City nears settlement with disability rights advocates in suit over sidewalks

Sidewalks are shown on a block with rowhomes that are slanted and cracked.

File photo: The sidewalks on this Point Breeze block are slanting, cracked, and sinking. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Disability rights advocates are getting closer to a settlement with the City of Philadelphia in a class-action suit that claims dangerous sidewalks violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In a joint settlement update filed Thursday with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the parties said they have exchanged additional drafts of settlement agreements and are making “significant progress” toward a final settlement. But a “small, fixed set of terms” remain to be negotiated.

“The Parties remain committed to engage in good-faith negotiations over those terms,” the update reads. Attorneys have requested another month to negotiate, and have promised yet another update on April 30.

Four Philadelphians with disabilities and the advocacy organizations Liberty Resources, Disabled in Action of Pennsylvania, Inc., and Philadelphia ADAPT filed the suit in 2019, arguing the city’s failure to provide accessible pedestrian rights of way violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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“Because Philadelphia’s pedestrian rights of way — including curb ramps, sidewalks, crosswalks, pedestrian crossings, and other walkways — are rife with barriers, people with disabilities that affect their mobility cannot travel freely around Philadelphia, hindering their right to work, study, socialize, volunteer, worship, and engage in civic life,” the complaint read.

The case was scheduled for a bench trial in early February of this year. But two weeks before the trial was set to begin, federal judge Harvey Bartle III put trial deadlines on pause, so the advocates and city could work toward a settlement agreement.

In their joint update Thursday, the parties said they had a “productive conference” on Monday.

The city is currently preparing a revised settlement draft to show the plaintiffs, incorporating their feedback from Monday’s meeting.

Cities across the country are being sued over the state of their sidewalks. Lawsuits similar to the one in Philadelphia have been filed in San Francisco, Atlanta, and Baltimore in recent years. In 2017, Seattle agreed to fix or install tens of thousands of curb ramps — expected to cost nearly $300 million — in order to settle a federal class action lawsuit there.

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