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Detectable Warnings (Part Two): Codes

Erick Mikiten, AIA

Last month we discussed Detectable Warnings and how the code’s vague phrase “Hazardous Vehicular Area” creates uncertainty. The code defines “Vehicular Way,” but leaves architects, plan checkers and site inspectors to decide what is “hazardous.”


These little yellow bumps were developed to serve people who are blind or low-sighted. The bright color is intended to be visible to people with limited vision, and the texture is detectable by a blind person’s cane. Many people don’t realize that the code also requires the surface to have “resiliency,” which means it needs to sound different from adjoining surfaces when tapped or swept with a cane. This is tremendously subjective, and architects don’t have guidance on which products achieve this.

Unintended Consequences

Visibility and cane-detectability are great, but there are unintended consequences. If you’ve ever tried rolling over these bumps with a manual wheelchair with hard plastic front casters, you know that they come close to loosening a tooth or two. In order to make the shape of each little derby hat detectable to a cane, they are too abrupt for many wheelchairs to cross comfortably. For people with walkers and weak ankles, the uneven surface can be a problem.

And there’s more. Take a look around and you’ll see that these plastic and rubber materials don’t hold up well. Here’s one in front of a 7-Eleven in Berkeley that gets a lot of hand truck traffic:

At this point, I’d argue that the jagged and lifted broken edge is more of a hazard than a help, especially for someone who is using a mobility aid, such as a cane or a walker, AND has limited sight.

When Bumps Lose Their Meaning

People who are newly blind who are learning to navigate with a cane are told not to rely on detectable warnings since they are installed so haphazardly as to become almost meaningless. The warnings are also absent from many hazardous places, so people are taught to rely on other clues, such as building edges, traffic sounds and changes in slope.

We see strips that have lost their color, like this one in Sacramento, made by one of the biggest manufacturers of rubber tiles:

We see others arranged in a meaningless collage. Here’s a driveway at a Kaiser facility that’s blocked by bollards, yet there are detectable warnings on the sidewalk.

I’ve crossed here dozens of times. Not once has there been a vehicle entering or exiting the driveway. If there was, it would be a slow process of someone stopping, getting out, removing the bollard, pulling in, getting out, and replacing it. Is that sort of traffic “hazardous”? I think not. And during the remaining 99.9% of the time, these are communicating to a blind person that they are at the street corner. Wrong.

Meanwhile, the four corners of the intersection beyond this driveway have no less than three different detectable warning treatments!

Parking lots can get even sillier, like this newly striped lot at a lumber store:

The token 3’x4’ panel covers only half the access aisle, so even if you think the choice to put it here is right, why not have it be full width? But it’s questionable whether this placement is necessary at all. The striped path of travel leads to the left, to a much busier drive aisle where big lumber trucks and contractors drive through; hurrying to pick up their orders…but there’s no detectable warning there.

Here’s another confusing application. The designer must have owned stock in the detectable warnings company, because every possible location is covered.

One edge of the blue space is completely lined even though it’s not a crossing or adjacent to a drive aisle. Given the slipperiness of these rubber domes, this is introducing a hazard for someone getting out of a car parked on a rainy day. Remember this is the blue space, frequently used by elderly people. And finally, the detectable warnings run all the way to the storefront wall, dividing the pedestrian walkway in two. Not only unnecessary, but how confusing would that be to a person who’s blind and encounters it – coming OR going?

Changes in the Code

In recognition of the confusion, the 2010 update of the ADA removed detectable warnings from every location except at curb ramps and transit platform edges.

But in the California Building Code we still have them. For now. They must be yellow at transit boarding platform edges, bus stops, hazardous vehicular areas, reflecting pools, and rail track crossings. On streets they don’t have to be yellow if they provide 70 percent contrast with surrounding surfaces. But that’s hard to achieve between a light grey sidewalk an asphalt street.

Design Advice

Until we have a better, more durable, non-slip option, or until California follows the ADA in limiting the required use, my suggestion is to avoid splattering detectable warnings everywhere. Don’t cry “wolf!” constantly, or your message will be meaningless. A more conservative approach in placement might actually enhance safety.

