Following Lawsuit, Philadelphia to Add or Fix 10,000 Curb Cuts

Disability rights advocates won a settlement that directs the city to improve accessibility on its public roads over the next 15 years.

2 minute read

October 19, 2022, 5:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Freshly painted white crosswalk leading to yellow curb cut to sidewalk

knelson20 / Curb cut on sidewalk

The city of Philadelphia will build or repair 10,000 curb cuts to comply with the settlement of a lawsuit filed by disability rights advocates, reports Sophia Schmidt for WHYY. If the settlement agreement is approved by a federal judge, the city will make the required improvements over the next 15 years.

“[The advocates] described a city filled with barriers, including uneven, crumbling sidewalks, improper snow removal, construction without safe alternative routes, illegally parked cars, and ‘fake curb cuts,’ where concrete is just poured to fill the space between the curb and the street,” Schmidt writes. “According to the complaint filed in 2019, several of the plaintiffs had gotten hurt tripping over hazards or falling out of wheelchairs, just trying to get around the city.”

The settlement, which is focused on curb cuts, will not apply to sidewalks or sidewalk obstructions, which pose another challenge to people with disabilities trying to navigate the city.

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is more than three decades old, many public spaces and streets still lack universal accessibility. Meanwhile, private spaces fare no better. As Steve Wright noted in 2020, “In fact, fewer than 1% of single-family homes in America are move-in ready for a wheelchair user, a staggering fact considering that over half of Americans live in single-family houses.”

In 2021, the federal government announced it would enforce the Public Right-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines (PROWAG) as federal standards, which could move the needle on how developers and planners prioritize accessibility. But so far, it has taken lawsuits—in cities such as Atlanta, Baltimore, and Seattle—to gain significant improvements from local governments.

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