American Council of the Blind of Metropolitan Chicago vs. City of Chicago
On September 23, 2019, DRA and Proskauer Rose LLP, on behalf of the American Council of the Blind of Metropolitan Chicago and three individual plaintiffs, filed a landmark class action lawsuit against the Chicago Department of Transportation. The lawsuit alleges that Chicago ignores blind pedestrians in its pedestrian planning, sometimes ignoring their safety needs and sometimes actively making it harder for them to cross streets safely and independently, all in violation of federal law.
In particular, Chicago has refused to install pedestrian traffic signals that convey street crossing information to blind people through noises and/or vibrations from pedestrian signal poles. Chicago has only 11 intersections with such accessible pedestrian signals (“APSs”), out of 2,672 intersections with pedestrian signals for people who can see. This number—less than half of one percent—may be the worst of any major metropolitan area in the United States.
Chicago estimates that it will soon begin to install APSs at a rate of 15-25 intersections per year. That’s a replacement rate of less than one percent per year. At that rate, it would take over a hundred years to replace all of the City’s blind-unfriendly pedestrian signals with APSs.
Because blind pedestrians cannot see pedestrian traffic lights or oncoming traffic, they usually listen for moving traffic to know when to cross the street. However, this may not work well in Chicago when there is dense urban foot, vehicle traffic, and background noise, and when elevated trains running overhead can make it impossible to hear what is happening on the street.
Plaintiffs do not seek money damages. Their goal is to ensure that, with a comprehensive system of APSs, the city’s sidewalks will be safer for pedestrians who are blind, deaf-blind, and low-vision.