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.Â For example, one block North of here along MLK we see new sidewalks and curbs from Jefferson to Grand.Â Looks pretty good, especially from an SUV windshield.Â However, in all that distance is has one crosswalk — yes, one!!!Â It was designed to look pretty but not actually function well for citizens attempting to use the sidewalks.Â Â 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.Â It doesn’t mean at the exclusion of motorists, just not at the exclusion of pedestrians.