When you have complex vehicular and pedestrian overlaps, try to put yourself in the shoes of someone navigating with a cane. Put detectable warnings where you would stop and check for vehicles. In the planning phase, think about your parking lots and walkways early, and try to create a logical, readable environment that minimizes conflicts between people and cars. Ironically, that might mean more curbs and less flush transitions. This might seem counter to a wheelchair rider’s desire to have a flat environment, but as long as there are sufficient curb ramps and a logical pedestrian flow, curbs in parking areas can be much more detectable by everyone. And they can also be safer than a crumbling, faded, peeling, slippery grid of yellow domes.

Kerwin’s Comments: Erick has cited some great examples of misguided designs and applications in the attempt to comply with the code. From these it is clear that the code does not provide enough guidance to the designer or the building inspectors in creating and applying the code to meet the intent. The use and placement is one of the biggest mysteries and when the code is vague and interpreted in so many different ways, we end up with elements that are questionable in providing for the disabled. Providing for the visually and hearing impaired is a very difficult task. Perhaps the future may bring new technology to help the visually impaired be more cognizant of their environment. Imagine yourself being visually impaired and trying to maneuver the world on a daily basis.

Sean Winchester, AIA: Member Profile

Sean Winchester, AIA brings over 25 years of experience in the building industry. He started his career in construction as a carpenter, woodworker, and stair fabrication specialist. He operated Winchester Woodworks as a stair design fabricator, and Kingstud Construction, a type V framing contractor. Though still in possession of all ten fingers, Sean closed down the shops in 2002 in order to return to university to study architecture.

As an architect, Sean brings his technical knowledge and construction experience to all of his work. As a designer he brings craftsmanship and structure and intense, honest materiality characterize much of his design. As a project manager, Sean has had the privilege to lead both small teams and large, multinational teams on projects ranging from 10,000 to over 1 million square feet. The majority of this experience has been in commercial renovations, tenant improvements and corporate interiors for global technology clients. He also has experience with GSA, education, residential, civic and worship facilities.

For the last seven years, Sean practiced with Studios Architecture in San Francisco, becoming the Associate Principal. He recently joined the team at Byrens Kim Design Works in Oakland where he designs and manages educational and civic projects. He leads the firm’s practice standards and training programs, writes and maintains office graphic and BIM standards, and generally keeps the fields plowed.

Master of Architecture, 2008
Montana State University, Bozeman

Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Design, 2007 – Highest Honors
Montana State University, Bozeman

Letter to AIA East Bay Membership

December 10, 2018

Message from the President of the Board, Mark B. Steppan, AIA, CSI, NCARB, and the Board of Directors to the full membership of the East Bay Chapter of the AIA.

We desire to provide our membership with a further update on the current chapter situation.  For those of you that might not be aware, Sidney Sweeney, our Executive Director for the last 15 years, resigned from the chapter in September. Since that time the Board has been engaged in the involved effort of learning how the chapter is run and performs, what needs to be accomplished daily/monthly in Sidney’s absence, what needs to be immediately handled, and how best to keep the remaining staff employed.

We spent the best part of a month learning more about the chapter and trying to investigate a few important issues, which will be discussed further here, while concurrently preparing a job description for the Executive Director search. An effort was also made to reach out to AIACC to solicit their assistance in determining the critical first steps to respond to this situation. A meeting was held, in person, with Nicki Dennis Stephens, EVP AIACC, and Paul Welch, past president AIACC, to discuss the situation including suggested first steps as well as discussing financial aspects/concerns of the chapter. Additional communications are ongoing and we can report that AIACC is being very helpful and is providing financial review assistance.

