United Spinal Association and Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York (CIDNY) recently received US District Court approval to move forward with their settlement agreement with the City of New York to vastly improve sidewalk accessibility for wheelchair users and other members of the disability community.

The Honorable Judge George B. Daniels of the Southern District of New York, issued approval of the settlement agreement during a fairness hearing that will require completion of pedestrian ramp installations and upgrades, on specified schedules, at the approximately 162,000 street corners in the City; City-wide surveys (using laser technology) of all ramps; ongoing maintenance; complaint remediation; third-party monitoring; creation of a new Pedestrian Ramp Unit at the Department of Transportation (directed by an Associate Commissioner); and sharing of detailed information.

“I find that the agreement is fair, adequate, and reasonable for the Plaintiff Class,” Judge Daniels ruled. “It provides a comprehensive plan for installation, maintenance and oversight on a reasonable schedule. It is a major step toward full accessibility and mobility for all residents and visitors to the City.”

These widespread ramp installations and upgrades will be accomplished through coordinated construction programs, including in connection with roadway resurfacing operations, mutually agreed prioritization criteria, complaints made by members of the public, and maintenance on an on-going, indefinite and regular basis.

Robert B. Stulberg of Broach & Stulberg, LLP, the New York City law firm that represents the Plaintiff Class and Class Representative United Spinal remarks, “This Agreement provides a massive, monitored infrastructure program that will finally secure for disabled pedestrians equal access to the City’s street corners. We are gratified that the City is committing the resources necessary to ensure the civil rights of disabled people who need compliant curb ramps to cross the street.”

James Weisman, president and CEO of United Spinal Association, adds, “We’ve been working on this matter for 25 years, and it’s finally resolved in favor of people with mobility impairments. We look forward to working with the City to achieve 100 percent accessibility at every corner, on the agreed schedule.”

In 1994, United Spinal (then known as Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association), sued the City for its failure to install curb ramps. A 2002 settlement, so ordered by the Honorable Thomas P. Griesa, required the City to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to install ramps City-wide, and established a Working Group to share data and resolve disputes. Subsequently, United Spinal, through the Working Group, raised concerns about completion of ramp installations, the need to upgrade ramps that were not ADA-compliant; and improvements needed to the ramp complaint response system.

In 2014, CIDNY filed a lawsuit alleging that the City had failed to install and maintain ramps in Community Boards 1, 2 and 3 in Manhattan. Both the CIDNY and United Spinal lawsuits were heard by Judge Daniels. In the last two and a half years, counsel for the City, United Spinal and CIDNY engaged in negotiations and mediation that resulted in the settlement agreement.

On March 13, 2019, counsel for United Spinal and the Plaintiff Class, and counsel for CIDNY submitted to the Court, with the City’s consent, a motion seeking preliminary approval of the settlement agreement. That motion was approved by Judge Daniels on March 19, 2019 and a fairness hearing was set for July 23, 2019 for final approval.

[Source(s): United Spinal Association, PR Newswire]