muckraker report

MUCKRAKING ALERT: Detroit spent $45 million on sidewalk ramps to nowhere while sinking into debt

SidewalksThe city of Detroit can’t afford to keep most of its fire stations open. The over-strapped police department often fails to show up to emergencies. And nearly half of the city’s 88,000 streetlights don’t work.

But that didn’t stop the city from spending nearly $45 million on more than 27,000 curb ramps for people with disabilities.

Two years after the city dished out the tax dollars to install the ramps, the Motor City Muckraker examined the whereabouts of thousands of the curb cuts. Here’s what we found:

  • Many of the ramps were installed on sidewalks that are impassable because of overgrowth or collapsed homes.
  • Dozens of curb cuts were found on blocks with no occupied houses.
  • Nearly a quarter of the ramps were improperly installed, damaging sidewalks and property.

“No one ever uses these sidewalks,” Aaron Morgan said of the curb cuts near his house that were installed by the abandoned Packard Plant on the city’s east side. “It’s a joke.”

So how’d this happen? A judge ordered Detroit to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act by installing ramps at intersections for people with disabilities in 2005. Prior to that, the city had improperly installed thousands of curb cuts.

A source in Mayor Dave Bing’s administration said the curb cuts were a colossal waste of money and should have been challenged.

Check out these sidewalks to nowhere. Click on the first photo to begin the slideshow.

All photos by Steve Neavling. 

Got tips or suggestions? Contact Steve at 

Steve Neavling, who lives on the city’s east side, is an investigative journalist, a freelance reporter for Reuters and former city hall reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Neavling explores corruption, Detroit’s unsung heroes and the underbelly of an oft-misunderstood city.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for daily updates, investigations, photos and videos of the Motor City. 

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

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  • irishcal

    back in about 2007 or 2008 federal funds were paid to install these ramps after the judge rules Detroit had to comply.When DPW re-surfaced a street or fixed pot holes, they put the ramps in on all 4 corners. Not these red ones but cement.Moran Rd/ Balfour neighborhood.Now if the City now has to pay, what happen to the Federal funds? Another conversation with Ron DPW Director may get your answers.Don’t let him bs you! They put ramps in where the sidewalk stops and there is no street and replaced sidewalks that ended no where

  • CWR0747

    Last year, crews from West Side Concrete tore out and replaced large stretches of sidewalk in my NW Detroit neighborhood (Grandmont-Rosedale area). I spoke with the construction foreman and the DPW inspector, concerned that I was going to be billed, per City policy, for sidewalk repairs in front of my house. I was told that there was no cost to homeowners, as these repairs were to replace sidewalk slabs and sections that were lifted by roots of city-owned/installed trees on the berm (area between sidewalk and curb). Again, preemption of trip and fall suits on city sidewalks due to displaced slabs. Tried to find out from my council member neighbor, what budget was paying for this, but he could not find an answer. Later on, I found out West Side Concrete would not be replacing the large amounts of lawn dug up in this process, as they were supposed to do, since the city had not paid them for the sidewalk work.
    The new red-rubber curb cuts went in some time later.

  • Rock Wolf

    just throw it back and stop scatching

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  • Olivia

    I just moved to detroit and I ride my bike to work. This whole issue has been bugging me!

    • magic6435

      Not sure how sidewalk ramps are bugging you on your bike. You’re supposed to be in the street…

    • Phoebe Johnson

      I agree!

  • Scott Lewis
    • irishcal

      yes you did and I remember. Sidewalk to nowhere.No one looks beyond city hall for answers.DPW is 5 minutes away.

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  • Mode Shift MoveTgthr (@wearemodeshift)

    And wasn’t it federal and state money, not city money that paid for them? So, how is this a colossal waste “by the city”?

    • Steve Neavling

      Because that money could have been put to bettet use. Much of the funding came from road money earmarked for the city. So instead of fixing Detroit’s roads, the city spent millions on sidewalks to nowhere. And what makes it a colossal waste by the city? Detroit screwed up the first sidewalk cuts so badly that they virtually all needed to be rebuilt. That’s a waste of money.

      • irishcal

        no the feds paid plenty. check it out

  • kathleen krasity

    Historic zoning was violated when ramps were installed in Indian Village. The fresh new cement that was not conform to the historic guidelines. Contractors also cut, and did not repair, at least one sprinkler system.

  • Michael Kruger

    From what I have been told this is one of numerous Bobbyferguson contracts that weee often done so poorly that they had to be redone….

  • Richard Agee

    As much as I love pointing out the colossal stupidity that comes out of Detroit at times, this is all about the feds overstepping their authority and placing undo burden on states and the local governments under them.

  • Ray

    In this city, you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. If someone with some connon sence decided not to install these at locations that didnt need them, some fool would see that and find a way to exploit it in a lawsuit against the city…… I can see it now, ‘my blind cousin walked right out in front of a car because no special curb was there’ Then they city would have to pay millions more in a lawsuit. When people stop trying to take advantage of anything and everyone they can for thier own gain, THEN maybe we can start making decisions that make sence, rather then making decisions that will keep someone from suing us…..just stop for a minute and think about how much more things cost, due to the blood suckers out there who will sue someone else, for something that was due to thier own stupidity…. How many warning labels does a lawnmower REALLY need to tell you not to pick it up or reach under it while its running?!? How much more are we paying for a coffee at McDonalds because some idiot ordered one and didnt realize it might be hot, and got a little burn? Maybe we should let Darwin have his way and let the strong (and even semi intellegent) survive……

  • G

    I posted a pic of this madness last week. No one had an answer for me. Thanks for researching this! I’m not sure what steams me more: the govt or the companies that take these jobs. Obviously neither give a shit about the city and its growth.