While our desire has always been to keep the membership informed regarding our progress, we felt that the initial time spent learning about the chapter was best spent with members of the Board taking the lead to learn what we could. Our intention has always been to provide transparency in these matters. A major component of our efforts which has hindered or slowed down our ability to be transparent, and directly involve membership, has been our need to learn about potential tax and non-profit status issues that were brought to our attention during the past year by Sidney. We were informed that there were issues regarding potentially incorrect payment of past taxes, based on misdirection from an accounting consultant, that could lead to financial penalties and difficulties maintaining our non-profit status. We tried to track down existing communications regarding these issues, so we could take them to their proper conclusion, but were unable to find such important information/background data. Progress down this road had not been made during the year, of which we were unaware, and thus we are starting at ground zero. AIACC is also helping us navigate through these issues and assisting with communications with the IRS and the Franchise Tax Board.

Due to the potentially critical nature of these two issues, we had temporarily delayed the actual ED search process. Therefore, we were not able to provide an update to the membership as we tried to determine our next steps. We have now finalized the ED job description and it is making its way to advertisement, through the additional AIACC efforts of Nicki Stephens, to appropriate organizations and groups/boards to hopefully provide responses from experienced potential candidates.

Additional staffing issues plagued us through October and November as well. In late October Angela, the part time staff person helping with administration and financial aspects of the chapter, gave two weeks’ notice. This past week we learned that Shanel Scholz, our longtime Communications and Events Coordinator has given notice. She will remain with the chapter through the end of 2018. Shanel has only just been able to physically be in the chapter office as she recovers from a broken ankle, which she suffered less than two weeks after Sidney left. These three staff situations combined within a 3-month window are making the task of keeping the chapter office running smoothly, and remaining viable and active, a challenge for all of us. With all of these situations happening simultaneously, the Board has been trying to move things forward to a reasonable point so that we can communicate with the membership about what has been occurring. However, based on feedback we are receiving, we have decided it is critical to communicate more directly and openly to our membership in an effort to keep everyone informed. We also would like to solicit suggestions and help from membership. Clearly this situation is out of the norm for any chapter and requires significant time investment for the Board as well requiring many decisions to be made.

Now the chapter needs both a new ED and a new Communications/Event Coordinator. At this time, we are also considering a part time staff person, starting immediately, to help in the transition to a more permanent situation. We feel that we can now request feedback and help from chapter membership in fulfilling current needs and assistance.

The next event on the chapters’ calendar is the Member Appreciation Party on Thursday December 13th from 6pm – 8:30pm as noted on the website. We are suggesting a modification to the usual process at the beginning of the event to hold a town hall/forum where the Board can again briefly explain the situation and where events are leading all of us. We will then open the floor up to a Q&A session for the members to ask questions and/or provide suggestions or voice concerns which we can respond to. This forum time will take up the first 30 minutes of the party. Then we can all mingle, joke, eat some tasty food and enjoy each other’s company.

We, the Board, greatly appreciate all the membership’s patience and understanding as we all navigate through these unknown waters. Please feel free to communicate with the Board or chapter in general by emailing


Mark B. Steppan, AIA, CSI, NCARB, President
Devi Dutta-Choudhury, AIA, President Elect
Kim-Van Truong, AIA, Secretary/Treasurer
Winston Win, AIA, Past President
Rudolph Widmann, AIA, Director
Matthew Taecker, AIA, Director
Jeremy Hoffman, Assoc. AIA, Associate Director
Daniel Morales, Assoc. AIA, Associate Director

Project Profile: Levitch Associates, Inc.

Warm Modern Remodel + Addition
Text provided by Levitch Associates, Inc.

Albany homeowners wanted a modern design, open plan and additional space for family and guests at their two-bedroom, 1 Bath, 1,053 SF home on a 30’ wide lot. At the same time, they wanted to respect their neighborhood of mostly one and two-story bungalows. A 3,600 SF lot meant a vertical addition was the most feasible solution.

At the main level, Levitch Associates, Inc. created an open plan and completely remodeled the entire floor. Removing an accessory structure made way for a back deck, accessible through the dining nook and family room. Since the deck faces west, they designed a pergola for shade. Now with an easy flow inside to the outdoors, there’s plenty of room for everyday living and entertaining.

