Why Accessible Sidewalks Fall by the Wayside

Despite the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act more than 30 years ago, most U.S. cities delay making accessibility improvements to sidewalks until activists bring them to court.

1 minute read

November 15, 2022, 5:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Sidewalk curb cut painted with blue and white disability symbol

Sidney de Almeida / Sidewalk ramp

Streetsblog’s Kea Wilson examines why sidewalk accessibility in U.S. cities so often depends on lawsuits filed by mobility advocates despite the existence of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which ostensibly mandates compliance with accessibility requirements.

As Wilson explains, “Cities like Baltimore, Long Beach, Calif. and Portland, Ore. have all been sued for dangerous sidewalk conditions, but even the suits that advocates win can take decades to translate into real roadway results.”

Of course, funding accessible, complete, and well-maintained networks of sidewalks as the basic civil right they should have always been — and doing it before the lawyers get involved — would make a far greater difference for people with mobility challenges than any lawsuits.

But according to attorney Meredith Weaver, “there are structural reasons why city sidewalk policy can seem so callous — and they help explain why it often takes a multi-year lawsuit to get them to act.” One reason is money, Weaver points out. “I think, given an endless supply of cash, most of them would probably be doing this work already. But without resources, things can fall by the wayside.” Cities end up holding out as long as possible before repairing sidewalks, which would benefit not only people with disabilities but also elderly people, parents with strollers, and anyone with temporary or permanent mobility challenges.

Monday, November 14, 2022 in Streetsblog USA

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