Lawsuit: Washtenaw County sidewalks, bus stops, crossings ADA-compliant

Lawsuit: Washtenaw County sidewalks, bus stops, crossings ADA-compliant

The county of Washtenaw is being taken to court in order to urge strict ADA code changes to the surrounding area. These changes will occur on its sidewalks, bus stops, crossings, and so on. The lawsuit shows that yet another county is getting hit by the ADA code. As stressed in our last blog yes even full counties are being hit by ADA law not just your local business with a skew ramp.

The Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living has filed a class-action lawsuit in hopes of bringing all Washtenaw County sidewalks, bus stops and street crossings into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The plaintiffs held a press conference Thursday afternoon at the intersection of Washtenaw Avenue and Golfside Road to announce the federal case, which has been assigned to Judge Paul Borman in U.S. District Court.

Using the intersection as one example of what they say is a widespread problem, the plaintiffs demonstrated some of the access barriers they’re challenging.
Why the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living has filed a class-action lawsuit
Crossing at Washtenaw Avenue and Golfside on Aug. 27, 2015.
Joining the Center for Independent Living as plaintiffs are the Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America and various individuals with disabilities.
Two of those individuals, James Briggs and Christopher Cooley, were on hand Thursday to show the challenges they face crossing the intersection.

The CIL and the MPVA successfully brought similar lawsuits against the cities of Monroe, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti more than a decade ago.

The new suit names the Michigan Department of Transportation, Washtenaw County Road Commission, Pittsfield Township and Ypsilanti Township as defendants.

“Each year, each defendant resurfaces pedestrian crossings, installs new curb cuts and new sidewalks, and resurfaces pedestrian crossings throughout Washtenaw County,” the complaint states. “However, many of these new curb cuts and sidewalks violate clear accessibility standards and are dangerous to pedestrians with disabilities.”

The lawsuit continues, “Also, defendants are refusing to install many curb cuts required by law. As a direct result, a quarter of a century after passage of the ADA, today throughout Washtenaw County’s public right-of-way, thousands of access barriers segregate pedestrians with disabilities from safely using sidewalks, crossing streets, accessing public transit, and reaching area businesses and residences.”

Download the lawsuit
The lawsuit and attached exhibits highlight several locations where the plaintiffs allege the defendants have failed to meet ADA construction standards.

The plaintiffs say out-of-court settlement discussions have been unsuccessful, leading to the lawsuit.

Roy Townsend, managing director of the Road Commission, said he hasn’t seen the lawsuit yet so he couldn’t comment.

Tim Fischer, a spokesman for MDOT, said on Thursday afternoon that MDOT was just learning about the lawsuit.

He said in a statement that MDOT has had a barrier-free curb policy for decades and it closely follows the letter and spirit of the ADA.

“MDOT strives to make our transportation system safe and accessible for all users,” he said. “Our current ADA ramps, landings, placements and grading details are based on years of research and comply with the act.”

Pittsfield Township Supervisor Mandy Grewal and Ypsilanti Township Supervisor Brenda Stumbo, both of whom are named in the suit, couldn’t be reached.

Carolyn Grawi, executive director of the Center for Independent Living, explained some of the challenges with the intersection of Golfside and Washtenaw on Thursday.

She noted the intersection is on the border of the two townships, and Washtenaw Avenue is a state road managed by MDOT. She said the Road Commission completed the work on the crossings that they’re complaining about.

“From the west side, if you’re coming from over by the Washtenaw County Service Center or the Starbucks in that little strip mall that’s there and you were coming east on Washtenaw, when you get to Golfside, the sidewalk ends and there’s just a drop off,” Grawi said. “There’s nowhere to go. There’s no direction to say please go around this, the other direction, or anything like that, so that’s an issue.”

She added, “If you cross from the east side of the street to the west side of the street, you come into a wall and there’s no direction again.”

Mark Finnegan, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said he’s tried for several months to get deep cracks and holes in the crosswalk fixed. He and his paralegal demonstrated on Thursday how a wheelchair can get stuck in the cracks.

Grawi, who is legally blind, also demonstrated how it’s a challenge for her to cross given the various barriers, including the cracks and the fact that, going from east to west, the crossing just leads to a wall that requires going around and crossing through a gas station parking lot to continue on the sidewalk. She also pointed out the crosswalk approaches are at angles that present additional challenges.

Grawi said another really bad intersection for people with disabilities is at Hewitt Road and Washtenaw Avenue.

Michael Harris, executive director of the MPVA, said in a statement that, due to advanced field medicine, veterans survive war injuries like never before.

“This means that accessible sidewalks are now even more important for paralyzed and other disabled veterans to independently access their community without facing architectural barriers,” he said. “Unfortunately, Washtenaw County’s sidewalks, bus stops and street crossings still suffer from hundreds of access barriers risking our safety and hindering us. The state and local governments must work together to make our sidewalks accessible to veterans and all other pedestrians with disabilities.”

Ryan Stanton covers the city beat for The Ann Arbor News. Reach him at ryanstanton@mlive.com or 734-623-2529 or follow him on Twitter.

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