Americans with Disabilities Act suit challenges DC bike lane designs

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A lawsuit filed this week by two disabled women accuses the district of adopting protected bike lane designs that make it difficult for them to find safe parking spaces, in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Washington, seeks to have the county’s Department of Transportation reconsider its approach to designing bike lanes and providing more accessible parking spots across the city.

The bike lanes in question include those on a section of 17th Street NW in the Dupont Circle area. The lanes run alongside the curb, separating the bikes from traffic with a series of parking spaces. The lawsuit alleges that the design makes it difficult for people using wheelchairs or walkers to safely transfer from their vehicles onto the sidewalk.

“It’s dangerous,” said Theodosia Robinson, 70, one of the plaintiffs. She uses a walker and described close conversations with cyclists. “There must be a safer way.”

Department of Transportation officials declined to comment, citing the litigation.

The protected bike lanes are preferred by bike advocates in many cases because they create a physical barrier from parked cars between cyclists and moving vehicles. The district plans to install 10 miles of lanes annually for the next three years.

But as cities have installed them, officials and advocates have also grappled with the barriers they can create for people with disabilities.

“Unless carefully planned, separate cycle lane installations can potentially impede curb access for disembarking motor vehicle passengers or transit users,” the Federal Roads Administration notes in a design guide.

The guide includes an example of how the lanes can incorporate dedicated disabled parking and loading zones with safe crossings to the sidewalk. Such a design provides enough space for someone to deploy a wheelchair ramp from their vehicle without having to enter the bike path.

DC plans to double its 24 miles of protected bike lanes

The lawsuit says the district has taken this approach on rare occasions and includes an image of a parking lot painted blue next to a bike lane on K Street NW near 4th Street NW. However, officials are said to have noted that they are generally not required to provide dedicated accessible parking outside of inner cities.

“Without accessible parking, residents and visitors with disabilities are forced to park in parking lots where they are at risk of serious injury or death,” the complaint reads. “Wheelchair users need dedicated space around their parking spaces to ensure their safety when entering and/or exiting their vehicles.”

In the complaint, Robinson claimed that due to the lack of reliable parking, she had to rely on friends’ rides to get to appointments. Dana Bolles, the other plaintiff, said she enters her van via a wheelchair ramp but has found many places inaccessible since moving to the district earlier this year.

“Now she’s restricting her travel,” the lawsuit says.

Robinson and Bolles were joined in the lawsuit by the DC Center for Independent Living, which provides services for people with disabilities, and the Dupont East Civic Action Association, a neighborhood group that has long engaged with bike lane advocates.

The complaint also alleges that the district does not have adequate parking spaces for people with disabilities everywhere, indicating red-capped parking meters that are too close to trees, planters, bike racks and trash cans. The complaint alleges that only 400 of the city’s 20,000 metered parking spaces are accessible.

Maia Goodell, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the case could end with an expert developing a plan to ensure the district improves accessibility while making changes to existing projects.

“It’s both forward-thinking and geared towards fixing some of the things that have come in that are just breaking the law,” she said.

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