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Philly sidewalks are dangerous for people with disabilities, lawsuit says

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The suit claims the city is violating ADA laws

An aerial view of the skyline of Philadelphia with the Philadelphia City Hall. Photo by M. Fischetti for Visit Philadelphia®

The condition of Philly’s sidewalks is so dilapidated and dangerous that they are difficult for people with disabilities to access, according to a new lawsuit filed against the city.

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Pennsylvania this week by four Philadelphia residents who are disabled, as well as activist groups Liberty Resources, Disabled in Action of Pennsylvania (DIA-PA) and Philly ADAPT. It contends that many parts of the city’s sidewalks are disintegrating and “teeming with obstructions.” They say the sidewalks do not comply with the standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

”For example, many corners exhibit barriers such as curb ramps that are broken, steep, crumbling, or have missing or inadequate detectable warnings,” the suit said.

The lawsuit also accuses the city of failing to enforce parking laws, meaning that drivers often park on the sidewalk, blocking pedestrian travel. In many cases throughout the city, the sidewalk is also blocked by furniture, trash cans, and other rubble, according to the suit.

”People who are blind or have low vision routinely run into these obstructions and people who use wheelchairs often cannot pass without moving into the street traffic lane.”

In the winter, inadequate and snow removal causes another barrier that’s difficult for some Philadelphians to get past, the suit said.

Plaintiffs argue that the condition of the city’s sidewalks violates a 1993 ruling by the Eastern District Court that required the city to have curb slopes or ramps at every street and intersection.

The lawsuit included accounts from some of the residents involved, like Tony Brooks, who uses a wheelchair and said his chair has flipped many times due to uneven sidewalks, leaving him with head injuries and abrasions. On several occasions, Brooks says he’s had to travel in the street or bike lanes because of the sidewalk conditions.

Another plaintiff, Liam Dougherty, who also uses a wheelchair, recalled several incidents in which poor sidewalk conditions caused his chair to tip over. In one case, Dougherty tried to travel over a broken part of a West Philly sidewalk when he fell over. Unable to lift the 250-pound wheelchair, Dougherty was stranded for 10 minutes until a passerby offered him help.

Between 2009 and 2014, DIA-PA and Philly ADAPT claim they’ve met with city officials multiple times to discuss the issue of inadequate sidewalks. In 2014 the city’s Streets Department told them that it would stop upgrading ramps during repaving projects, and instead would fix the ramps on a “request-based system.”

A representative from the Philadelphia Streets Department was not immediately available for comment on the allegation and the suit Wednesday.

The city estimated that nearly 72,000 curb ramps needed replacement but that they would only dedicate $3.2 million to their replacement each year, according to the lawsuit.

“Thus it would take almost 170 years to upgrade the local network of curb ramps to ADA compliance.”

A representative with Mayor Jim Kenney’s office said they haven’t yet been served with the lawsuit, so they haven’t had time to respond to it.