In a city where poverty is high, schools are broken and crime is rampant, the federal government has forced Detroit to spend more than $50 million in the past decade for sidewalk ramps that often lead to nowhere.
Many of the nearly 35,000 ramps, which are for people with disabilities, are on inaccessible sidewalks or streets with no homes.
City officials have fought the absurdities of the 2006 federal consent order, but to no avail. The federal government said the ramps were required under the Americans with Disabilities Act, even if the sidewalks were useless.
“Our efforts to legally fight this requirement were not successful,” said Ron Brundidge, director of the Detroit Department of Public Works.
Over the past two months, Motor City Muckraker examined more than 3,000 sidewalk ramps and found:
- About 12% of the ramps were installed on sidewalks that are impassable because of overgrowth, collapsed homes or illegal dumping.
- Dozens of curb cuts were found on blocks with no occupied houses or buildings.
- Sidewalk ramps surround vacant schools and factories, including the long-abandoned Packard Plant.
Under the consent order, the city is still required to build new ramps “whenever major improvements were done to a road, such as repaving, water main replacements, traffic signal improvements, etc.,” Brundidge said. “Therefore, if a street was paved in a neighborhood or block where there was not a large number of occupied houses, we were still legally required to install new ramps, if the existing ramps were not compliant. This unfortunately resulted in some ramps being installed that were essentially unusable.”
Fewer sidewalks to nowhere have been installed under Mayor Duggan’s administration because “we have been more diligent in our selection process of road investment, with a greater commitment to allocating resources in neighborhoods that have greater occupancy rates and other investments are being made to further solidify these areas” Brunbridge said.
Here is a sample of the sidewalks to nowhere. All photos by Steve Neavling.
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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.