Bike Lanes Can Create Disability Barriers

I’m an avid bicyclist.  I’ve ridden the NYC Century, the full 100-mile tour of four New York City boroughs.  I pedal the 13 miles to my office in Brooklyn regularly.  And I love the protected bike lanes that help me do it.  But redesigning streets and parks just for bicycles can create problems for people with disabilities:  parking and bus stops become inaccessible, bollards block travel for wheelchairs, or changed pedestrian patterns are marked visually but not with tactile strips for blind people.[1]  

Of course, people with disabilities use bicycles too, but that doesn’t negate the concerns. In fact, if not carefully thought through, traditional bike lanes benefit affluent, white communities, which have fewer people with mobility disabilities.  Some cycling advocates, like this group in Minneapolis, have recognized the need to broaden their vision.  That is a smart move, not just morally but legally.

Court Rules Bike Lane Layout Must Consider ADA Access

A court in Los Angeles recently held that the city violated the ADA when it redesigned its streets to add protected bike lanes without considering accessibility.  It moved parking from curbside to the middle of the street without designating accessible spaces.  Plaintiff Ron Sarfaty had used a side-loading wheelchair lift to get out directly onto the sidewalk; now he was forced to wheel a significant distance in bike traffic to get to a curb ramp. The court held that this was an inaccessible alteration to a public program—parking—in violation of the ADA and its implementing regulations.  “[O]n-street parking cannot properly be considered ‘accessible’ without consideration of how disabled individuals reach the sidewalk from a parking space ….”[2]

Notably, the judge in Los Angeles rejected the city’s defense that it had met the letter of the law by complying with the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design–that code did not mention curbside parking or bike lanes:  “rote application of the 2010 ADA Standards” was inappropriate since the standards were for off-street parking.[3]  Instead, the court applied the requirement that alterations be “readily accessible” to people with disabilities. 

The ADA Requires Inclusive City Planning

There is a broader lesson here:  when we redesign public spaces and programs, the ADA requires inclusion of people with disabilities at the outset, in the design.  The principle is the same as that established for other municipal planning, such as emergency preparedness. There is no excuse, 30 years on, for not considering everyone who uses the streets when making improvements to their design. 


[1] For discussion and some analysis of potential solutions beyond the above-linked articles, see, for example, National Association of City Transportation Officials, One-Way Protected Cycle Tracks,  https://nacto.org/publication/urban-bikeway-design-guide/cycle-tracks/one-way-protected-cycle-tracks/ (visited Aug. 18, 2020); Roger Rudick,  Protected Bike Lanes, Seniors and the Disabled, StreetsblogSF (Mar. 19, 2020), at https://sf.streetsblog.org/2020/03/19/protected-bike-lanes-seniors-and-the-disabled/.

[2] Sarfaty v. City of Los Angeles, No. 2:17-CV-03594-SVW-KS, 2020 WL 4697906, at *5 (C.D. Cal. Aug. 12, 2020).

[3] Id. at *9; see also id. at *4.