Slippery Slope 

Curb improvements in Memphis continue.

Randy Alexander has trouble getting around Memphis in his wheelchair, and the city of Memphis isn't helping.

"The curb ramps have long been an issue here in Memphis," Alexander said. "Currently, there are some real questions as to whether or not the current way curb ramps are done is fully compliant. ... The city had 19 years to meet ADA standards."

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act enacted new standards for right-of-ways and curb ramps that require state and local governments to make pedestrian crossing accessible to people with disabilities. Cities had two years to complete a self-evaluation and transition plan.

Memphis fell behind, and in 1998, local residents filed a federal lawsuit against the city for failing to renovate its ramps. A few years later, the Department of Justice and the city of Memphis entered a consent decree that required the city to comply with the curb cuts cited in the lawsuit. Since then, Memphis has replaced 14,000 of the 30,000 city curb ramps.

Wain Gaskins, director of city engineering, said the delay in updating all the ramps is due to the large scope of the project. Each year for the past 10 years, the city has set aside $2.5 million for curb ramp improvements. Each curb cut costs the city around $1,650 to replace or update.

"We are removing and replacing any exiting curb ramps that are not ADA-compliant," Gaskins said. "The curb ramps are being installed to meet ADA requirements."

The city is replacing curb ramps in areas deemed most urgent to help with the mobility of people with disabilities. However, because of a city ordinance, Memphis is not responsible for the sidewalk around the ramps.

Memphis is one city where residents are responsible for fixing sidewalks," Alexander said. " It's not fair to us or them [residents]."

The city expects to miss the deadline set forth in the consent decree, but Gaskins believes that with the city exceeding the 1,000 curb ramps per year requirement, the Department of Justice will grant it an extension.

"There are some parts of town that I avoid because they are not accessible," Alexander said. "The city is incredibly far behind in access for a city its size."

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