Along one half-mile stretch of crumbling sidewalks in Detroit, Mich., there are 52 new sets of wheelchair ramps. Some provide access to an empty lot where a middle school was razed in 2009. On many corners, sidewalks end after the ramps.
The ramps are being built as part of a decade-long effort to force Detroit into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. But the efforts are facing criticism as the bankrupt city installs ramps in areas with little traffic while well-traveled areas, including some near downtown, still don’t have them.
“You drive down some of these streets, and there are blocks of no houses but pretty new curbs,” said Sherman Hayes, 84, a retired nurse who lives nearby. “Look at all these ramps to nowhere. It makes my blood boil.”
The city has spent $30 million over eight years to install 25,000 ramps, and officials estimate that $60 million more must be spent to build another 50,000, The Detroit News reported. The ramps cost about $10,000 per intersection.
A federal court order requires the city to build ramps on every road it resurfaces as well as at every local intersection of major roads, said Ron Brundidge, director of the city’s department of public works.
“We aren’t disputing the need for sidewalks to be accessible for all, but someone could make an argument that it isn’t the best use for taxpayer dollars when you look at the money spent and compare it to how much it is used,” Brundidge said.
Discussions had been started about finding a compromise with wheelchair users, but those ended after Detroit sought bankruptcy protection last year.
“We’d rather see the city’s limited resources applied to areas with more foot traffic,” said Michael Harris, executive director of Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America. “It makes absolutely no sense to build them in some of these areas.”
Detroit signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2004 to build all the ramps by 2007. The veterans sued in 2006, however, due to a lack of progress, said Denise Heberle, an attorney for the group.
“We hear it all the time: ‘Poor bankrupt Detroit has to put up curb cuts it can’t afford because of those paralyzed veterans,”‘ she said. “If Detroit had followed the law a long time ago, it wouldn’t be in this position.”
Finnegan said about 400 intersections in downtown alone still lack working ramps. Inene Laverne, 50, who lives near Midtown, an area north of downtown, has used a motorized wheelchair for eight years because of a bad back. She it’s “very, very difficult” to get around.
“Sometimes, you have to go into the street and they are raggedy,” she said. “It messes up your suspension and you need to get your wheels replaced.”
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