Detroit Curb Ramps Being Redone to Comply with Federal Law

Detroit government imposes curb ramp revisions to follow ADA StandardsFive years ago, a federal judge ordered the City of Detroit to install curb ramps at city intersections to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Today, a number of streets are still not accessible, because hundreds of curb ramps were improperly installed and are now in the process of being redone. By the end of 2010, $41.2 million will have been spent on getting the city in compliance with the ADA, and because of the past errors, a federally appointed consultant is monitoring the installation—and sometimes re-installation—of the access ramps.

 Ann Arbor attorney Mark Finnegan sued the city in 2005 on behalf of advocacy groups for individuals with disabilities, for lack of compliance with the ADA. Finnegan said that since 1992, city contractors had been installing the curb ramps incorrectly—in some cases, the slopes were wrong. The suit led to the appointment of H.R. Gray and Associates, an Ohio-based construction consulting firm, to consult with the city and monitor its progress for the court.

There were 15,000 curb ramps installed in the city through 2009; by the end of 2010, there are expected to be a total of 10,390 curb ramps installed throughout the city, as well as 2,031 newly installed curb ramps in the five-square-mile downtown area highlighted in the court settlement. (All told, the progress made accounts for 32 percent of the 87,000 curb ramps which were missing or needed to be corrected.)

"It's our obligation," said Al Jordan, director of the city's Department of Public Works (DPW). "If it's not right or if it wasn't right, we're taking the position that we will make it right."

While significant progress has been made, there still remains disagreement as to where some curb ramps should go. Finnegan believes that the DPW is not installing ramps on all sides of some intersections, while Jordan contends that installing curb ramps along major streets, including where there is no crossing signal, would make it more dangerous for a person with disabilities, because it could be interpreted as if it is safe to cross the street at any point, not just at crossing signals.

One place where there is agreement is that some curb ramps are more necessary than others. Under the ADA mandate, curb ramps must be installed even at intersections in desolate parts of the city, where few people live or travel. Advocates for people with disabilities are willing to negotiate with city officials on some curb ramps if the city can come up with a fair policy addressing the issue. And at least one transportation expert says making some allowances for the city's sparse areas would be helpful.

"It's a big impact...especially when you start talking about municipalities like Detroit," remarked Tim Colling, senior research engineer with the Michigan Tech Transportation Institute at Michigan Technological University.

This year, $24.2 million will be spent on the curb ramps, in addition to the $17 million spent through 2009 to install the truncated dome detectable warnings.

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