City settles lawsuit and steps up construction of curbs for the disabled

SEATTLE -- It's a change of pace for David Whedbee this week as he rides the streets and intersections of Seattle.

It hasn’t always been that way.

“You get out into Seattle's neighborhoods and sometimes it's very uneven,” the attorney and disabled advocate said.

A settlement this week of a federal lawsuit by Whedbee and fellow activists against the city of Seattle requires a smooth ride for the estimated 26,000 people in the city with mobility issues.

That ride comes in the change in curb cuts, the small ramps going from the street to the sidewalk. They are critical for those in wheelchairs or who need assistance getting around.

“Unless you spend the day rolling like we do, you can't necessarily understand,” said fellow attorney and co-plaintiff Conrad Reynoldson.

He said the problem was that city planning didn't make the curb cuts a high enough priority.

Some got great attention and fixes. Others got half measures or nothing at all.

“Now we have an organized approach and it's going to get done,” he said.

But it will be expensive.

The agreement forces the city to fix the estimated 20,000 illegal curbs at an average cost of $4,000 to $5,000 each.

That's upward of $100 million over the next 18 years, according to Disability Rights Washington attorney Emily Cooper.

She says there's more to it than that, though.

“Not a dollar figure, but a number figure,” she said.

The city wants to know where it can improve.

They are using a crowdsourced map on SDOT’s website to let users report bad curbs.

Part of the effort is to simply look down and make a difference---thinking of others.

“Because it's a theory until you meet someone and then you understand why it's a problem,” Cooper said.

In a statement, SDOT welcomed the challenge for solutions.

“Installing and repairing curb ramps are already part of SDOT's ongoing commitment in creating a vibrant and interconnected city for everyone. We are confident we can meet the goals outlined in the settlement and will ramp up our efforts (no pun intended) in conjunction with other city departments to make the city accessible for everyone,” said spokesperson Mafara Hobson.