The owners asked for a stair to the new second-story that would have a minimal footprint while bringing light into the home. Levitch met their request with a staircase lit by a skylight and windows and accented by a dramatic light fixture and teal walls. The upper level has laundry, three bedrooms and two bathrooms including a master suite.

During construction Levitch took the house down to the floor structure, so it’s essentially a new 2,000 SF home. Given the scope of the remodel there were some challenges:

  • It was more complicated to leave a section of foundation intact than to replace all of it, which would have added to the cost; in hindsight we could have completely demolished the home.
  • There was, however, a nonconforming setback on one side so leaving one corner allowed us to maintain about 1’ of width in footprint.
  • Fire sprinklers were required.

Despite the challenges, a consistent theme of colors, textures and materials such as wood, metal and glass inside and out creates a modern aesthetic that is warm and livable for their client’s new home.

Architect: Maurice Levitch, AIA
Structural Engineer: Aghazarian Consulting Engineers, Inc.
General Contractor: Levitch Associates, Inc.
Railings: Carrillo’s Ironworks
Cabinets: Ecohome Improvement
Cabinet Installer: Semolina Design
Painting: Aurora Painting and Decorating
Flooring: Amber Flooring Inc.
Wallcovering: Bay Area Toile, designed by Matt Ritchie and Jorma Taccone
Wallcovering Installation: James Hauge
Fire Sprinklers: Thorpe Design Inc.
Photographer: Treve Johnson Photography, Inc.

Jeff Moore: Allied Member Profile

Jeff Moore, P.E., principal and owner of Greenwood & Moore, Inc. (G&M), has 30 years of experience as a professional Civil Engineer.  Moore received his Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering from Cal Poly/Pomona in 1984.  He received a Master’s Degree in Civil Engineering from UC Berkeley in 1986.  He received his Professional Civil Engineering License in 1987.

G&M is a multi-disciplined design, engineering and land surveying firm that serves the Northern California area.

Jeff Moore has had the opportunity to work on numerous types of projects within the residential, commercial, industrial and municipal sectors of the construction industry.  Because civil engineering is a core element of the design process, Jeff works with architects in many capacities on a routine basis.

He has been the featured speaker on subjects of interest to the design and construction industries.  He has made numerous presentations on Stormwater Control and Site Design Issues, Site Accessibility Compliance and Strategies and The Land Use Planning Process to architects, general contractors, real estate community and facility managers.

Moore was appointed a member of the Alameda County Planning Commission in 2012.  Among other things, this body is responsible for reviewing and acting upon various development applications issued by the County.

Jeff has also served as a member of Alameda County Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA) from 2011-2012.  This body is responsible for the review and approval of variances, conditional use permits and code enforcement actions throughout Alameda County.

Prior to serving on the BZA committee, Moore served as a member and past-chairman of the Castro Valley Municipal Advisory Council (CVMAC) from 2001-2011. The CVMAC is a mandated council that is responsible for reviewing land development projects within Castro Valley prior to their being submitted to the Alameda County Planning Department.

Jeff is an active member and past president of the Castro Valley Rotary Club.   He is also a member of numerous professional organizations including, AIA East Bay, AGC of California, American Society of Civil Engineer (ASCE), California Land Surveyors Association (CLSA), National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), California Society of Professional Engineers (CSPE) and California Association of Stormwater Quality Agencies (CASQA).

Joel Freeson Carico : Architect : AIA: Firm Profile

Joel Freeson Carico : Architect : AIA is a sole proprietor in Concord. Joel moved to the Bay Area in 2009 to be closer to family. Joel has worked in the architectural profession for nearly forty years and his experience includes a broad range of projects.  Joel has worked as a designer, project manager, site planner, renderer, draftsman and model builder. He has been involved in designing custom homes, multi-family housing, office, retail, school, day-care, military and restaurant projects, R&D buildings, planned communities, and a domed observatory. He also has experience in existing site and building recordation, and historic preservation and renovation. He has worked on projects in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, South Dakota, Croatia, and the Bay Area. This experience allows Joel Freeson Carico : Architect : AIA to offer services to a broad range of clients.

