Three years since four disabled Philadelphians sued the city for violating pedestrians' rights in the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Streets Department is adding a new unit that will make paving faster, easier, and cheaper.
In 2019, the four individuals, with American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today, Liberty Resources, and Disabled in Action of Pennsylvania, raised a lawsuit against the Streets Department claiming that disintegrating sidewalks, broken curb cuts, and hundreds of potholes make it difficult and dangerous for the thousands of residents with disabilities to travel on Philadelphia’s streets. The plaintiffs are not seeking money from the lawsuit, but instead want the city to create more accessible streets. The lawsuit alleges that the city had violated the ADA and a 1977 law requiring streets be accessible to all citizens.
David Ferleger, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, told WHYY that uneven pavements and the absence of curb cuts make navigating the city much harder for individuals with disabilities.
“For folks without a mobility issue, it’s a simple thing to cross the street, we don’t even think about it, we don’t even notice it. For somebody who’s in a wheelchair, for someone who’s blind, Philadelphia streets are a danger,” Ferleger said.
Philadelphia’s widespread pothole issue comes from the city’s rapid changes in temperatures and weather. The water from rain and snowstorms goes beneath the roads and when cold temperatures strike, it then freezes. When temperatures increase again, the ice melts and causes the ground and asphalt to erode, creating potholes. Potholes not only make it harder to travel within Philadelphia but also cause traffic accidents.
In hopes of settling the 2019 lawsuit, the Streets Department is adding a new unit specific to fixing street and sidewalk damage. This new team will consist of 13 people who will focus on making sidewalks more accessible for disabled citizens by adding and upgrading curb cuts, as well as fixing potholes.
The Streets Department’s new team will not only benefit citizens, but will benefit the city financially. Previously, curb work was done by contractors at a relatively high price of $15,000 per installed ramp, according to a Streets Department spokesperson. Now that the new in-house unit has been established, the Streets Department estimates an initial per-ramp cost of $12,300, with the rate falling to $7,500. The savings from this change could amount to over $4 million in one year alone.
Citizens can report damaged streets or sidewalks to the city by calling 311 or completing an online form.