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Detroit Free Press
By John Wisely, Free Press Business Writer
August 14, 2007
Three men with disabilities have filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Oakland County Road Commission claiming that three new traffic roundabouts on Maple Road in West Bloomfield won’t allow them to safely cross the streets.
“By ignoring the rights of the blind or otherwise disabled individuals, the Road Commission effectively treats plaintiffs and others similarly situated as second-class citizens,” according to the complaint filed this morning in U.S. District Court in Detroit.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to find that they have been harmed by these types of intersections and to help create a remedy.
But the Federal Highway Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have both endorsed roundabouts as a way to reduce accidents, said Road Commission spokesman Craig Bryson.
“The federal government finds they are safer, in general, than signaled intersections,” Bryson said today. “The biggest benefit of roundabouts is the safety for pedestrians.”
The commission will defend the safety of roundabouts, Bryson said.
Two of the plaintiffs – Garret Gersin of Oak Park and Jason Turkish of Huntington Woods – are blind. The third man, Michael Harris of Westland, uses a wheelchair. The men say they visit the area frequently for work or socializing.
Their attorney, Richard Bernstein, said the issue affects everyone, including seniors and children, who also will have trouble crossing the streets that are being fitted with roundabouts.
“What’s good for disabled people is good for everyone,” Bernstein said. “It is physically impossible for a blind person to cross a street with a roundabout.”
Blind people take years learning to use their hearing to safely cross intersections, said Bernstein, who is blind. They are taught that when traffic running parallel to them is moving, perpendicular traffic must be stopped so it is safe to walk forward across the street.
In Europe, where roundabouts have been used for years, the intersections typically include a tunnel or a bridge for pedestrians, Bernstein said. He said nobody has previously filed such a suit so the case could have national implications.
The case is assigned to Judge Victoria Roberts.
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