turning a corner

City Promises Wheelchair Ramps on Every Corner

Jean Ryan navigates an intersection at Centre and Worth streets in lower Manhattan that does not have a ramp cut into the concrete, July 23, 2019.
Jean Ryan navigates an intersection at Centre and Worth streets in lower Manhattan that does not have a ramp cut into the concrete, July 23, 2019. Photo: Jose Martinez/THE CITY

New Yorkers with disabilities secured a pledge from City Hall Tuesday to make all 162,000 street corners in the five boroughs fully accessible within 15 years.

The settlement in Manhattan Federal Court of a long-running court case orders the city to complete its survey of every street corner by the end of October, paving the way for easier access for those who use wheelchairs or scooters.

That survey will employ lasers to determine which corners need curb cuts installed or repaired.

“Sometimes our choice is to go in the street with traffic either because there is no curb cut whatsoever or because the curb cut is too dangerous for us to go up and down,” said Jean Ryan of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, who uses a motorized wheelchair.  “What kind of a choice is that? Who wants to go with the traffic? It’s dangerous.”

The settlement calls for oversight by an independent monitor, and will create a pedestrian ramp program by the city’s Transportation Department.

“This is a significant improvement of our city,” said Manhattan Federal Court Judge George Daniels, who signed off on the settlement. “All the residents and citizens of New York City should be thankful and proud of the efforts that have been made.”

The case dates back a quarter century, when disability rights advocates sued the city for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 for not making streets and sidewalks accessible to the disabled.

‘We Have Miles to Go’

Advocates say they’re cautiously optimistic about the agreement, and pointed to recent accessibility upgrades to taxis as a sign of gains made for those with limited mobility.

“We have miles to go and we will be watching carefully,” said Susan Dooha, executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled. “We take nothing for granted when it comes to rolling out compliance of a disability-rights victory.”

Many intersections in New York are still without sidewalk cuts, making it difficult for people with disabilities to move freely, July 23, 2019.
Many intersections in New York are still without sidewalk cuts, making it difficult for people with disabilities to move freely, July 23, 2019. Photo: Jose Martinez/THE CITY

The upgrades to non-compliant ramps at 108,590 corners are supposed to be completed by the end of 2032, while pedestrian ramps at corners without any cuts are set to be installed by 2021.

“This would open up my world,” said wheelchair user Kathleen Collins, 61, of Manhattan. “But I also find it frustrating that we have to wait until the 2030s on some of this.”

According to court records, a federal judge ordered the city in 2002 to install pedestrian ramps at all corners in the city without them, and to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to meet that goal.

But the Center for Independence of the Disabled charged in 2014 that the city had failed to install or maintain pedestrian ramps in sections of Lower Manhattan.

“Down in Chinatown, you may not be able to get up on a curb,” said Valerie Joseph, 43, of Queens, who uses a motorized scooter. “It’s frustrating when you want to get somewhere but you can’t even get up on a curb.”

Meanwhile, disability rights groups have multiple lawsuits pending against the MTA in a fight to increase the number of subway stations that are accessible. About a quarter of the 472 stations are compliant with the ADA.

Even with a victory on pedestrian ramps, advocates acknowledged that putting an agreement into action can be challenging.

“It still really important that people with disabilities all across the city have a role to play in watching whether implementation is occurring,” Dooha said.

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