Parking Protected Bike Lanes Can Create Disability Barriers and Violate the ADA
Federal Court finds the City of Los Angeles Violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and other disability statutes when it altered its on-street parking to install parking protected bike lanes without regard for wheelchair accessibility.
Parking Protected Bike Lanes Can Create Disability Barriers.
Cities across the nation are redesigning their streets to include parking protected bike lanes, with the goal of increasing safety for both bicyclists and drivers. The basic idea of these parking protected bike lanes is to move the car parking lane into the street and install bike lanes between the parking and the curb.
Great idea, right? Well, not always. Unless accessibility is part of the public entities’ redesign process, parking protected bike lanes can create significant problems for people with disabilities, particularly those who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices. Among other things, parking facilities become dangerous and inaccessible. Moving on-street parking spaces further away from the curb to accommodate installation of a bike lane places additional and greater burdens on people with disabilities. After parking, drivers with disabilities must proceed in an active bike lane for an extended period of time until they can access the sidewalk, while ambulatory drivers may simply, easily and without risk of collision, cross the bike lane and step directly up onto the sidewalk. Additionally, those who use side-deploying lifts or ramps must perilously deploy their wheelchairs directly into the active bike lane unless there is sufficient room provided to do so safely.
Court Rules City of Los Angeles Violated Disability Laws When it Altered On-Street Parking to Install Protected Bike Lanes.
On May 12, 2017, Ron Sarfaty, an individual with physical disabilities who uses a wheelchair for mobility, filed suit against the City of Los Angeles alleging that the City’s 2015 alteration of the on-street parking on Reseda Boulevard to install parking protected violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq., and related federal and state statutes. See Sarfaty v. City of Los Angeles, Case No. 2:17-cv-03594-SVW-KS.
Mr. Sarfaty alleged that the City’s redesign violated disability laws in numerous ways, including:
none of the 70+ on-street parking spaces altered were designated or configured for use by people with disabilities;
inadequate space was provided for people with disabilities to deploy wheelchair ramps or lifts, forcing them to exit their vehicles directly and dangerously into an active bike lane;
none of the altered on-street parking spaces were sited on an accessible route to the adjacent sidewalks, forcing individuals to travel extended distances to reach the nearest intersection to reach and access the sidewalk.
After over three years of very contentious litigation, including a successful appeal of the Court’s initial dismissal of Mr. Sarfaty’s claims, the case went to trial in July 2020. Mr. Sarfaty prevailed.
In his August 12, 2020 post-trial Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, presiding Judge Stephen V. Wilson, United States District Judge for the Central District of California found that the City had violated the ADA and other disability laws by failing to ensure that the on-street parking on the altered portion of Reseda Boulevard was “readily accessible” to people with disabilities. In rendering his findings Judge Wilson aptly noted:
“[O]n-street parking cannot properly be considered ‘accessible’ without consideration of how disabled individuals reach the sidewalk from a parking space, because a parking space is useful only to the extent it permits individuals to reach businesses and other establishments that are connected to on-street parking by a public sidewalk.”
Sarfaty v. City of Los Angeles, No. 2:17-CV-03594-SVW-KS, 2020 WL 4697906, at *5 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 12, 2020)
Given such considerations, and based on the evidence presented at trial, Judge Wilson concluded that because the altered on-street parking on Reseda required wheelchair users to roll in the bike lane and avoid cyclists for a significant period of time in order to reach a sidewalk, it presented people with disabilities like Mr. Sarfaty with “additional challenges” and “disadvantages,” “significant accessibility concerns,” a “substantially higher burden,” and the “risk of a collision and possible harm.” Id. at *5-6. As such, Judge Wilson determined that the altered on-street parking could not be considered “readily accessible” from the program accessibility perspective dictated by the ADA (see 28 C.F.R. § 35.151(b)(1)). Id. at *6.
On September 11, 2020, Judge Wilson issued his Final Judgment in the case. The Judgment, which the City did not appeal, memorializes the important results achieved in the litigation, including the Court’s holdings on the following issues of first or limited impression:
that the City's public on-street public parking is a distinct “service, program or activity” for the purposes of Title II of the ADA;
that the movement of preexisting parking spaces away from the curb to install parking protected bike lanes constitutes an “alteration” for purposes of Title II of the ADA;
that public entities must ensure that their on-street parking is accessible to and usable by disabled persons, irrespective of whether the Department of Justice has adopted technical specifications for that particular type of facility;
that in the absence of technical specifications, the Department of Justice has stated the Title II’s program accessibility standards (expressly referencing both § 35.150(a) and § 35.151(a)(1) and (b)(1)), apply to a public entity’s on-street parking, and that technical specifications for similar structures provide a “template” to “apply and to modify as needed to achieve accessibility of [their] on-street parking”; and
that the Title III obligations of private businesses do not factor into the program accessibility requirements of Title II that are specifically mandated for public entities (rejecting the City’s argument that the availability of off-street lot parking owned by private businesses could be considered when analyzing whether the City’s public on-street parking was accessible).
The Court’s holdings on these enumerated issues will not only benefit people with disabilities who need access to on-street parking facilities, they will also benefit many other people in enforcing their right to full and equal access to public services, programs and activities in other contexts. The outcome of the case – a first of its kind - has been critical to the development of disability law regarding accessibility requirements for street modifications and will serve as groundbreaking and significant precedent.
Mr. Sarfaty’s success also conveys a significant long-term benefit to the public in the form of designated accessible parking spaces on the altered portion of Reseda. The Court has entered an injunction requiring the City to install accessible parking spaces on the altered portion of Reseda within four months, in specific locations identified as feasible by Mr. Sarfaty’s expert. This relief will benefit and ensure access for a wide range of people with disabilities visiting Reseda Boulevard moving forward.
The ADA Requires Inclusive City Planning.
When public entities redesign their public spaces, the ADA requires that accessibility for people with disabilities be considered at the outset, in the planning and design. This is not a new obligation; the ADA was passed over 30 years ago, and sadly we have yet to achieve its promise of accessible public services, programs and activities. Lawsuits brought on behalf of brave advocates like Mr. Sarfaty will continue to be paramount in ensuring the accessibility of public spaces, particularly against recalcitrant cities like the City of Los Angeles, an entity that has proven itself over and over again to be more willing to spend public funds fighting accessibility than ensuring it.