Update: Settlement reached.
Three Jamaica Plain residents and a frequent visitor to Boston yesterday filed a federal lawsuit against the city, alleging the state of handicap ramps in the city is so poor they often have difficulty getting around the city, in violation of the federal Americans with Disability Act.
In their suit, filed in US District court, the four are seeking to become the lead plaintiffs in a class action on behalf of all people with mobility issues who live in or visit Boston.
Defendant has failed and is failing to install, remediate, repair, and maintain curb ramps as required by law. For example, almost 9,000 surveyed locations either had no ramp, or had a ramp that was obstructed or was missing a landing. Many curb ramps are improperly installed and/or maintained, lack a flush transition to the street, have excessively steep running, cross, and side slopes, are too narrow, and/or are otherwise noncompliant. Many other curb ramps are not maintained; they are broken, cracked, crumbled, sunken, and/or caved.
The suit adds that more than half the ramps the city has installed have problems that make them useless - including ramps that deposit users in a puddle of water or which lead to narrow sidewalk spaces impossible for somebody in a wheelchair to navigate around.
According to the City’s own analysis, only approximately 45% of its approximately 23,000 ramps comply with Section 504 and the ADA. Even this analysis underestimates the problem, because it does not include corners that are missing a curb ramp altogether and considers only some of the legal requirements that apply to curb ramps under federal law.
The three residents described specific problems in Jamaica Plain - and right outside the State House;
Plaintiff [Michael] Muehe encounters corners with missing curb ramps in many places throughout his greater Jamaica Plain neighborhood, including on Centre Street near the Stony Brook, Forest Hills, and Jackson Square MBTA stations on the Orange Line, the Stop & Shop Supermarket, the Hyde Square Task Force, and the Lucy Parsons Bookstore.Plaintiff Muehe has also had to try to navigate significant curb ramp deficiencies at the Boston Fire Department station at 740 Centre Street, on Pond Street, and on Boylston Street. He has also experienced difficulties in and around Downtown Crossing, the Theater District, and the Financial District.
At intersections with missing curb ramps, Plaintiff Muehe must either double back from his intended path of travel, or risk danger to himself by traveling in the street in his power wheelchair. When he encounters a ramp that is in disrepair or not in compliance, he must choose whether to risk using the ramp, which could result in him getting stuck halfway up or down the ramp and being unable to move, which is particularly problematic during inclement weather. Noncompliant curb ramps have placed Plaintiff Muehe at risk of falling from his wheelchair and sustaining significant injuries.
Due to the many barriers to accessibility in many areas of Boston, Plaintiff Muehe's ability to travel throughout Boston is compromised.He frequently must allow a great deal of extra time to reach his destination. In addition, the inaccessibility of the pedestrian right of way in the City has become a factor in his life decisions.For example, every time he leaves home, Plaintiff Muehe must consider whether he will be able to reach his destinationsafely via the pedestrian right of way.He is often deterred from using his wheelchair to visit public facilities, places of public accommodation, and friends because he chooses instead to remain safe from the serious risks involved in navigating the inaccessible pedestrian right of way.
Plaintiff [Elaine] Hamilton encounters missing, noncompliant, or broken curb ramps along Centre Street. For example, curb ramps are missing on Estrella Street and Westerly Street and others are outside of marked crosswalks. Corners with curb ramps that do not align with the crosswalk are dangerous because Plaintiff Hamiltonis forced into the line of traffic. At times, Plaintiff Hamilton has almost fallen out of her chair while trying to go to the store or to visit her mother. Her wheelchair has also been damaged by traversing broken ramps. Thus, Plaintiff Hamilton experiences a great deal of stress and fear because of the many access barriers that she encounters in the City's pedestrian right of way. Plaintiff Hamilton's difficulties getting around Boston have forced her to go food shopping in Quincy instead of in Boston. Often, she must pay to take the Ride to avoid the dangers of traveling in the street due to noncompliant curb ramps.
Near the Massachusetts State House, Plaintiff [Crystal] Evans encounters a crosswalk which leads to a curb with no ramp, creating a barrier that prevents her and other individuals with mobility disabilities from accessing legislators without being forced to go out of their way.Similarly, there are many places around South Station, Chinatown, the South End, the Financial District, and School Street that lack compliant curb ramps, making it difficultfor Plaintiff Evans and others to navigate and fully enjoy these areas.
The lack of compliant curb ramps also makes it difficult for Plaintiff Evans to access essential healthcare facilities and services. There are multiple street corners in the area around Tufts Medical center as well as all throughout Albany Street, Harrison Avenue, Northampton Street, and Massachusetts Avenue in the Boston Medical Center area where curb ramps are missing or noncompliant. At many locations along Harrison Avenue, water pools at the base of the curb ramp, forcing wheelchair users to go through deep puddles to access sidewalks, which could damage wheelchair motors.At corners adjacent to hospital and doctors' office buildings all along Harrison Avenue, curb ramps are missing or too steep. Because of these noncompliant corners, Plaintiff Evans must travel in the street, at great risk to her safety and well-being.
along West Cedar Street in the Beacon Hill neighborhood, the lack of curb ramps at the intersection of steep and narrow streets has put Plaintiff [Colleen] Flanagan's physical safety at risk. Plaintiff Flanagan's visits to her state representatives and senators also present physical risks and challenges because the pathways to and from the State House lack compliant curb ramps. On Ashburton Place, there is a section of the street without a curb cut, which forces those dependent on curb ramps to navigate the street instead of the sidewalk. Plaintiff Flanagan has also encountered curb ramps in the Jamaican Plain neighborhood that are too steep to use, forcing her to navigate the street. In addition, curb ramps at the Green Street MBTA Station in her neighborhood are not maintained, and weather has severely damaged them such that they are no longer usable.
In addition to being made the leads in a class-action suit, the four are also asking a judge to order Boston to do something about all these non-compliant or non-existent ramps and take steps to ensure that in the future, all street or sidewalk repair work include installation of usable ramps.
A similar suit by disability advocates against the MBTA in 2002 was settled four years later with an agreement under which the T has gradually added elevators to stations and kneeling buses and taken other steps to ensure people with mobility issues can ride public transit in greater Boston.