Saturday, July 5, 2008

Huntington Ave. Sidewalk in Boston—A Final Resolution?

Huntington Ave 2008-07-12 046

UPDATE:  North sidewalk of Huntington Ave. past Symphony Hall.  The sidewalk has settled, as seen on the left and the lower right, and the broken tree grate is downright dangerous to anyone who walks there, disabled or not.

The absurd, but sad and expensive story in Boston over a sidewalk in the Back Bay may be almost over.  Last winter, I wrote about sidewalks and wheelchairs (“More icy sidewalks, hazardous for those in wheelchairs”,  “Brick Sidewalk Problems”), and of Boston’s Neighborhood Access Group

For years, the Neighborhood Access Group has been fighting the city of Boston over the sidewalk at Huntington Ave. near Mass Ave.  It was built with a 4% cross-slope (side slope), making it nearly impassable for wheelchairs.  The limit is 2%.

Boston has been fined $500 a day by the state Architectural Access Board since last year, now topping $479K.

Last fall, Boston had a solution.  Or so they thought.  To quote John Kelly from his blog post:

A little more than one year after taking over as chief of public works and transportation for the city of Boston, Dennis Royer finally made a proposal to the Architectural Access Board on how to bring the brick sidewalks on Huntington Avenue into compliance.
The plan is so bizarre, so discriminatory, and so insulting that it has to be read to be believed.
Basically, what the city proposes is to create a "special" 4 foot wide path of travel for people with disabilities, which would be marked off from the rest of the sidewalk by markers driven into the bricks. The city would make this 4 foot wide path of travel -- and only this narrow path of travel -- technically compliant by grinding down and resetting the bricks. The rest of the sidewalk would be left in the condition it is now, meaning inaccessible.
This path of travel would be a lot like a flat terrace on a hillside. And just like on that hillside, there would be an abrupt change of level between the higher elevation still at an angle and the flat path itself. This would mean any attempt to leave the path of travel to head towards a restaurant, store, or theater would encounter an immediately higher and tilted surface.
People who are blind or visually impaired would be at an extreme disadvantage, because there would be no way to know where the path of travel is. And if the markers were raised off the bricks, then we would have an incredible tripping hazard for every pedestrian. What were they thinking?

WTF?  WTF??  WTF??!?!  This was mindboggling!  As one with a visual impairment, I hate, hate, HATE, sidewalks that have big bumps and discontinuities that I can’t really see.  (Yes, this is really why I hate Federal St. amongst other reasons…)  I have been pitched forward on my face more times than I want to count.  That the city of Boston would push this piece of garbage on its citizens, visitors and employers is remarkable.

The story moves on.  In the Herald yesterday, it’s written “Shoddy sidewalk grate$ on nerves - BostonHerald.com”.

Yesterday, after calls from the Herald, Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s spokeswoman, Dot Joyce, said the city will finally rebuild the sidewalk after the mayor meets with the Neighborhood Access Group and other advocates July 15.

The city hopes the state Architectural Access Board will allow it to use the fines toward the $2.5 million cost of the project, Joyce said. But although the city owns the sidewalk, Menino maintains that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority oversaw its construction and should reimburse the city for the cost of redoing it.

“If that means litigation, it means litigation,” Joyce said.

One government division (Boston) is going to sue another government division (the T) over who pays for it.  And the city wants to use its fine towards the cost of the project!    The T says:

MBTA spokeswoman Lydia Rivera yesterday said only: “This is a priority, and we’re working with the contractor to determine the best solution.

Sure they are.

Though I’ve been in the Back Bay any number of times, I’ve never seen that stretch of sidewalk.  I think it’s time I did, with my camera.

UPDATE:  I’ve seen it, and in some ways it’s worse than they say.  Here’s another picture:

Huntington Ave 2008-07-12 014

South side of Huntington Ave. opposite the Prudential Center and the T stop.    Mixed brick and concrete sidewalk.

You may notice the concrete appears to have a slope, while the brick is level.  I didn’t have a level to measure this, but on foot, you can feel the slope pulling you out to the curb.  It has to be noticeable by people with canes or walkers, never mind chair users.  It’s a cramped part of Huntington with trees and sidewalk cafes that seems to present problems for the mobility impaired.

Hat tip, as always, to Boston’s Neighborhood Access Group.

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