Thursday, May 3, 2007

California advocacy group files lawsuits to fix sidewalks

...among other things. The group - Americans with Disabilities Advocates - has helped make thousands of locations more accessible.

""Plaintiffs have had to risk life and limb by traveling down the streets next to cars and trucks that speed past them only inches away," read largely similar civil complaints filed in Contra Costa and Alameda county courts. "Defendants have known for decades that their walkways and sidewalks are inaccessible and dangerous to the physically disabled but have failed and refused to act."
"They will not fix sidewalks, they will not fix up bathrooms, they will not make paths accessible unless someone hits them with a lawsuit," said Louie, a former Oakland resident. "And when you do, they make you out to be the bad guy. They want to say that you are a vexatious litigant."


Last weekend I found myself caught between a rock and a hard place - basically in the middle of a street with high traffic because a curb cut was in such disrepair I could not get up it. It's a very frightening experience. From the other side of the street whence I came, it looked fine but after I crossed the street I realized that the curb cut consisted of broken pieces of concrete so large that my wheelchair casters wouldn't be able to navigate through. I tried since there were cars whizzing behind me but couldn't get up it.

At that point I turned my wheelchair around, intending to cross the street back to my original destination (although that wasn't where I was trying to go). The light changed so I had to wait in the street. A car came around a corner, honking at me and someone screamed "Get out of the street!" I'm sitting there thinking "I'd like to." It's very frightening not only to get stuck like that but to have people react with rage. Yikes. And I had to sit there in the stream of traffic until the light changed with the fronts of cars coming straight at me. Not good.

So this week in between calls for work I've been trying to get that curb cut fixed. I've made about 20 calls to varous places - township engineer offices, mayor's offices, etc. At some point I was asked to write down the intersection of the streets with a description of the "problem". I emailed it over. Another call to follow up. "We never got it". Sent it again. No response. The woman in the office says to me at one point "Well you can't be that busy, it's not like you work. Just send it again."

True. People with disabilities don't work, right? Grrr...... I am looking for an assurance that this curbcut will be fixed or else I'll have to file a complaint .

Yet my experience in reporting these problems has been that Instead I'm given "jobs" to do. On one occasion, a township engineer asked me to go out and measure the curbcuts in question to let him know if it was in compliance. None of them were and there were at least 30 of them. I explained to him it just wasn't my job - it was his to ensure they were in compliance to begin with. Over the years I've been asked to provide photos, copies of the ADA law, multiple descriptions from different angles - once they asked for a witness! This is all before someone will even go out and look at the curbcut. Why? It's their job.

Then there is the issue of sidewalk inaccessibility - poles in the middle of the sidewalk, grossly uneven surfaces, etc. as shown in this photo. I can see why, when faced with the number of accessibility issues that exist, people sue.

And, in the meantime, a word to make drivers aware that pedestrians with disabilities are being forced into the street by lack of accessibility. It's become a very real pedestrian hazard and will remain one until these issues of noncompliance are addressed.


goldchair said...

Of course. None of us can take the time to individually address each curbcut, each street problem any more because they have a routine they put you through when you call to complain to put you off. That's why people have started to sue. The curbcuts on my streets here are deplorable and I've called three times. I really need to take action before someone gets hurt.

Anonymous said...

One of the problems is that they've put curbcuts in under the ADA but they have no maintenance plan for them I guess. So as the years go by the curbcuts have turned back into curbs since they're not of any use.