Curb appeal: Disabled woman says faulty sidewak ramps unsafe

Curb your enthusiasm: Bay Ridge resident Jean Ryan says that missing curb cuts like this one at Geltson Avenue and 88th Street force her to ride her wheelchair on the street, because trying to climb the curb could topple her wheelchair.
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She was on a roll, but was any one listening?

A Bay Ridge woman made a moving case from her wheelchair at a recent traffic safety town hall that the city needs to fix faulty and missing pedestrian ramps at intersections, but despite assurances from the transportation commissioner that the city wanted work with her to solve the problem, she says no one from the department has yet followed up.

“I haven’t heard from them, but what’s new?” said Jean Ryan, a disability advocate who uses a wheelchair.

During a Vision Zero Town Hall meeting at Borough Hall April 2, Ryan testified that faulty sidewalk ramps — sometimes called “curb cuts” — in her neighborhood are so steeply graded that they have caused her chair to tip backwards — one time into the path of an oncoming sanitation truck.

“I was totally on my back like a turtle,” she said.

After Ryan’s testimony, Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenburg said the department wanted Ryan’s input to help correct the problem.

“In terms the curb cuts, I think that what you’re saying is very powerful,” Trottenburg said. “If there are parts of the city where you are falling down, we want to sit down and talk with you to figure out where those places are.”

But Ryan said she hasn’t heard anything from Trottenburg or the agency since then.

A spokeswoman for the department said that it is still working through the feedback received at the town hall and intends to contact everyone who requested follow-up.

“The agency will be reaching out to Ms. Ryan shortly,” the spokeswoman said.

Ryan said she has to avoid sidewalks that have faulty ramps, and after falling over, getting stuck, and struggling with rampless curbs, she sometimes reluctantly has to travel in the road rather than on the sidewalk.

“I’m not a daredevil — I don’t like to ride in the street, but sometimes I have to,” Ryan said.

The city is required to install curb cuts on any sidewalk that is missing them when there is a reconstruction project at the intersection, according to the transportation department spokeswoman, and the city may also add the ramps as part of upcoming Zero-related traffic afety projects.

The spokeswoman added that about 96 percent of Brooklyn’s sidewalks already have the ramps.

But that doesn’t mean they are all in good shape, Ryan said. She identified several intersections along Gelston Avenue and Fort Hamilton Parkway that are impassable because of poor curb cuts.

For now, Ryan is stuck making concessions — like taking roundabout ways to the post office and avoiding a favorite fruit stand because the trip there is too treacherous.

“I don’t want to take my life into my own hands just to get good fruit,” she said.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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