Demanding Safe Passage for Americans with Disabilities

Navigating the streets and sidewalks of the United States can be a challenge even for an able-bodied pedestrian or cyclist. For people who depend on wheelchairs to get around, the challenges are too often insurmountable — nearly two decades since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Fortunately, the problem is beginning to get some more attention, in part because of the actions of advocates like those at the National Complete Streets Coalition, who are working to implement complete streets policies around the country and at the federal level.

4064803384_4ff0854ec4_b.jpgCurb cut to nowhere, near the spot where a driver killed a St. Louis woman using a wheelchair in the street.

But in too many American towns and cities, the disregard for people with disabilities is rampant. Today on the Streetsblog Network, we’ve got a post from Steve Patterson at Urban Review STL. Steve, whom we profiled a couple of months back, had a severe hemorrhagic stroke almost two years ago, and has been using a wheelchair to get around his downtown St. Louis neighborhood. But even before his stroke, he was concerned with the number of sidewalks that are impassable for wheelchair users, forcing them into the street.

Yesterday, he marked a sad anniversary on his blog:

Four years ago today Elizabeth Bansen was struck and killed by an SUV
as she returned home from the market two blocks east of her apartment. Although the accident occurred around 6pm, the driver didn’t see Bansen in
her wheelchair on the street.  On December 6th 2007 I posted on the
jury finding the city negligent in Bansen’s death since the sidewalks
were not passable.…

Yesterday I drove over to see the
couple of blocks along Delmar to see if the sidewalks between the
housing and the market were corrected.  Sadly, the situation is exactly
like I found it in December 2007.

In Jackson, Mississippi, the situation is just as bad. There, one persistent man — Dr. Scott Crawford — has worked to draw attention to the pathetic condition of the local sidewalks.

We first heard about Crawford nearly a year ago through Transportation for America, when he sent them some pictures documenting the lack of access to bus stops for people with disabilities. Crawford’s advocacy got attention from local news outlets. And just a few days ago he was featured in a major USA Today story about how the nation’s crumbling and inadequate sidewalks are putting wheelchair users at risk across the country.

Crawford, who is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit focused on forcing Jackson to comply with the ADA, is a good example of how local advocates can move the debate on an issue of vital importance. He’s a real inspiration.

  • Cantor Kintisch

    During college, I got hurt pretty badly in an accident.

    So, for two months running, I was in a wheelchair, and boy was that illuminating!

    Sidewalks are generally something you don’t really notice unless you are mobility impaired, using a cane, walker, wheelchair or scooter, or, if you’re pushing a stroller or granny-cart.

    So, after having never really noticed how bad the sidewalks (of Providence, RI) were, or, how inaccessible many of the old (Brown University) buildings were, all of a sudden, I noticed!

    I quickly learned as I tried to navigate the campus which sidewalks were good, which were so-so, and which were impassable. For that final group, the impassable sidewalks, I was forced into traffic – a very scary situation for me as a vulnerable, injured person.

    Thank God, ten years later, I am totally fit and healthy (but for some lingering back pain) but I always notice when sidewalks are in good shape and where they are in disrepair.

    I’m glad this article has been posted, not just because sidewalks are an important part of public safety for the groups I mentioned above, but because someday, nearly all of us will need good sidewalks. Hopefully most of us stay healthy and mobile, but we all age, and we all are vulnerable to disease and injury.

    In terms of Livable Streets activism, I think sidewalk improvements, including proper curb cuts, are a worthy goal for safety in general, but also a really good way to broaden the appeal of our Livable Streets message –
    Safe sidewalks are good for many groups at once: Parents with babies/kids, Dog owners, Disabled folks, Senior Citizens.

  • The problem is that the corners are paid for by the city, while the rest of the sidewalk is payed for by the property owner. As the picture shows, no building means no sidewalk.

    Laws need to be changed. The city should build a sidewalk and then bill the eventual owner who builds on the property. Or, fund it through property taxes, like the street is. (Although looking at the condition of asphalt in that picture, it appears the the property owner is also somewhat responsible for that)

  • yeah, just try to navigate this town’s massive transit in a wheelchair!

  • Gecko, get off your bike long enough to take a look at NYC buses. They’ve accommodated wheelchairs for quite awhile.

  • Cantor Kintisch


    It is true that busses are wheelchair accessible, however I believe that Gecko was pointing out that if you’re in a wheelchair you are limited to subway use only where stations have elevators.

    It is a blessing to be able-bodied, but an ideal transit system includes elevators so that disabled folks can ride our trains as well.


  • Cantor, I don’t mean to be argumentative, but Gecko referred to transit in general, without specifying the subway, and this is consistent with his longstanding antipathy to transit.

    My neighborhood subway stop, 96th & Broadway, is getting elevators and I couldn’t be happier to see it.

  • Imagine the furor of vehicularists if many of their normal ways of getting around a city were blocked by barricades or impassible obstacles such as cracks or sign posts in the middle of streets.