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Suit by Disabled Seeks Safer NYC Walks

Monday, August 4, 2014

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Calling "nearly all" of New York City's sidewalks "dangerous and difficult" for more than 600,000 people with disabilities, an advocacy group has launched a federal class action to make those routes more accessible.

Hundreds of thousands of residents are unable to use public streets, sidewalks and routes in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York (CIDNY) contends in its new complaint.

The suit was filed Wednesday (July 29), three days after the ADA's 24th anniversary. The timing was not coincidental.

Curb cut and wheelchair user Crossing Street

A pavement grinding project left the lip at left impassably steep, the Federal Highway Administration noted. Ambulatory older Americans find inadequate curb cuts (right) equally daunting, the agency adds.

"As we enter the 25th year of the [ADA] this week, more than 400,000 New Yorkers with ambulatory disabilities and more than 200,000 people with vision disabilities continue to be excluded from the pedestrian culture that is so critical to community life in New York City, because nearly all of the City's sidewalks and pedestrian routes are dangerous and difficult for persons with disabilities," CIDNY said in announcing the litigation.

The suit says the city "has ignored its obligations to provide curb ramps and accessible pedestrian routes whenever it resurfaces City streets or alters its street and sidewalks."

Accessing the Streetscape

The suit refers specifically to accessibility to the buildings of Lower Manhattan—a "national hub of business and commerce" that includes Wall Street, the 9/11 Memorial, the departure point for the Statue of Liberty, and the City Hall and Courts.

Blocked curb cut

Some Lower Manhattan curb cuts even feature built-in obstacles, a survey found. Bicycles, construction, kiosks, business signs and newspaper stands add more.

The barriers impede the residents' ability to work, travel, attend attractions and socialize, the plaintiffs say.

New York City settled a similar lawsuit in 2002 filed by the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association (now the United Spinal Association), WYNC reported. Since the settlement, New York City's Department of Transportation has installed curb cuts at nearly 150,000 locations.

But the settlement did not extend to maintenance, the news outlet noted.

Now, the new suit says, many of those curb cuts "have dangerously steep slopes, broken pavement, a lack of level landing and turning space for safe entrance onto the sidewalk at the top of the ramp, and lips at the bottom of [the] ramp."

Crumbling curb cut

A recent survey of 1,066 curbs in Lower Manhattan found many cuts crumbling—if they existed at all, said the Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York.

Patchwork repairs "have resulted in horribly inconsistent curb ramps at intersections throughout the City," the suit says.

Sidewalk Obstacles

Reaching the sidewalk is not the only challenge, the suit says.

Sidewalks and other pedestrian routes frequently lack "a level surface wide enough for wheelchair users" and are cluttered with signposts, benches, trash receptacles, newspaper stands and other obstacles that impede wheelchair and cane users."

The suit says the city has never conducted a complete evaluation of its sidewalk and pedestrian route program or developed a plan to improve the accessibility of its sidewalks and pedestrian routes, despite those requirements under ADA.

CurbCut Chart

A June survey of Lower Manhattan curb cuts found "horribly inconsistent" construction.

CIDNY says its own recent survey of 1,066 curbs in Lower Manhattan found that more than 75 percent had barriers, and that nearly a quarter had no curb cuts at all.

The suit also notes that pedestrian safety is a key component of Mayor Bill de Blasio's six-month-old "Vision Zero" project.

'Stuck in the Street'

Plaintiff Dustin Jones, who uses a wheelchair, said he feared for his life on his frequent trips to Lower Manhattan. “Barriers at curb ramps have left me stuck in the street, where I have had to rely on the kindness of strangers to help me up on the sidewalk," he said in a statement

"Poorly placed curb ramps have forced me right into the path of vehicle traffic where I fear for my safety."

Plaintiff Myrna Driffin, 57, a grandmother of 15 who is blind, said, "Just last week I ended up in the middle of the street before I knew I was off the curb. Cars were honking at me.

Myrna Driffin

Plaintiff Myrna Driffin, who is totally blind, says confusing curb cuts often steer her into the middle of New York City's streets.

"It was really scary. I am a smart lady and I have been blind almost my whole adult life, but New York City streets are so poorly marked that this happens regularly.”

Plaintiffs and Defendants

Jones and Driffin are named plaintiffs in the case; the proposed class includes "all others similarly situated."

Named as defendants are the City of New York, the New York Department of Transportation, and NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.

The city issued no immediate response to the litigation.

'Fundamental Civic Right'

Supporting the suit are Disability Rights Advocates, a nonprofit disability-rights legal center; and the law firm Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP.

"It’s a shame that it’s going to take litigation to ensure that everyone has access to the fundamental civic right to travel freely and safely," said Sheppard Mullin partner Daniel Brown, "but we’re confident that this case will bring about justice for the New Yorkers with mobility impairments and who are blind.”


Tagged categories: Commercial Construction; Concrete defects; Construction; Design; Good Technical Practice; Maintenance programs; Roads/Highways; Urban Planning

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