Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tavern in the Square sidewalk controversy

Tavern in the Square outdoor seating

Update on last summer’s controversy over Tavern in the Square.  The tavern’s outdoor seating has been completed and is now open for diners.

But as mentioned in the Salem News, it’s not necessarily open for pedestrians.  Due to state liquor laws, the sidewalk is closed to public access while the outdoor seating is in use.

The Commission on Disabilities has been very concerned about the blocked sidewalk for some timeOur co-chairs spoke out last week.

SRA chairman Brennan says, of the detour:

"You might take 20 extra steps before you get beyond it," said Salem Redevelopment Authority Chairman Mike Brennan. "It's not a major impediment. I don't see this as a major problem. We're not asking you to walk a quarter of a mile."

Mr. Brennan, I have colleagues who have to count every step they have to take.  20 extra steps is not a problem for me but it is a problem for many cane users and those whose knees have given out.

But I can speak as a visually impaired person and I believe there is a problem.

Several years ago I nearly lost my sight:  My right eye’s retina tore, followed several months later by my left eye’s retina.  It was nearly two years and five operations before my sight was stable again.

During my recovery I had to perform many daily tasks with 20/100 vision or worse.  Tasks which included taking walks on sidewalks downtown and boarding buses.  You might think I should have just stayed home, but I and many others don’t have servants or even many family members to help.  There are many people walking their way through Salem with bad eyes;  I would not be the first nor the last.

To this day I have little usable vision in my left eye (20/200). 

To illustrate the problems around the Tavern in the Square area I took some photos, at noon and at dusk.  I’ve blurred them to approximate what and how I see out of my “bad” eye.

First, here is Tavern in the Square, from Washington St. walking south:

Tavern in the Square, Washington St. noon south

Here is the same view, through my bad eye:

Downtown Seating Tavern in the Square 2010-05-05 day south blurred

Now, Tavern in the Square from New Derby St.:

Downtown Seating Tavern in the Square 2010-05-05 019 day north And blurred:

Downtown Seating Tavern in the Square 2010-05-05 019 day north blurred These pictures were snapped around high noon that day.  I came back at dusk a few days later.  When your eyesight deteriorates, perhaps later in life, you may first notice it at dusk, a very challenging time to see, even for those with normal sight.

Tavern in the Square at dusk, Washington St.:

Outdoor Seating Tavern in the Square Dusk 2010-05-06 004 dusk south


Outdoor Seating Tavern in the Square Dusk 2010-05-06 004 dusk south blurred

From New Derby St. at dusk:

Outdoor Seating Tavern in the Square Dusk 2010-05-06 016 north 2

And blurred:

Outdoor Seating Tavern in the Square Dusk 2010-05-06 016 north 2 blurred

The sign directing diners was blown down—it was gusty that day.

When your sight is bad enough  that you can only see lights and darks and vague shapes, it’s a very different experience than most are used to.  Many can imagine being sightless—just by closing their eyes—but few realize the problems faced by the visually impaired.

Much was made, during last week’s meeting and the comments in the News, about accommodating “just 4 blind people” who walk through the intersection.  I have no idea if that count is accurate, having been thrown out by a reader on the News page.  But I do know there are many more visually impaired out there.  Probably someone you know.

Here’s one last set of photos:

Outdoor Seating Tavern in the Square Dusk 2010-05-06 017 new derby curb

This is, for lack of a better term, a curb structure put in during Tavern in the Square’s development.  I don’t know what purpose it was originally for.  The Commission has been told this was “a mistake”.  Here it is blurred, and at dusk:

Outdoor Seating Tavern in the Square Dusk 2010-05-06 017 new derby curb blurred

This is the quintessential problem I face as a visually impaired person.  Even though my sight is a good deal better than this, I have a very hard time seeing slight contrasts as represented by this sidewalk structure.

(This was blocked by sawhorses after this picture was taken.)

I occasionally attend seminars in IT as part of my field, and there is a hotel in the theatre district in Boston that I will never go to again because they insist on having steps into and out of the lobby that are black and completely unmarked.  I hate falling.  I have many other examples, of which this is only one.  (Another reason I hate cobblestones.)

I have no position on Prevey’s proposed fees on sidewalk access, and I don’t think the Commission will have a position either (at least until we next meet, if even then.)

I have no animus whatsoever towards Tavern in the Square, either, and I understand the other factors involved.

But I think there is a problem here, and I suspect the Commission will see it that way at next week’s meeting.

The resolution may involve orange barriers (at least, yellow or orange ropes, not necessarily construction barriers.)  Or it may involve redesigning the New Derby intersection, which has been on our wish-list.

But the one thing this is not about, Mr. Brennan, is “20 extra steps”.

Update:  EyesOnStreets has commented on my post..  I don’t agree with everything said there (I’m not a fan of Kunstler and, I can see the back side of the new courthouse from my house and don’t think it’s ugly) but I appreciate the kind words nonetheless.

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