Joel comes to architecture from an art background. Throughout his life Joel has enjoyed drawing, painting, sculpting and model building. When taking a seventh grade drafting class at the age of twelve, he knew without doubt he wanted to be an architect. Joel graduated from California Polytechnic State University College of Architecture and Environmental Design in San Luis Obispo in 1980 with a Bachelors of Architecture.

When designing or trying to communicate initial design ideas to clients or colleagues, Joel feels that hand sketching is still the best method. There is an immediacy, an intimacy and a flow of ideas from thought to hand that cannot be achieved on a computer. But when it comes to design development and construction documents, BIM (Building Information Modeling) is tremendously powerful. Joel has been using BIM, in the form of ArchiCAD by Graphisoft, since 1995. Communication is key to any successful project. The use of BIM to virtually walk a client through a project and to work out structural and infrastructural details with consultants and contractors means issues and problems are resolved before construction begins. BIM is an essential architectural tool that leads to better buildings and satisfied clients.

Joel is never happier than when designing a project and modeling that design on the computer, producing construction documents and details that will bring the design to fruition. He says, “when I am sketching ideas and drawing designs, or modeling and detailing a building, I lose all track of time.”

Although Joel considers his design philosophy to be in the modernist tradition, and deeply admires many of the designs of Wright, Neutra, Calatrava and others, he does not strictly adhere to a particular design aesthetic on every project. Joel approaches each project on its own terms. The client, location, context, and desired uses of the building are unique to each project and help guide the design. Architecture is a collaborative process. The best designs result when the client, consultants, contractor and the architect work together.

Photographer credits: Lee Geiger, Architect and Joel Carico, AIA

YAF Holiday Happy Hour

Thursday, December 20, 2018
Free and open to all. Drinks are no-host.
Location: Mad Oak, 135 12th Street, Oakland

RSVP on Facebook here.

Happy holidays Young Architects Forum! We are having our last happy hour event of the year on December 20th at Mad Oak in Downtown Oakland. Come join us as we recap the year, discuss leadership for the group and plan our events for 2019.

Regional Urban Design Forum

Wednesday, December 5, 2018
Free and open to all.

Please join us for a presentation of The Agile ADU, a research project on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) by Design Draw Build. ADUs are small, separate dwellings associated with a primary house, and increase housing supply with minimal impact to neighborhood character.  This research examines policy, design, and financial roadblocks to ADU production, and is partly funded in part by the chapter’s Grant For Housing Innovation program.

The Regional & Urban Design (RUD) Forum is hosting the event, and it will be held in the chapter office at 1405 Clay Street, near 12th Street BART Station in Oakland.


2018 Member Appreciation Party & Annual Business Meeting

Thursday, December 13, 2018
Free AIA East Bay members and employees of chapter member firms / $38 guests
Location: Neyborly Jack London,
95 Linden St #1, Oakland
Click here to register.

AIA East Bay Members, sponsors and welcome guests gather at Neyborly in Jack London for our annual Member Appreciation Party and Annual Business Meeting. We’ll have heavy hors d’oeuvres, wine, beer and soft drinks–and a celebration of you, our members!


CSI East Bay

Dealey Renton & Associates

Dolan’s Lumber

Ideate, Inc


Pacific Coast Building Products


Vectorworks, Inc.

Small Firm Forum 2018 Luncheon

Thursday, December 6, 2018
$15 First Registrant / $10 Friend
Click here to register by Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Please join the Small Firm Forum for their Annual Holiday Lunch. We will share a catered lunch, have good conversation and share up-to-two meaningful slides each from our practices.  Let’s celebrate the past year and look forward to 2019.  All monthly hosts for 2019 will be entered into a raffle to win a gift certificate to Builder’s Booksource.  Everyone is invited to bring a guest at a special price.

About the Slides:
Submit two jpeg images.  They can be meaningful images from your practice or related to your practice.  As a nod to years past, the images can even be of problems from your work.  Each person will have 90 seconds to tell us about their images.

Submit no more than two slides to when you register and be prepared to share why it’s a small-firm project.