  • Todd Scott

    I no longer see my comment listed. Are you deleting comments?

  • Darin Kronner

    It is the government. Everyone knows that when government is involved, common sense goes right out the window.

  • crease

    Steve, I was about to ream you a new one until I did some research and read the comments and your rebuttal. Thanks for doing a a decent job but maybe you need to put in more facts especially about the lawsuit[s] and the ADA. Keep up the good work.

  • joe sanford (@jms4177)

    Hoffa is under one of them about 2 blocks from the Fisher theater.

  • Frank S. Bublitz

    Okay, wait a minute! The city of Detroit did NOT install improper curb cuts before this huge waste of money. My city of Port Huron went through the same thing. A traveling shyster took the city to court because the original curb cuts installed by the city did not meet a NEW standard imposed for raised tabs in the curb cuts AFTER curb cuts were initially built! The standard for blind folks is the result of the federal government requiring a new standard to be adhered to.

    Look, I was the chairman of a state committee’s sub-committee that advocated for the original passage of the ADA. Little did we know that the traveling ambulance chasers would black mail cities (sorry for the reference to color Detroit) into doing all kinds of expensive and unnecessary things such as re-retrofitting curb cuts. The city had NO flexibility in where the curb cuts should go! If anyone wants to do something to keep this kind of crap from happening again they need to contact their senator (Deb Stabenow, not Levin because of retirement) at 202 224-3121 and make a formal complaint about the federal office of civil rights and their inability to rein in the trial lawyers on this issue.

    • The People of Detroit

      I’m pretty sure the etymology of “blackmail” has nothing to do with African-Americans lmao. In any case, your comments were illuminating.

    • irishcal

      I worked for DPW when those ramps were being installed. My driver hauled away all the cement that was taken out from the four corner square. and had they have installed the ramps when they were paid to do no one could have complained. I think taking 8 years after the court ruling is a bit long. Don’t you?

  • sandy Louise

    Poorly written story. Excessively misleading. ADA compliance and federal funding to comply is essential for mobility. Writing a story making that indicates Detroit spent local funds for useless ADA ramps that contributed to their financial woes is anything but not misleading. Did you notice that I mentioned it is “federal funds” earmarked for ramps. That money cannot be used for any other purpose.

    Now who ordered the ramps to be installed in abandoned areas is another question.

    Print the names of the contractors who installed the ramps. Hold them responsible for any misinstalled ramps. Let them reimburse the city or fix the ramps.

    I as a handicapped individual with mobility issues HATE, DETEST, DESPISE these ramps. I cannot manuvour over those pain-causing large bumps that cause me to fall, tips my walker and racks havic with my back when I am using my powerchair (the bumping motion increases the already untolerable pain in my lower back).

    The rules need to be changed but all my lawmakers tell me I have to wait because they are terming-out and will not have any time to get the modification looked at by Congress.

    The other hazard are those very attractive sidewalks and crosswalks that are individual small bricks. Although they are pleasing to the eye, they are treacherous for mobility equipment and cause excruciating pain for those using the equipment as well as a tripping hazard for common people. Even driving my vehicle over them is painful.

  • Eric

    I like how it’s barely mentioned that this was the result of a lawsuit. Most cities in Michigan have replaced their curb ramps after this ruling to be ADA compliant but the author paints Detroit as this municipality that’s bankrupt because of sidewalks. Give me a break.

    • Steve Neavling

      I appreciate the feedback. There was a lawsuit against Detroit because it had improperly installed most of its curb cuts, wasting millions and millions of dollars. In Detroit, the process of picking the sidewalks to cut was haphazard and counter-productive. The plan was to install ramps on a third of the sidewalks. So some dense neighborhoods received none while many desolate areas, some with no houses on a block, received installations.

  • Julien Godman

    City was obligated to install those. Following a court order after someone sued the city years back. Time-frame was set and arranged over a course of several years to adhere to handicap accessibility at ALL street corners and crossings no matter population density. They still have more to install too.

  • Rooftop1439

    Here’s the real question: who won the contracts to do all the work? And from where was the labor sourced?

    • Steve Neavling

      Four firms worked on the project. Because this involved federal regulations, the feds chose the contractors, not the city. I’m tracking down the names of the contractors.

    • bebow

      West Side Concrete allegedly did some of the work. (See look-up)

      • Steve Neavling

        Thanks for the heads up!

    • irishcal

      DPW RFQ

  • dino [dustin_winter] (@dno_bot)

    Could this money have come from stimulus money from the federal government mandated for such repairs?

    • Steve Neavling

      Dino, great question. The money came from several funds, but it was not stimulus money. Some were local taxes; some were federal.

    • Eric

      This was pre-stimulus