By Barbara Adler
I never gave curb cuts a thought until I fell off my bike several years ago, broke my leg and wound up in a wheelchair for a few months, pretty miserable and housebound.
I’m perfectly recovered, but the experience of not being able to get easily around made me into an advocate for those who are disabled. I find myself acutely aware of the safety concerns that exist on our city streets and sidewalks, whether for those with disabilities, our aging population, a parent pushing a stroller or shopping cart, or just your typical distracted New Yorker who’s not paying particular attention to the depression or sudden sidewalk slab sticking up an inch or so, causing a fall or sprained ankle — or in my case a trip to a plastic surgeon for stitching above my eye. Curb cuts are a pet-peeve, but surely just one of many safety issues on the streets and sidewalks of the Upper West Side and New York City as a whole.
Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990, it’s shocking how many egregious violations still exist. A lawsuit regarding two class-actions and two individuals dealing mostly with curb cuts was finally settled in 2017, with the city agreeing to make repairs and upgrades on an agreed-upon schedule, along with a court-appointed monitor to ensure that the city fully complies. This is great, until you learn that this work is not scheduled to be completed until 2032! Really? That’s a long time to live with issues on many corners (162,000 corners in NYC) which prevent 13% of New Yorkers (or approximately 600,000) with mobility or visual-impairment issues to get around. This number doesn’t reflect all those New Yorkers you see walking around with a boot on one foot (did they trip on a sidewalk hazard too?) or others trying to walk with some other temporary impairment.
A curb cut is the grading that slopes downwards from the sidewalk to the street at crosswalks, allowing the two to align, making it easier for someone with a disability to cross the street without impediment. They’re also required to have a tactile colored surface with texture that is discernible for those who are sight-impaired, in order to indicate that the sidewalk ends and the street (a potential danger zone) lies just beyond. Many of our curb cuts have scoring at the end of the sidewalk, often in the concrete sloped area, with no colored mat, or the adhered tactile paving mats with raised dots.
In the last two years, I’ve noticed that many of the curb cuts on the Upper West Side received some work, but often not enough, and that some of the tactile mats are falling apart, creating a hazard of their own. Many curb cut slopes dead-end directly into potholes or deep depressions, becoming lakes whenever it rains, and forcing most pedestrians to choose between detouring outside the crosswalk safety-zone or sloshing through the water to reach the sidewalk, creating yet more barriers.
I’ve learned that when sewers are backed up and causing flooding, that’s a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issue. When it’s pooling of water on the street, like a depression near the crosswalk or elsewhere that fills up causing a temporary lake when it’s raining, that’s a Department of Transportation (DOT) issue. For street flooding or any of the issues described above, instead of just being annoyed or inconvenienced, consider picking up the phone and calling 311 to report the problem. You’ll get a case number you can check online regarding progress. There are so many issues like this, though, one wonders why the city is willing to wait 14 years to fix such outstanding safety issues. That’s frankly outrageous. At the very least, one would think they’d consider undertaking some temporary measures, utilizing movable sloped mats or other devices at the crosswalks to make it easier for people to get across the street.
Editor’s Note: The city will be working to improve the following curbs in the coming week.
Please be advised, weather and field conditions permitting the following is the anticipated work schedule for the upcoming week, Monday, January 20, 2020, through Friday, January 24, 2019.
* Please note: During ADA ramp operations, Parking within intersections will be temporarily restricted. Please observe/adhere to all posted signage.
* Locations and operations will remain on the schedule until completed.
Work Operations: pending Work Operations
Intersection of Broadway and W. 71st Street (NWC)
Manhattan Avenue and W. 107th Street (NEC/SWC)
Columbus Avenue and W. 108th Street (SEC/SWC)
West End Avenue and W. 104th Street (NWC/SWC)
Barbara Adler recently stepped down after 20 years as the founding executive director of the Columbus Avenue BID. She is currently a member of Community Board 7. The views expressed here are hers, and do not express the views of the board.