Monday, October 19, 2009

Sidewalk Access Flares Up

Tavern on The Square Outdoor Seating Construction (6)

For a number of years now, the Commission on Disabilities has been frustrated with the obstacles often present on downtown sidewalks. Many restaurants have established outdoor seating; Tavern in the Square is constructing its outdoor seating in the photo above.

Many other businesses have sandwich signs. Many sidewalks, particularly the Essex St. pedestrian mall between Liberty & Washington Sts., are cobblestoned.

These are frustrating obstacles for people with mobility and visual impairments. Last Thursday night at the Council chambers, our frustration finally boiled over.

Jack Harris, Charlie Reardon, Andy LaPointe and myself were there. Only Jack was quoted in the Salem News article, but he said everything that was on the back of all our minds.

As best as I can paraphrase, this is what I said:

To me, it isn't about Tavern in the Square in particular. They have the right to want and try for outdoor seating. I understand and accept the reasoning behind roping off the dining area [to fullfill state liquor laws.]

It's the fact that the SRA did not let us know this was coming down the pike. We at the Commission on Disabilities only found out about it in September, and I posted the blueprint and sidewalk closings diagram on my blog just a few weeks ago.

If only we saw this in July!

We on the Commission would have said our piece and come to an understanding before earth was ever turned on the site.

We knew the Courthouse and Salem Depot projects were coming down the pike, as were the North St. and Bridge St projects. We could engage with their project managers and at least know what was coming.

The SRA? Absolutely nothing from them before the fact.

If this meeting were only about Tavern in the Square, I think we were invited here in bad faith for a matter that we can't advise on until after the fact.

Why did they start building now? Why didn't they line up the permitting over the fall and winter? They could have done that, started construction after the spring thaw and have been done very quickly without any animosity.

By itself, Tavern in the Square’s outdoor seating doesn’t bother me, but when you have it and the multitudes of other restaurants and shopowners that put out chairs and tables and sandwich signs all around Washington, Front and Essex Sts, the totality of this is that even able bodied people won't be able to move around on a moderately busy Saturday, never mind October.

[End of remarks to the Council.]

The News article got a good number of comments; I’m going to address “youasked”. He or she was somewhat critical:

DMoisan....Are you kidding? Picking on one of TWO sidewalks being blocked in one small sectin of Salem when there are entire areas without sidewalks or usable access at all? You of all people should know better.
Just want to get your Commissions mission statement out there? Great, more power to you.
But come on, be a little more proactive instead of reactive grand standing.

How about a sidewalk along Loring Ave around dead mans curve? South campus area, make the state pay for it.

Route 107 Highland Ave....
15-20 years ago when Washington Street Rotary was there it was SO safe and accessible...
Do I need to go on?

The sad part of this is that all of those items he or she listed have been on our agenda recently. I was hoping for some new items in that post that we could work on. We do have to work with other city departments and elected officials (in the case of Loring Ave. where’s Joe O’Keefe again?!) not to mention the state.

And I am all too aware of the problems on Bridge and Washington and have been for fifteen years. At least we have one small victory: the pedestrian signals at WalMart were done over last month, in case that’s what the commenter was referring to.

It’s like saying if we can’t fix all the sidewalks around town, we can’t fix any of them!

And what is this business of being “proactive”? If we don’t find out about things like Tavern in the Square until after everything else is permitted, then we are reactive and what’s the point? We get complaints from constituents about access problems and we are expected to help get these to the right people to be resolved. So we’re reactive. What was the point again?

Unless and until the Planning Department and the SRA gives the Commission, and the public, access (via the city’s web site) to the same exhibits they use to make decisions on outdoor seating or anything else, we’re just going to do this over and over again.

And we’ll be “reactive”. Sorry.

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