The NYPD and other city agencies must enforce parking laws and keep sidewalks clear of obstructions or risk violating federal law, federal prosecutors wrote this week in an ongoing suit brought by disabled residents of a Bronx neighborhood.
The “statement of interest” filed by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York could have broad implications for the NYPD’s much-criticized approach to parking enforcement.
Prosecutors wrote that the Americans with Disabilities Act has clearly established that “ensuring access to public transportation and public rights of way” is a principle focus of the law.
“Providing and maintaining a network of walkways for pedestrians to get around town is a quintessential government service,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Bannon wrote in the 25-page memo filed Wednesday in Manhattan Federal Court.
The filing, first reported by the transportation news site Streetsblog, came in a suit brought by the advocacy group Disability Rights New York and two Bronx residents — a woman with impaired vision and a man with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair. They allege that the city hasn’t addressed widespread parking violations in an eastern section of the Mount Eden neighborhood near the BronxCare Health Services Hospital despite repeated complaints.
The pedestrian pathways are “regularly blocked by both ambulances and other emergency vehicles, which are often forced to park in bus lanes when drivers park their nonemergency vehicles in ambulance lanes. Emergency and non-emergency vehicles alike park in crosswalks and other areas that make pedestrian pathways inaccessible,” the prosecutor wrote, summing up the allegations.
Christina Asbee, a lawyer for Disability Rights New York, said the filing by prosecutors sent an important message to the city.
"We want the city to recognize that this may be a problem elsewhere and to resolve the problem by not allowing cars to park on sidewalks or in crosswalks," Asbee said.
The NYPD has long faced criticism for ignoring parking violations and flouting traffic laws. After the city announced a crackdown on obscured license plates, Gothamist witnessed a state trooper declining to issue a violation to a van with an obscured plate. The van had an NYPD placard on the dash. Parking violations by cops are so commonplace that Streetsblog has an annual March (Parking) Madness contest that determines which police precinct stationhouse is “the worst neighbor.”
“As we know, NYPD generally refuses to act against placard abuse because its members are among the prime malefactors, and they view impunity from parking regulations as a perk of employment,” said attorney Steve Vaccaro, who specializes in representing cyclists, pedestrians, and other crash victims. “They extend the same ‘courtesy’ to other government employees, or even those simply posing as government employees or other ‘essential workers,’ on an unclear rationale.”
The parking violations in Mount Eden got worse in the early days of the pandemic, when the city issued on-street parking permits for health care workers, the suit alleges. The disabled residents who brought the suit say they’ve met with the NYPD, other agencies and an elected official and filed 311 complaints but nothing has been done.
Lawyers for the city have argued that many of the allegations should be tossed out of court because they were already brought in a previous lawsuit, which was settled.
“The city is committed to upholding the ADA and improving sidewalk access for all New Yorkers, but the legal claims in this suit lack merit. The city will review any submissions SDNY makes in this case and respond accordingly,” the Law Department said in a statement.
A NYPD traffic sergeant in the 44th Precinct covering Mount Eden also filed a sworn declaration opposing a request for a court order that police tow vehicles obstructing pedestrian pathways. The sergeant cited recent shootings in the neighborhood, but did not directly explain how the gunplay related to traffic enforcement. He noted that between July 2020 and June of this year, the precinct issued 6,085 parking violations and towed 484 vehicles near the area that is the subject of the suit. Before the suit was filed, cops at the precinct had encouraged Disability Rights New York to call regarding any accessibility concerns.
But Bannon, the prosecutor, writes that if a trial establishes the allegations are accurate, then the city is likely in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“The city cannot characterize vehicles blocking intersections, garbage cans on sidewalks, or curb cuts in disrepair as ‘temporary or isolated’ issues,” Bannon wrote. “This is particularly the case if, as plaintiffs allege, the city repeatedly fails to enforce accessibility requirements.”
With reporting by Stephen Nessen.