A Buckhead resident is among plaintiffs suing the city of Atlanta over its alleged lack of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The suit alleges that the city has failed to repair sidewalks and fulfill its 2009 agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.

James Curtis, a Buckhead resident and Shepherd Center patient, waits at an intersection during an October 2017 walking tour highlighting sidewalk problems. (File/Evelyn Andrews)

James Curtis, a patient at the Shepherd Center who uses a wheelchair, says he joined the suit after frustration that the city was not repairing sidewalks even after he submitted several maintenance requests.

“I have not had much luck at all with ATL311,” he said, referring to the city’s request service. “The only thing I can think of is that the city just hopes you go away,” Curtis said.

A city spokesperson said in an email that Atlanta is working to fix the sidewalks and other infrastructure to make them accessible for everyone.

“The city remains committed to the core value that Atlanta truly belongs to everyone and no obstacles should stand in anyone’s way in contributing to and participating fully in our community,” the statement said.

The city said it is not in violation of the 2009 agreement because the agreement is “ongoing.”

“The city continues to address the identified needs and to cooperate with the DOJ by reporting its progress on an annual basis,” the written statement said.

Curtis said he recently transitioned from a manual to powered wheelchair which has allowed him to explore the city more, but also showed him how difficult it is to navigate the damaged sidewalks throughout the city.

“It really opened my eyes into how crumbled the infrastructure is,” he said.

Most able-bodied people are able to get around the damaged areas with little issues, but for wheelchair users it becomes a big problem.

“Unless you’re disabled, you wouldn’t think twice about the sidewalks,” he said. “I would love to see our sidewalks be wide enough for everyone to use.”

In previous interviews for articles on sidewalk damage in Buckhead, wheelchair users have told stories of falling into the street due to steep sidewalk ramps and getting stuck in large cracks. Utility poles and signs also crowd the sidewalks, leaving insufficient room for a wheelchair and causing wheelchair users to turn around or make dangerous detours into a roadway.

James Curtis traverses damaged sidewalks on Peachtree Road in October 2017. (File/Evelyn Andrews)

On major corridors, the city of Atlanta and Georgia Department of Transportation each say the other is responsible for repairs, frustrating residents like Curtis who submit requests.

“Everyone’s trying to deflect the blame,” Curtis said.

There are two other plaintiffs in the case, Laurel Lawson and James Turner, who come from different areas of the city, which the attorney said was intentional.

“We want to cover all parts of the city,” attorney James Radford said.

The lawsuit did not come out of one specific incident and problem area, but rather the cumulative frustration the residents have experienced.

“Things have come to a head. They really want to take action to force the city’s hand,” Radford said.

The next step is waiting for the city to respond to the lawsuit, which must be done by July 10. Radford hopes to work with the city to come up with a plan to repair the sidewalks through mediation. If that doesn’t work, Radford will argue for the courts to force the city to make the repairs.
The plaintiffs are not seeking compensation as part of the lawsuit, Radford said.

Sally Flocks, the president of Pedestrians Educating Drivers on Safety, known as PEDS, said she is confident the lawsuit will solve the problems with pedestrian access. Although not a plaintiff, Flocks has been advocating for maintained sidewalks for years.

The city has millions lined up under the Renew Atlanta bond program and T-SPLOST, and Flocks hopes that money is finally spent on comprehensive maintenance, construction and repairs.

“I really hope it forces the city to put some money into sidewalks,” she said.

She said the lawsuit could spur similar action or activism in surrounding cities with sidewalk problems, but wouldn’t have any direct effect on other municipalities.

“We need to get our elected officials setting priorities on what is vital,” she said.

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