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Two Years After Wheelchair Bound Resident Killed by SUV, Sidewalks Still Not Passable

December 6, 2007 Accessibility, North City, Planning & Design, Transportation 18 Comments

Yesterday a jury found the city responsible in the death of a woman who was using her wheelchair in the street when she was struck by an SUV. Elizabeth Bansen had wheeled the three blocks to the Mobil station east of her apartment to get a sandwich. The Mobil was and is the closest place to get food in the area.

From the Post-Dispatch in November 2005:

Federal law makes wheelchair access a civil right. St. Louis has responded aggressively in the past decade by putting curb ramps at 90 percent of the city’s intersections at a cost of $7.5 million, said city streets director Jim Suelmann.

Despite these efforts, certain areas — such as Bansen’s midtown neighborhood — fall through the cracks. Sidewalks are the responsibility of property owners, Suelmann said. The city offers to pay for half of a sidewalk repair if a property owner asks for help or if there is a complaint about the condition of the sidewalk, he said.

From Today’s paper:

Thomas McDonnell, an attorney for the city, had argued that the sidewalk on the south side of Delmar Boulevard was passable, and that in two years of living nearby, Bansen had never complained about its condition.

I like that argument, if you don’t complain to the city your heirs shouldn’t have a claim for negligence. And sorry McDonnell, the sidewalk between the store and her former home is not passable today. Clearly the city is not sure on this point, also from today’s paper:

The city’s director of streets, Todd Waelterman, said Wednesday afternoon that he was not sure whether the sidewalk had been fixed. “I can only tell you the truth: I do not know.”

But [City Attorney Patti] Hageman said she understood it had been fixed.

Well, it ain’t fixed! Is it better than it was when Bansen was struck and killed? Yes. But is it passable? No.

As we learned from Barden v. Sacramento, courts have ruled that sidewalks are part of the ADA and basic service cities provide to citizens (source and legal brief from the Dept of Justice). The city must now pay the parents of Elizabeth Bansen $250,000 — a nice sum of money but nothing compared to a love one.

I wanted to check out the conditions myself.

This morning I started at the Mobil store and walked both sides of Delmar from Jefferson to the apartment three blocks to the west where Bansen resided until she was killed. I was wearing gloves as I took the pictures so you’ll see a couple of fingers in a few pictures, sorry about that.


Above: Starting at the Mobil store we see from the sidewalk that the car wash exit comes between the public sidewalk and the front door of the store. Pedestrians must go to the auto exit to go around this obstacle. The orange cone in the above is in the middle of the no parking area adjacent to an accessible parking place, likely to keep people from parking and blocking the ADA ramp.


I cross Delmar and headed Westbound toward her apartment. Above is looking back at the Mobil, Jefferson is to the right our of view.


So here we are on the South side of Delmar facing West. To the right, out of view is the Mobil station. To the left and behind me is 2600 Delmar, the offices of general contractor EM Harris. Their sidewalk is new as part of their recent renovation of the building. Immediately to my left is a vintage car dealership, also a new addition to the street. The sidewalk here is fairly new. Just ahead, past the tree, you can see part of it is not finished yet.
It was in this general area, I believe, that she was struck. A streetlight was said to be out at the time, presumably this one.


Further up we see broken sidewalk in front of offices of the state Department of Natural Resources. This is next door to the Scott Joplin House museum operated by the state.


This may look fairly passable but to someone using a manual chair with small front wheels, going through here is a good way to get stuck.


Again, sorry about the glove blockage. Anyway, after crossing Beaumont St we can see recently installed sidewalks, so new street trees have not yet been planted. The adjacent land is owned by the state which may have paid to have their sidewalks done.


Then we run into a problem, a very old and un-passable sidewalk. The owner of the vacant land to the left is N & G Ventures, LC (aka Paul McKee). This land was purchased about six months prior to the accident. Not surprising, the falling down building on the corner is owned by the city’s LRA (Land Reutilization Authority).


Looking back where we had just been, we can see that at that corner there is no curb ramp.


