Despite its reputation for progressive politics, New York City is failing its residents with physical disabilities. While the subway has long created a nightmare of obstacles for New Yorkers with special needs, sidewalks are also becoming an increasing problem for the city.
Disability advocates point to two main problems with the city’s sidewalks. First, there are an insufficient amount of so-called “curb cuts.” Curb cuts are the term used for the are where the concrete sidewalk becomes level with the asphalt on the street. For individuals with walkers or wheelchairs, the steady and smooth decline into the street is necessary for their safety. If the curb cut has a large bump or cracks, wheelchairs can be more difficult to navigate, imperiling the safety of the person as he or she attempts to safely cross the street.
The second problem involves an insufficient amount of ramps near buildings or public transportation. After years of litigation in the early 2000s by disability rights advocates, a judge required the city to meet the federal standards for mobility impaired individuals within five years. According to advocates, this promise has not been fulfilled. Polly Trottenberg, New York’s transportation commissioner, said with over 162,000 corners and 300,000 pedestrian ramps throughout the five boroughs, the court-ordered time frames were unrealistic.
“We are doing everything we can to improve our efforts on pedestrian ramps, we disagree with the timeline but agree on the goal of full accessibility on the sidewalks,” said Trottenberg. Of the 162,000 curb corners, almost 3,000 have no curb cuts at all and 116,000 need to be repaired.
Trottenberg states that progress is being made and points to hundred of millions in increased funding, dozens of newly hired laborers, and a department-wide plan to use the “latest technology” to survey every sidewalk corner in the city.
For disabled rights advocates, this is just another promise to do something else in the future which will never come to fruition. Advocates point to the difficulty in living life for people unable to move around the city – from decreased access to jobs, government and education institutions to the natural social isolation that occurs when people are unable to fully engage in civic life. For people who are already struggling with health issues and the natural limitations that come along with them, they should not have to also worry about being afraid their wheelchair will fly into the street because a curb incline is far too steep.