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May 08, 2023

Philly must repair or install 10,000 curb ramps over 15 years as part of a class action settlement

A group of disabled residents and advocacy groups sued the city over a lack of accessible sidewalks in 2019

Philadelphia has to install or repair at least 10,000 curb ramps on city sidewalks within the next 15 years as part of a federal class action settlement reached between city officials and a group of disabled residents who sued the city over its barrier-riddled sidewalks over three years ago. 

United States District Court Judge Harvey Bartle III approved the settlement last week, resolving claims that the city's sidewalks contained barriers that were in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Advocates and plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit believe that the agreement provides substantial long-term improvements to the city's pedestrian infrastructure and enhances access to jobs, education and community life for Philadelphia residents with disabilities that impact their mobility.

As part of the settlement, the city must install or repair at least 10,000 curb ramps, hitting 2,000-ramp milestones every three years. All of the ramps must be repaired or installed within the next 15 years, according to the agreement. Curb ramps must be installed wherever they're missing, while existing ones must be fixed if they are noncompliant, particularly when the city constructs or alters a new street with a pedestrian walkway. 

Once installed, the curb ramps must be routinely maintained in order to ensure that they are ADA-compliant and in working condition. The city will start a Curb Ramp Request System, which allows residents to request an installation, repair or remediation at any crosswalk identified in the settlement. Each request must be investigated and fulfilled as quickly as possible, under the settlement.

Progress on the installation or remediation projects for each crosswalk will be posted on the city's website as part of the agreement. The city will also pay $1.1 million in attorney fees to the plaintiffs, which include individual disabled residents and disability rights advocate groups like Disabled in Action of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Adapt.

"This settlement marks the beginning of holding the city of Philadelphia responsible for accessible sidewalks," plaintiff Tony Brooks said in a press release. "I am happy that the city has committed to installing, fixing, and maintaining curb ramps in communities in which we live, making sidewalks safer for the disabled community throughout Philadelphia." 

The case was first settled in October, with Bartle granting preliminary approval and sending notice to city officials. Now that the settlement agreement is finalized, Philly must begin fulfilling its obligations without any further objections from either party, according to Disability Rights Advocates, a nonprofit legal center that will monitor the city's compliance with the agreement over the 15-year settlement period. 

In his court memorandum, Bartle noted data from the United States Census Bureau that indicates more than 143,000 non-institutionalized Philly residents have an ambulatory disability and more than 49,000 residents have a vision-related disability. For wheelchair users navigating city streets, inaccessible sidewalks and crosswalks make it easy to waste time doubling back or taking detours in the city. In some cases, wheelchair users have no choice but to travel in the street alongside cars, WHYY reported. 

As a result of those issues, four disabled residents and three disability rights organizations filed the suit against the city in 2019, alleging that Philly "discriminates against residents and visitors with disabilities that affect their mobility by failing to make its sidewalks and pedestrian routes accessible to people who use wheelchairs or are blind." 

A lack of curb ramps — or insufficient or unsafe ramps — was cited as one of several issues faced by disabled residents. Additional issues detailed in the class action lawsuit included sloping and crumbling sidewalks, unsafe alternative routes during construction zones and snow piles that block sidewalk access.

The court found that this was not the first time the city has faced legal action for inaccessible sidewalks. In 1993, Kinney v. Yerusalim found the city liable for its lack of accessible sidewalks, and the city regularly upgraded its curb ramps and curb cuts until 2014, when a new city program allowed the city to make upgrades only when residents requested them. 

"Barrier free access is a civil right that for far too long has not been achieved in the city of Philadelphia," Tom Earle, CEO of Liberty Resources, Inc., one of the plaintiffs, said in a press release. "Judge Bartle's approval of our ADA class action settlement will provide a strong framework to safely improve curb ramp access at thousands of intersections, corners and sidewalks throughout all neighborhoods in our city." 

As part of the settlement, the plaintiffs have agreed to discharge all claims, allegations and complaints made about the city's response to accessible sidewalks and its compliance with the ADA.