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Durham wheelchair ramps lead to impassable sidewalks

Advocates for the disabled complain that some of the 550 wheelchair ramps Durham is installing around the city lead to sidewalks that wheelchairs can't navigate.

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DURHAM, N.C. — Durham is building about 550 wheelchair ramps citywide, but advocates for the disabled complain that some of the ramps lead to sidewalks that wheelchairs can't navigate.

"They are in desperate repair," Jane Johnson-Chavis, executive director of The Arc of Durham County, said of the sidewalks. "It just almost seems like it would a hazard to someone walking."

The Arc of Durham County is a nonprofit that serves people with developmental disabilities and their families.

The ramps are part of a 2006 settlement between Durham and the U.S. Department of Justice following a complaint that the city wasn't complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The city is spending about $800,000 in bond money on 300 ramps, and the contract to build more complicated ramps is out for bids.

Cracks are common near some ramps, and a tree blocks a good portion of one sidewalk. A gap in the sidewalk near a recently installed  ramp on Hermitage Court is bigger than a ballpoint pen, and Johnson-Chavis said it would be nearly impossible for someone to get past it in a wheelchair.

"Hermitage Court's sidewalk definitely needs to be replaced," Durham Public Works Director Katie Kalb said, noting the city has a list of thousands of sidewalks that need work.

"We are just trying to get to the worst (and most traveled) first," Kalb said, adding that the Hermitage Court sidewalk would likely be repaired within a couple of years.

"I would say that you know you've got to start somewhere and we have to comply with the Department of Justice settlement agreement, and we know we have to fix the sidewalks," she said.

Johnson-Chavis called the situation "pretty surprising."

"I'm just a little disturbed that we put these ramps in without considering whether people would have access once they got on the sidewalk," she said.