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Report on Usability of New York City’s Sidewalks by the Disabled Prompts Lawsuit

— October 13, 2017

A report on the usability of New York City’s sidewalks by the disabled is expected to be discussed on Tuesday.

The nonprofit Center for the Independence of the Disabled – New York unveiled a lengthy and accusatory lawsuit against the city and its Transportation Department.

Among other things, the suit alleges that New York has been consistently violating the Americans with Disabilities Act for upward of three decades. According to the complaint, navigating New York City sidewalks – especially those in Lower Manhattan – is akin to tackling an obstacle course for those with limited physical mobility or special needs.

Many of the city’s sidewalks and pedestrian routes “are too dangerous for use,” says the Center. The lack of ramps at intersections, coupled with crumbled sidewalks and misshapen slabs of concrete, present significant risk to those who rely on wheelchairs, walkers, or have vision impairments, forcing them to “either travel significant distances out of their way to search for another crossing, or forego using the sidewalks entirely and navigate the streets alongside the hazards of vehicul​​ar traffic.”

The suit criticizes New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio by name, saying his “Vision Zero” plan to curb pedestrian and traffic fatalities misses the mark by ignoring the disabled.

“While these efforts have cost hundreds of millions of dollars and have helped make [Lower Manhattan] one of the most walkable urban centers in the world for non-disabled persons, the city has largely ignored its legal obligations to the most vulnerable group of pedestrians – persons with disabilities,” the suit says.​

The lawsuit cites a study recently carried out, which found that 75% of over 1,000 curbs surveyed in Lower Manhattan presented safety hazards to disabled persons, while 25% lacked any concessions for the disabled whatsoever.

“The prevalence of dangerous curb ramps and inaccessible pedestrian routes is particularly troubling in lower Manhattan, below 14th Street,” the suit says. “This area is the hub of the government services and commerce in the city and is visited by hundreds of thousands of people daily.”

New York’s transportation commissioner, Polly Trottenberg, rebuked the claims that New York is ignoring the needs of the disabled, and said the department has brought on specialists to guide development for more handicap-friendly sidewalks and infrastructure.

Trottenberg also criticized the timeline for changes discussed in the lawsuit, as well as the report which highlights the deficiency.

“We are doing everything we can to improve our efforts on the pedestrian ramps,” Ms. Trottenberg said. “We disagree on the timeline, but we agree on the goal of full accessibility of the sidewalks.”


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