Caltrans Faces Court Case Over Sidewalk Accessibility

Advocacy Group Says Some Paths Unsafe For Use by the Disabled

BY Bryan Thomas
Daily Cal Staff Writer
Monday, August 28, 2006

A Berkeley-based disability advocacy group filed a class-action lawsuit last week against Caltrans, saying that the state agency violated laws regarding the sidewalks it controls. Disability Rights Advocates is serving as counsel for three plaintiffs, one of whom is Berkeley resident Dmitri Belser. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California on Aug. 23. Belser, who has a vision impairment, said he is primarily concerned with access and safety issues on Ashby and San Pablo avenues in Berkeley. Ashby, which is California Highway 13, and San Pablo, which is Highway 123, are supposed to be maintained by Caltrans. Mary-Lee Kimber, an attorney for Disability Rights Advocates who has been working on the case since October, said Caltrans has failed to meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act that have been in place since 1992.

Caltrans officials had not returned calls for comment at press time. The case highlights alleged infractions across the state, focusing especially on San Francisco, Berkeley and the Long Beach area, Kimber said. “It’s hard to put a number on the number of violations,” Kimber said. “They’re so rampant and pervasive.” The list of infractions includes restrictive barriers, which include missing or inadequate curb ramps and damaged pavement, lack of detectable warnings at curb ramps for the visually impaired and failure to provide accessible alternative routes during construction. Sidewalks are often overlooked,” Kimber said. “They provide access and safety. They allow people with disabilities to be integrated into the community.”

Belser said his vision impairment leads him to try to avoid Ashby and San Pablo whenever possible because of the lack of detectable warnings, such as yellow bumps at curbsides. He also said that frequent construction along these routes is not well marked, so it is sometimes difficult for him to navigate. Kimber said Caltrans rejected negotiations following a meeting in July with the plaintiffs. Disability Rights Advocates will officially serve Caltrans with its complaint this week. The federal court will likely refer both parties to negotiations before allowing litigation to continue, Kimber said. The suit filed is not monetary, though Kimber said disabled residents may have the right to pursue damages. Instead the plaintiffs are asking the court to force Caltrans to document and rectify accessibility problems. “Our major concern is that Caltrans has not identified barriers or come up with plans to fix them,” Kimber said. “We don’t want any money. We just want the problems fixed.”

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