Bansen’s apartment was here, on the North side of Delmar. This accessible unit is located not on the front sidewalk but off the back. Given the either incomplete sidewalks or those with steps, I’m uncertain how she would have gotten out to Delmar.


Heading back Eastbound now toward the Mobil, the sidewalk in front of the apartments where she lived are fine.


Getting back to Leffingwell Ave, however, and we are again faced with a curb rather than a ramp. This would force anyone in a wheelchair to use the street instead.


Besides the broken sidewalk in front of the existing business on the street, much of the sidewalk area on this block is completely impassable to a person in a wheelchair. It does, however, have a new curb cut at the corner.


Looking back West after crossing over Beaumont, we can see the new sidewalk adjacent to state owned land. This stretch of Delmar is in the 6th ward where Kacie Triplett was just elected earlier this year.

This city doesn’t know how to construct environments for pedestrians. Subsidized new construction is being built lacking any means for pedestrians. Drive-thru places are popping up throughout the city and region while pedestrian access is ignored.

One of my next steps will be to request a copy of the city’s latest ADA Transition Plan, to see how they plan to more. Will it continue to be hit or miss — installing the corner ramps to sidewalks that are not passable? We already have places like Loughborough Commons where it was suggested the partial lack of sidewalks along Grand as a reason to blight the area only to have the developer remove all the sidewalks along the East side of Grand — even though the West side of Grand is also not compliant by not having curb ramps. That was why I spotted a guy riding his mobility scooter in the street last May (see post).

Despite millions, make that billions, being spent around this region on various projects we are seeing the quality of life for the pedestrian continue to decline overall. Sidewalks are basic service of cities — one we need to demand. Aldermen need to stop funding pet projects in their wards so that we can get some real money to connect real places together.  For example, one block North of here along MLK we see new sidewalks and curbs from Jefferson to Grand.  Looks pretty good, especially from an SUV windshield.  However, in all that distance is has one crosswalk — yes, one!!!  It was designed to look pretty but not actually function well for citizens attempting to use the sidewalks.   See prior post on this MLK streetscape fiasco here.

At some point we must begin to build our public rights of way for those using means other than the private car to get from place to place.  It doesn’t mean at the exclusion of motorists, just not at the exclusion of pedestrians.


Currently there are "18 comments" on this Article:

  1. LisaS says:

    Aren’t property owners supposed to maintain their sidewalks? I know that City Code requires us to shovel snow and keep them swept and de-littered (theoretically, anyway), but I was under the impression that keeping sidewalks in good repair was at least a shared responsibility between the City and the Owner–as evidenced by the fact that the City only pays for 50% of sidewalk replacement.

    I wonder if this was mentioned in the trial?

    (not that I disagree with your larger point, Steve …. but still …)

    [SLP — The City of St. Louis has continually tried to shift the burden of having a sidewalk to the owner of the adjacent land.  Maintenance in terms of snow and trash are quite different than replacement of the sidewalk.  The courts ruled in the Sacramento case that the city cannot simply do a curb ramp and ignore adjacent obstacles impeding access along the public sidewalk in the public right of way.]

  2. Eric says:

    We face a very similar situation here in KC. In addition to sidewalks in poor condition, we have entire neighborhoods without any sidewalks – generally post-WWII neighborhoods built on unincorporated land and later annexed into the city.

    We are trying to change the attitude of the city to recognize that sidewalks are not an amenity but rather a fundamental part of the transportation system and should be treated as such. Imagine what the street network would be like if it was left up to each property owner to pay for paving the street in front of their home or business.

  3. john says:

    According to the PD, jury “deliberations were little more than one hour”. Large blinds spots in managing city resources causes a tragic death and now everyone must pay for this negligence. Cars-SUVs can use the whole road curb-to-curb, painted bike lanes are nonexistent, and therefore cars-trucks can park for free. Space used for parked cars means someone in a wheelchair must navigate around them. Note that the sidewalk is right next to the street which expouses pedestrians to additional risks. Poorly designed, poorly maintained, poorly lit,…do you not believe that laws against speeding vehicles aren’t also poorly enforced?

