barrier that wheelchair users will face are uneven pathways, existing at random in all neighborhoods. These barriers can force wheelchair users to enter the roadway, or to find an alternate route. In the city’s Jackson Ward neighborhood, I encountered many brick sidewalks that had been made uneven and difficult to utilize as a result of encroaching tree roots. Sidewalk degradation is also common, with cracks and potholes serving as potential barriers to accessibility.

Despite these barriers, most visitors with wheelchairs will find Richmond’s sidewalks to be typical of a city of its size. With my extensive travel experience in the United States, its sidewalks, crosswalks and other pedestrian areas reflected what one would expect — a manageable, median level of accessibility, with tremendous opportunities for improvement. Local residents should continue to advocate for sidewalk accessibility improvements that could make Richmond a more inclusive and welcoming place to live and visit. Should the city follow through with the recommendations in the short- and long-term Richmond Connects action plans, accessibility is sure to take a critical step forward.