Federal lawsuit claims Seattle sidewalks, streets are inadequate

SEATTLE -- A disability rights group has filed a federal lawsuit against Seattle, arguing the city isn't doing enough to make sure intersections, sidewalks, and curb ramps are accessible to everyone.

The suit, filed Thursday by Disability Rights Washington, doesn't seek monetary damages but aims to force the city to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which mandates that newly constructed or altered streets have sloped areas to accommodate wheelchairs, walkers, and more.

"We're not asking the city to fix it today or even tomorrow. We really just want a plan," said Emily Cooper, an attorney for the nonprofit. "We want a concrete plan on how they're going to fix all the concrete ramps in the city so everyone can work or visit Seattle safely."

Seattle invests more money per capita on curb ramps than places like Los Angeles and Chicago, countered city officials. This year, workers are scheduled to install more than 1,300 ramps on Seattle streets.

"The City takes its responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act very seriously," said City Attorney Pete Holmes, in a written response to the statement. "We're confident our record will prove persuasive."

David Whedbee, an attorney and one of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, says he regularly has to guide his wheelchair into a bus lane on his commute through the International DIstrict in order to avoid a sidewalk that does not have a curb ramp.

"The bus driver has a green light and I have a green light and it leads to a point of conflict," he said. "I have to pay extra attention to some of these places along my route to make sure I don't get hit by a bus."

A second plaintiff named in the suit, Conrad Reynoldson, said he regularly runs into similar problems when meeting with clients and associates downtown.

"It's dangerous, first and foremost. It's not safe to cross the street if you have to go out into the middle of the intersection to go," said Reynoldson, who also relies on a wheelchair to get around. "You put your life at risk every time you cross the street."

"The major thrust of the lawsuit is to get change," added Whedbee. "Ideally it wouldn't entail years of litigation. We're just hoping the city will finally sit down and try to resolve this problem with us."