  4. bch says:

    Its frankly retarded that owners have to pay to fix sidewalks. II know I couldn’t afford to fix the one in front of my house. We have enough trouble with landlords maintaining their buildings, let alone the sidewalks. The sidewalks in the city horrible, at least in Tower Grove South, South Grand, CWE. I know this because pushing my son in a stroller is a jarring experience, so I can’t even imagine how difficult it is for people in wheelchairs.

    Just another reason that this city sucks. It was a long list already, but at least I have plenty of time to move before my kid is of school age. Now that would be something really tragic.

  5. dude says:

    Steve thanks for posting these pics. The two big negatives out of this to me are, after the lawsuit, all that was accomplished was finding out who was to blame but the real problem (sidewalk) has yet to be fixed. Being concrete really is cheap compared to legal council makes that point worse. 2nd, since she was in a wheel chair, I think we all knew Ms. Bansen had a tough life but, when you see her neighborhood, the fact she wasn’t in the garden district only makes this story more heart breaking. For all the out of towners that read this blog… well this is an ugly aspect of St. Louis, however, there is a lot out there adding to the greatness of this city. Also, fyi, in pic 8 you should notice the dome in the background. This is where quite a few NFL playoff football games have been played and probably will be played. Keep that in mind next time you see the Rams at home on TV. As decadent as the dome looks on the inside, outside it, about a mile west, is a whole other world.

  6. Jim Zavist says:

    One, it doesn’t matter that the person was killed by an SUV, a bus, an automobile or a truck – they were killed by a motor vehicle because they were forced to share a traffic lane at night. It’s interesting that the driver was not found to be at fault. Yes, the lack of sidewalks played a contributing role, but the ultimate responsibility lies with the driver failing to avoid a “road hazard” and to not hit cyclists, pedestrians, people in wheelchairs, who have (on city streets) the same legal rights as motor vehicles!
    Two, has ownership of the vacant lots been determined, and was that fact brought up in the trial? It would not surprise me if the city owns one or more of them, placing a dual responsibility on maintaining them.
    Three, there is obvious confusion within the city on who has actual responsibility for maintaining sidewalks abutting private property. Is it 50/50 or 100% the property owner’s responsibility? And, bch, if it’s 100%, you better find the money – much like property taxes, you gotta pay to play, and if you can’t afford to maintain your property, maybe it’s time to sell to someone who can. There is no constitutional right to a free ride – any city-funded maintenance comes out of the city’s tax revenues.
    Four, much like the Channel 2 story, there ARE limits on how far any government can go in meeting the “needs” of any minority (or majority group, for that matter). The city can’t afford, within 2 or 10 years, to replace every sidewalk and modify every intersection to correct past mistakes. Murphy’s Law says whatever you do, with 20/20 hindsight, will be wrong. Individual responsibility plays a role in every choice. Here, the person in the wheelchair was “right” (and dead) while the the driver and the city were wrong (a still very much alive). It’s not “fair”, but it’s reality . . .

  7. Southside Tim says:

    Jim wrote……………”The city can’t afford, within 2 or 10 years, to replace every sidewalk and modify every intersection to correct past mistakes. Murphy’s Law says whatever you do, with 20/20 hindsight, will be wrong. Individual responsibility plays a role in every choice. Here, the person in the wheelchair was “right” (and dead)……………..”

    Bingo Jim. This is a case of a sympathetic jury awarding comfort money to survivors and we all have to pony up now.

  8. john says:

    Yes it is amazing that motorized vehicle drivers are quickly dismissed by law enforcement from taking responsibility for their negligent behavior. Prosecutors know that jurors are drivers too and defense attorneys take full advantage of this empathy…that’s what happens when you live in a culture that defines-supports-prioritizes personal mobility via automobiles-SUVs-trucks. The USA has the highest traffic-death rate of all democratic countries and thus “reality” here is not only “unfair” but incredibly uncivilized.
    – –
    Other nations have made great progress in addressing these inherent problems between motorized vehicles and people by using “traffic-calming” road designs. In addition, they have enacted laws which favors people over vehicles and establishes responsibility in favor of pedestrians-cyclists in event of an “accident” with a motorized vehicle. In the USA, highways, expansive neighborhood streets, and fast light-trucks are where we spend our public and private resources.
    – –
    When negligent drivers are found guilty (a rare event) of killing a pedestrian or cyclist in the USA, most only spend one-two years in prison. As stated by a contractor for the FHTD: “We’ve made driving so easy, accessible and convenient – and the system is so forgiving – that people can drive distracted at great speeds and mostly get away with it. But we’ve seen conclusively that not paying attention will cause bad things to happen; studies have shown that distracted driving is just as dangerous as driving drunk. We should be penalizing those people the same way that we treat drunk drivers.”
    – –
    That is only a beginning step on becoming civilized and “fair” in the design and management of our transportation system.

