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ADA laws push Sunrise mall to open-door policy

Gina Barbara at an entrance to Westfield Sunrise

Gina Barbara at an entrance to Westfield Sunrise Mall in Massapequa on April 8, 2014, where automatic doors had been deactivated. Credit: Newsday / Judy Cartwright

Gina Barbara left us a voice mail early this month: "I went to Sunrise Mall in Massapequa last night. They have a very disturbing sign on the door. It definitely doesn't belong there."

Here's what the printed sign on the sliding glass doors said: "In an effort to conserve energy, these doors will remain closed. We apologize for any inconvenience."

The locked doors presented something more than an inconvenience to Barbara: She relies on a wheelchair.

If the automatic doors don't work, she said, the mall needs to install a switch that could open the hinged doors on either side.

Here's how guidelines issued by the Americans With Disabilities Act National Network put it: "How can businesses provide access to people with disabilities? They can begin by opening their doors, literally. Accessible doors welcome everyone -- and they're required by law."

When we visited early last week, Barbara, a Wantagh resident who has cerebral palsy, demonstrated how difficult it is to open a hinged door; more daunting is the effort to keep it open while maneuvering the chair over the threshold.

The mall office referred our questions to the marketing director for the Westfield Group, which acquired the property several years ago and changed the name to Westfield Sunrise. Westfield spokeswoman Vanessa Mitton told us she would look into the issue and called back a day later with management's rationale. "We had new doors put in," she said, and during the winter "every time the doors opened it was getting brutally cold," specifically in areas where construction on shops and restaurants is underway.

She said the doors were shut to keep customers and employees in those sections warm, and management hadn't realized that the move would require hand-push buttons for the adjacent hinged doors. "Now that they know, it will never happen again," she said.

Before we heard from Mitton, we asked Oyster Bay Town if the inoperable doors were under its jurisdiction. The next day, town spokeswoman Marta Kane told us town Planning Commissioner Frederick Ippolito "reached out to mall management and indicated he had received this inquiry and we are prepared to send an inspector down there . . . It's clearly something that's not permitted."

In response, mall management "indicated they will go check and make sure all the doors are working," Kane said.

Next winter, Westfield is planning to use "heat curtains," Mitton said, a description of equipment that directs hot air toward open doorways to block the rush of cold air.

This is the second time Barbara has made a call that led to results. Last year she contacted us about an elevator that was still out of service several months after superstorm Sandy, preventing her from getting to a second-floor medical office. The elevator was repaired after an Amityville village justice refused to let the code violation case be adjourned one more time.

UPDATE. The state Department of Transportation agreed last year to study the site of a fatal accident on Route 110 in East Farmingdale, just north of The Place Furniture Galleries, to see if a change could make it safer. Last week the department issued its findings, which come down to this:

Making a change could make things worse.

Here's the background: Judy Stein of East Meadow was killed when her car was struck as she was waiting at the median to make a left turn into the northbound lanes of Route 110. Her daughter, Barbara Kaplan of Roslyn Heights, proposed that the opening in the median, at cross street Avon Court, be closed.

The department did not find "a pattern of accidents that would be remedied by restricting left turns from eastbound Avon Court to northbound NY Route 110," spokeswoman Eileen Peters said in a statement.

The investigation involved analysis of three years of data from the state Department of Motor Vehicles plus "on site observations of traffic, turning movement counts and a review of existing roadway geometry," Peters said.

Trucks make frequent deliveries to businesses on the east side of 110; if the median were closed up and the left turn eliminated, they would access northbound 110 by heading south to Price Parkway to make a U-turn. "This maneuver would be difficult for trucks in this predominantly commercial area and could create an unsafe situation and compromise the safety of more motorists," Peters said.

The statement concluded that department engineers "must be confident that any change in traffic patterns and controls would improve safety for the majority of motorists." In this instance, they were not.

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