by eila in Accessibility, Civil and Human Rights, Economy & Poverty, Environment and Open Space, Investigative Reports, Neighborhoods and Squares, Public Health & Safety, Schools and Youth, Sports
Posted on August 21, 2009 at 2:34 am
Last Modified on August 26, 2009 at 1:32 pm
Our friend reports that her son (22 months) fell while walking on bricks at the Walnut Street Park, fractured his right femur, and is in a cast for four weeks. She says that bricks at the park were loose and the city attempted to repair them cheaply- and that they were also slick from the rain. This resident’s report reinforces what wheelchair pedestrians have been saying to all who will listen: brick ground surfaces are a maintenance nightmare, and bricks are not slip resistant when wet.
First, our sympathies go out to this family, who must endure four months of a major impediment to summertime and autumn recreational pleasures; and second, this alerts us to the possibility that our neighborhood open spaces may be in need of safety and access evaluations. Here, we’ll look at two parks, with safety, accessibility and equity in our focus: Walnut Street Park/Playground in Union Square, and the Otis Street Playground in East Somerville.
What’s Equity Got To Do With City Playgrounds?
In our last post, we mentioned that the pristine Morse-Kelley Park will be receiving $45,000 in Recovery Act Funding from HUD, and we wondered what those Federal funds will be spent on. Was that truly a public priority? The answer (from a wonderful City staffer) is this: “At Morse-Kelley, the surfacing is in excellent shape, as you point out. However, we would like to investigate the potential to increase plantings and permeable surfaces, while keeping a large active recreational program. Drainage and lighting and are both areas which could be improved at Morse-Kelley.”
I think I’m being fed the party line here. Since the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding is specifically to allow local governments to undertake environmental, housing and economic opportunity-creating projects primarily for residents of low and moderate income, it’s not clear why these CDBG-R (R stands for “Recovery”) funds are prioritizing a park that is relatively healthy, and not within a Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area (NRSA). NRSAs are specifically targeted for CDBG activities. For example, two NRSAs in Somerville are Union Square and East Somerville.
WALNUT STREET PARK, at the corner of Giles Park and Walnut Street, Ward 3 Union Square area
The City Parks Inventory (dated 12/8/08 and included in the 2008-2013 Open Spaces and Recreation Plan) assesses Walnut Street Park, (Ward 3, .22 acres) as “ADA Accessible;” in addition, it is listed as having: a Community Garden, Playground and Tot lot, a water play feature, tables, water fountain, and trees/plantings.
From a distance, the Park beckons. It is very lovely with trees, shade, birds and a real family atmosphere.
But as the pedestrian public approaches, the Walnut Street/Giles Park crosswalk, sidewalk and curbcuts pose safety and accessibility obstacles for individuals of all ages with mobility and balance issues.
The crosswalk is not level and smooth. The curb cut closest to the park has threshold of 2 inches, a cross-slope of 7%, and a running slope of 14.5%:
State and federal architectural accessibility building code standards for curb cuts and accessible routes include the following:
- The crosswalk must be level, smooth and slip resistant.
- Transitions from curb cuts to walks, gutters, or streets need to be be flush or free of changes in level
greater than ½ inch.
- Cross-slopes should not exceed 2%.
- The running slope (a.k.a. the rise) of the curb (or ramp) should not exceed 1:12, or, 8.33%.
WALNUT STREET PARK’S ON-THE-GROUND CONDITIONS
Brick pavers are never an appropriate pedestrian surface. They can’t provide a consistent cross-slope of 2% or less:
That’s 3.4%,; once inside, we see a range of cross-slopes, some OK, and many not, like this one, below, at 3.3%…
…and here we see the average- 2.5%. In addition, as with the photo above, we here view the potential tripping hazards that brick surface materials pose:
Brick pavers are a maintenance nightmare. No matter how well they are laid in their beds,
these surface materials will heave and pop up, causing excessive and unsafe slopes and sharp, pointy surfaces.
The ground surface materials under the composite play component are synthetic rubber composite, and known as unitary synthetic materials.
These are preferred ground surface materials for recreation areas; however, just like the conditions at Dickerman Park, these are ready to be replaced.
The same applies to the old loose fill bark mulch, which does not provide the necessary depth and resiliency required by safety standards:
Careful on those swings!:
The top entrance to this park is inaccessible due to the steps, and the entry to this play structure has a threshold that looks to be a tripping hazard for some:
The only remaining entrance, nearest the “Community”garden, does not have a curb cut entry:
This lovely open space is clearly not an “ADA-Accessible” Park, because there are not even any accessible routes as we approach the gates! Every barrier shown above will exclude wheelchair-using recreation enthusiasts from enjoying this public facility in an equitable and integrated manner. This Park is an appropriate investment for renovations and lighting considerations, to provide a safe and accessible environment for the many families and Day Care Centers who come here regularly.
OTIS PLAYGROUND, Otis Street at Dana Street, East Somerville, Ward One
Otis Playground is listed in the City Inventory as: .10 acres, not accessible, with a playground, a tot lot, baby swings, youth and tire swings, water play, table, water fountain, and trees and plantings. No lighting, gazebo, garden.
Otis Street is sliced in half by the barricade of McGrath Highway. From the Otis Street/Edgarly School, we would mount and walk the plank of that monolithic, inaccessible Otis Street Pedestrian Overpass in order to visit our neighbors on this side of McGrath.
That Otis/McGrath overpass is a wonder of inaccessibility- and here’s the final touch: a slope descent of 17.9%, made worse by the sloppy tar patch job. But see that area on the right inside the gate? Unused potential garden space, perhaps?:
Ignore that smell of brake fluid, or something, from the auto repair shop adjacent to this entrance, and proceed around the sidewalk to Otis Playground. The sidewalk cross-slopes average 4.2%. As with Walnut Park, we see that the brick industry has influenced the approach to this park and it is easy to spot the pointy edges of this unsafe pedestrian material at the gate. No slope measurements were taken here:
The ground surface materials at this urban park are asphalt and bark mulch. These are not accessible and safe materials, although the bark mulch may have been considered safe by industry standards when it was first laid down. Looking to the right side we see old swings:
Only one more picture was taken, because the kids were so interested in the digital level that I was swallowed up in laughter and play. This play structure is wonderful to look at and these kids were having a blast with this and the water play. However, 50% of the varied play components in this composite structure are not ground elements (an architectural accessibility standard)- only the colored beads and two other elements of this structure can feasibly be used by mobility-impaired kids when a level, smooth and safe ground surface route is provided.
This sweet playground seems quite appropriate for CDBG investments. It is a much needed amenity in this area- Foss Park at Broadway is not a close, safe or pedestrian-friendly walk for residents living nearby, on Otis, Bonair, Dana, Edmand, Livesley, Wigglesworth, etc.. This playground has the potential to offer a protected and safe oasis, where children with diverse physical abilities can play together, and where families and elders can rest and listen to the children’s fun! In addition, it might be worthwhile to investigate creative ways to utilize and build out that McGrath/Otis Pedestrian overpass so that it provides a greener and healthier neighborhood shield from the highway, and also a foundation for some sensory, art and musical experiences.