  9. Scooterjo says:

    Thank your for continuing to focus on how difficult it is for people who use wheelchairs or mobility scooters to get around in our area. As one who can walk I must admit that until I started reading your blog I was blissfully ignorant of how ill conceived many of the accessible ramps are. Also, it’s an insult, in my opinion, when someone in a wheelchair or mobility scooter must use the back entrance to gain entry into a building.

    To those who say the city cannot afford to improve the sidewalks…in a city that has money to give private and wealthy sports team owners money to fund their playgrounds for over grown boys, I think the money can and should be found to make sure that all citizens regardless of physical and socio economic status can get around.

    Oy vey!!

  10. dude says:

    What I wonder, now this is unlikely, if another person in a wheel chair got runover again along that same stretch of Delmar for the same reasons, I’m pretty certain another suit against the city will happen and may be even the driver, but will the sidewalk get fixed then?

  11. Ryan says:

    Since the real victim of this accident can not spend a dime of a settlement, how about donate it to the city. If the family everyone was actually concerned about sidewalk repairs and access, every single cent would have gone to repairing and adding new ADA sidewalks throughout this neighborhood. One million dollars can buy a lot of concrete, and city labor. I spent an entire summer repairing curbs and sidewalks in Chicago. The city knows it will be sued if sidewalks are left impassable. Hopefully this settlement will help the situation, but I fear that the only winner in this case will be the family (attorney) and their new found fortune.

    [SLP — Wow, I don’t think anyone who has tragically and unexpectedly lost a loved one due to negligence ever see an award as winning.  It is to compensate them for their loss due to negligence.  If they donated the money back to the city for the repairs, what lesson would the city learn?  That you can continue to be negligent because those who lost a loved one will earmark their award to make the repair?]

  12. Ryan says:

    The settlement was for 250,000 not a million. Still buys a lot of concrete.

  13. MarciaMarcia says:

    Thank you for the pictures, glove and all. I knew Lisi for a long time and had visited her before the accident, the last time I had been in St. Louis, and I could only vaguely remember what the area looked like. I grew up in St. Louis though, and suspected the sidewalks were in awful shape in that part of town. I appreciate you helping me see it again — although I surely wish it had been for a more light-hearted reason.

  14. ryan says:

    I would prefer to talk about the sidewalks, accessibility, budgets, and what can be done to find a solution. I take exception to using someone’s untimely death for a soapbox. It’s shameful.

    On another note, how often has anyone in this neighborhood complained or contacted their representatives regarding street repairs? Surely, you are not suggesting the people in this neighborhood are not capable of helping themselves and their neighbors.

    All death is tragic and unexpected…although not everyone chooses to exploit it.

  15. John says:

    I have lived here in Charleston, SC West Ashley area where there are some sidewalks and others that just ends with a 6+ inch drop off with no other sidewalk available. On West Ashley Road, Highway 61, people have been killed and still no sidewalks, either side. A generous woman donated 10 million dollars to “beautify” Charleston parks. No this was a great cause but when people have to go in a wheelchair to the local social security office, they must use one side or the other, bout whit no sidewalks. If some of the officials had to spend a day trying to get from point A to point B when your legs no longer works, they might have a different opinion of what is really need in life. I came from a out of state community that by state law said that a residential area had to have a good sidewalk. You either put one in yourself or the city would charge you time and materials in doing it for you. Shame on you Charleston for not providing the basic needs of your wheelchair bound citizens.

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