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West Bloomfield Beacon
By David Wallace, C & G Staff Writer
August 23, 2007
Three disabled people filed a lawsuit in federal court in Detroit Aug. 14 charging that the Road Commission for Oakland County’s plans to install roundabouts at three intersections in West Bloomfield, and more elsewhere in the county, fail to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“The issue at hand is that communities need to be accessible to everybody, everywhere,” said Jason Turkish, a 20-year-old Huntington Woods man who is legally blind and one of the lawsuit’s three plaintiffs.
He said the roundabout design is not accessible to disabled people.
“It certainly would set a dangerous precedent,” said Turkish.
Representing Turkish and the other plaintiffs — Garret Gersin of Oak Park, who is blind, and Michael Harris of Westland, who uses a wheelchair — is attorney Richard Bernstein. Bernstein, who is blind, visited the roundabout under construction at Drake and Maple roads.
“It’s physically impossible for a blind person to cross the roundabout,” said Bernstein. He explained how blind people cross traditional intersections with traffic signals.
“We listen to the parallel traffic. When we hear the parallel traffic commence, we know it’s safe to go,” said Bernstein.
“I would personally never attempt to cross it as a pedestrian,” said Turkish. “I would have no way of being able to judge when it’s clear to be able to cross the street.”
Plans for the roundabouts show crosswalks, but Bernstein said the problem stems from traffic never stopping for a roundabout.
“Traffic must come to a complete stop so it can be safe for a disabled person to cross the street,” said Bernstein.
Besides restoring the Maple and Drake intersection to a traditional configuration, the lawsuit mentions alternatives, such as pedestrian bridges or tunnels or some sort of signal to stop traffic and allow a disabled person to cross.
Bernstein said those alternatives were examples and that there was no single way to resolve the problem that had more appeal than others.
“We simply want the county to make it safe,” said Bernstein.
Craig Bryson, public information officer for the Road Commission, said that the commission was doing everything it understands the Americans With Disabilities Act requires.
“We are in compliance with the ADA,” said Bryson. “The federal government endorses and supports roundabouts and encourages agencies to use them through the Federal Highway Administration.”
Safety is the reason the county planned the roundabouts, Bryson said, noting that data has shown roundabouts reduce vehicle-to-vehicle fatalities by 90 percent. He said there aren’t many things the Road Commission could do that would so dramatically reduce fatalities.
Bryson said that roundabout data does show a safety improvement for pedestrians.
“They do suggest a reduction in pedestrian injuries as well, compared to signalized intersections,” he said.
He said the Road Commission will look at, and has been looking at, suggestions like those in the lawsuit; however, Bryson said that pedestrian bridges or tunnels likely would be too cost-prohibitive.
Bryson said that the Road Commission would have liked to speak to Bernstein, rather than having things start with a lawsuit. The Road Commission held numerous meetings in the years leading up to the start of construction.
“We met with anyone who asked us to meet with them individually,” said Bryson.
Bernstein doubted that discussion beforehand would have made a difference and explained the lawsuit’s timing, coming on the verge of the first roundabout’s completion.
“This was the only time we could bring forth this litigation,” said Bernstein. “You can’t enjoin someone from doing something that is just a plan.”
Now that one roundabout is nearly done, Bernstein said that gives legal standing to move in with litigation.
That none of the plaintiffs reside in West Bloomfield does not matter, according to Bernstein.
“(It’s) not even an issue, because this case goes to interstate commerce,” said Bernstein. Essentially, the argument is that disabled people have to be able to move freely throughout the country, and the courts need to establish guidelines and principles for roundabout developments throughout the nation.
The lawsuit does not request compensatory damages or attorney’s fees, though the plaintiffs said that they wished to retain the right to seek such damages or fees if needed to encourage the Road Commission to comply.
“Money is absolutely not of interest in this lawsuit,” said Turkish, who added he would not even consider accepting money in a judgment. He said all the plaintiffs want is a “meaningful dialogue” to make the intersections safe and accessible to everyone.
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