Local Government Held Responsible for Sidewalk Access

June 13, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The disabled have won a significant victory with a federal appeals court decision that municipal sidewalks have to be made accessible with curb ramps and kept clear of obstructions.

Writing for a three-judge US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel, Judge A. Wallace Tashima said that sidewalks are a local-government service and, therefore, covered by the mandates of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), according to a news report in The Recorder.

The case revolves around a class action filed in 1999 on behalf of thousands of people with mobility and vision disabilities. Disability rights advocates sued the city of Sacramento, California.

Sacramento settled the part of the suit relating to curb ramps – the slopes at street corners that allow wheelchairs to roll on and off sidewalks – vowing to increase the number of such ramps it installs every year from 100 to 1,500.

But the city was less accommodating about the benches, signposts and other barriers that can prevent wheelchairs from maneuvering on sidewalks. The city government should only be held responsible for sidewalks around public buildings like a local library, officials argued.

The National League of Cities and 76 California cities filed legal briefs supporting the city of Sacramento.

The decision means the case now returns to federal district court for further hearings. The case is Barden v. City of Sacramento, 02 C.D.O.S. 5193.