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12/06/10. BOA Public Safety Committee Hearing

by in Accessibility, Beat Reporter, Civil and Human Rights, Development and Zoning, Environment and Open Space, Neighborhoods and Squares, Pedestrians, Public Health & Safety
Posted on December 8, 2010 at 7:23 pm
Last Modified on December 17, 2010 at 12:27 pm

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Chairman Alderman Bill White opened the Public Safety Committee meeting by presenting the agenda.

Members of this BOA Public Health & Safety Committee are:  Chairman Bill White, Alderperson Rebekah Gewirtz, and Alderperson John Connolly.

Present and ready to testify were:
John Lozada, Director of Civil Rights, Mass DOT

Designer David Giangrande, of Design Consultants, Inc.

Somerville staff:   Terrance Smith, Traffic Engineer; Michael Lambert, Chief of Staff; Stan Koty, DPW Commissioner ; and Carlene Campbell, the Mayor’s designated Disability Commissioner and ADA Coordinator.

for Agenda #2:  Human Rights activists: John Kelly of Boston, Don Summerfield of Cambridge, and Eileen Feldman, Tom Gilbert, Claudia Murrow, and Barry Rafkind, all of Somerville.

for Agenda #1:  three Ward 5 residents

for Agenda #3:  one Ward 6 resident

Agenda item 1, a difficult traffic intersection, has been a pebble in the shoe of Ward 5 residents for 9 years. Proposals included removing parking spaces to increase lines of sight, or putting up an unsightly and potentially dangerous glass mirror (not sure why it had to be glass instead of metal). A man (name?) living in Ward 5 testified his frustration at not seeing anything being done for all this time. Terrance Smith, the City’s Traffic Engineer, said the parabola mirror could be dangerous (if the glass were to be broken), and present liabilities if it had to be installed on private property. Then the first man came up with the brilliant idea to move a parking space across the road, thereby increasing sight lines while maintaining parking for the neighborhood. All seemed to be in agreement with the genius of this spontaneous idea.

Agenda item 2, about the impact of bricks and brick paver surface materials on people with disabilities of all ages, is an issue that has already been successfully prosecuted by the Disability Rights community in Cambridge, Arlington, and Boston, as well as other cities in Massachusetts.

John Lozado clarified that it was the City of Somerville, not MA Highway, that was responsible for the design of Somerville Avenue. His role is to ensure MassDOT’s overall compliance with ADA and Title VI. He firmly stated that MA DOT does not encourage the use of brick and brick paver surface materials in Massachusetts. A colleague, David Phaneuf, also emailed an exhibit prior to the hearing regarding guidance around the need to maintain pedestrian rights of way in compliance with architectural accessibility standards, both Federal and State.

Michael Lambert stated that, “the City received good news today- we successfully hired a Design and Engineering consultant” to examine Davis Square using the following four priorities:

1.  pedestrian safety;

2.  prioritize repairs;

3.  short term aesthetic improvements; and

4.  eventual reconstruction of the square.

Mike stated this project has a due date for completion for “the end of next year.”

Alderman Connolly passionately declared that he wanted a plan on the table to address the urgent repair issues in Davis Square.  He said that we didn’t need any more analysis to know that the Davis Square pedestrian environment is unsafe and unwelcoming to Seniors and people with disabilities.

The designer stated that

  • the brick pavers were selected for the design approximately 10 years ago.
  • these surfaces do not have maintenance problems that are similar to bricks, since they are interlocking concrete pavers.
  • the design went through much public process with many public meetings.
  • In response to the  issues brought forward by wheelchair users he said,  ”we might consider the compassion issue.”

DPW Commissioner Stan Koty began by stating that a resident’s 16 AAB complaints regarding Somerville Avenue curbcuts and crosswalks had been “dismissed.”

  • He justified brick pavers as  traffic calming measures.
  • In response to Alderman White’s question about how these surfaces will be maintained, he stated that the City has one person skilled in the maintenance of brick pavers.
  • When asked whether plans made years ago could be changed later, Mr. Koty stated that, in this case, the materials had been bought long before they were used, and that they were lining Somerville Avenue all winter before being laid.

Eileen Feldman, former Chair of the Somerville Disability Commission and Director of the Community Access Project, began by correcting Mr. Koty’s discussion of the 16 AAB complaints.  The accurate story is that these complaints had been filed in 2008, regarding the lack of an accessible pathway during construction.  After the City received a First Notice on these issues in December 2008, the ADA Coordinator responded to the AAB with a promise that the Somerville Avenue project would fix these issues and that she was regularly walking the route to ensure that an accessible route was maintained.  This was December 23, 2008.  The AAB’s site visit on November 30th, 2010 was not a “dismissal” of the complaints- it was a verification that compliance had been achieved.

Eileen  pointed out that

  • this isn’t about “compassion;” it is about equal rights for equal people.
  • The City of Somerville’s 2008 Census shows that over 4,000 residents are ambulatory impaired. Why should these residents have to deal with pedestrian surfaces that harm bodies and impede integration and safe passage?
  • Time will tell how costly the repair and maintenance will be; in the meantime, the City has the opportunity to refrain from using such materials in all future streetscape work.  She suggested that the City look up Arlington’s moratorium on bricks and brick paver surface materials.

John Kelly, Chair of the Boston Disability Commission and founder of the Neighborhood Access Group, was present to testify in an individual capacity (not as a Boston Commissioner).  John was the Chief Complainant on the Huntington Avenue fiasco, also designed by David Giangrande.  John stated that

  • he used to come to Davis Square regularly, and loves the funky place, but ever since the bricks were laid around 20 years ago, he does not feel welcome here.
  • Regarding the “traffic calming” justification, John pointed out that it’s a little late in the game.  The traffic needs to calm down before the cars are actually within the crosswalks, so that pedestrians are spared from being in harm’s way!
  • Regarding the designer’s claim that the bricks won’t cause a change in level if they heave and pop due to the cold weather, because “they are beveled,”  John pointed out that the reason these materials are beveled on all sides is to protect the bricks from cracking- not the people.
  • When bricks and brick pavers heave and pop and otherwise require repairs, they indeed cause code violations, and cause unsafe travel.
  • Finally, John pointed out that these “aesthetic” surface materials are really just status symbols- there are no genuine justifications based on safety and health.  Perhaps Somerville already has enough status.

Don Summerfield, a Cambridge Disability Commissioner, also took the time to come to Somerville to testify (but not in any official capacity).  As an individual, Don said that he used to live in Somerville, and he works and visits Somerville almost daily.

  • The bricks and pavers in Davis Square make him feel unwanted and segregated, because they cause him to have to choose where he goes based on where it’s possible to walk.
  • Don corrected Campbell, who had stated that the Architectural Access Board (AAB)  ”found in favor of the city” regarding the 23% slope at the MBTA platform.  Don filed a formal ADA grievance with the ADA Coordinator in 2008 on this issue, and still had no timeline for a result.  He explained that the accurate story is: the AAB  needs to know exactly what year this location was constructed, and what the agreements were between the City and the MBTA before they can proceed with finding jurisdiction at this important location.
  • The City of Somerville loses skilled workers, visitors and commerce when people with disabilities are not allowed equal access here.

Tom Gilbert emphasized

  • the  economic impact the businesses must bear when they are not adjacent to accessible and safe pedestrian paths.
  • This also prevents people with various disabilities from working in those places.
  • Tom also questioned the use of the bump-out nearest to Market Basket at the School Street busstop.

Mr. Koty’s response to this issue was quite energetic.  It sounds like this particular bump out was a decision based on compromises being made with the utility and sewer interests, rather than as a traffic safety design.

Barry Rafkind

  • reinforced the point that laying brick pavers along Somerville Avenue is as disadvantageous to the businesses along the Avenue as it is to people with disabilities wishing to work in, and shop at, those venues.
  • He urged the committee to study the economic impact of excluding people who live with mobility challenges.
  • Barry then forthrightly requested this Committee to put forward a Moratorium on these pedestrian surface materials for all future projects.

Chairperson Bill White responded that the Committee can consider that when all members are together.  Alderman Connolly had left the meeting by that time to attend the School Committee meeting.

Claudia Murrow spoke knowledgeably about

  • the efforts the disability rights community had made to have these plans changed prior to the Open Letter To the Mayor in June 2009.
  • She said that, yes, there were many public hearings, but that people had taken the time and energy to submit ideas and state their objections to no avail. What is the purpose of continually taking residents time to come to public meetings if noone is listening?!
  • Claudia said, “I don’t want my taxpayer money going towards projects that make John and others feel unwelcome!”
  • Claudia urged the committee to study the on-going and new projects in the City to ensure that any plans to install brick pavers be stopped asap.

Alderman White handled the meeting with skill and assurance. Along with Ald. Gewirtz, he asked

  • What plan is in place to regularly inspect the new brick paver crosswalks along Somerville Avenue?
  • How will these new crosswalks be maintained?

No clear answer was forthcoming from either the Designer or the Commissioner; instead, the Designer stated that the City had extra bricks waiting to be used whenever a brick neede replacement.

The final item on the agenda called forth testimony from a gentleman who was also discussing disability safety and access issues.  The writers left before the end of the meeting.

This report was compiled by eila and Barry Rafkind.

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8 Responses to “12/06/10. BOA Public Safety Committee Hearing”

  1. Ron Newman says:

    Where is the Ward 5 intersection discussed in item 1?

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  2. eila says:

    Item 1 was: That the Director of Traffic and Parking appear before this Board’s Committee on Traffic and Parking regarding vehicles exiting from Clyde Street onto Cedar Street.

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  3. Thanks for the great beat report!

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  4. Janine D. says:

    I spoke with Alderman White the day of the hearing. I wish I could have attended the meeting as I wanted to discuss the bricks in the Walnut Street park (where my son fell and fractured his leg in 2009). The bricks are problematic and no one cares about their upkeep. He told me to email John Long, which I did, and have heard nothing back.

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  5. Ron Newman says:

    Is this the brand-new Walnut Street park between Medford and Pearl streets?

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  6. Janine D. says:

    No, on Walnut Street across from the Rec Dept Building.

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  7. knut dorker says:

    i feel eila is really trying hard to keep somerville looking like a concrete jungle.

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  8. reli.Abilities says:

    @knut dorker-Eila has uncovered blatent disregard for those who are disabled within a deeply rooted culture of hate & ignorance that Somerville has been engrained in for decades…Having Access & Opportunity for those who are disabled creates Access & Opportunity for all

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