Somerville news blog city forum massachusetts journal newspaper MA

«« Previous: 11/2/11 MBTA Community Meeting 

 Next: Somerville Journal Endorses Neither Candidate in Ward 7 »» 

Somerville, MA: Millions Wasted on Deficient Walkability Improvements

by in Accessibility, Civil and Human Rights, Development and Zoning, Environment and Open Space, Government Reform, Pedestrians, Public Health & Safety, Public Records / FOIA Requests, Schools and Youth, Seniors
Posted on November 2, 2011 at 4:31 pm
Last Modified on November 11, 2011 at 2:52 pm

GD Star Rating

Safe-START Priority Locations, Safe Routes to Schools and other Shape Up Somerville initiatives have been designed without evaluation of Safety and Access needs.   

Mayor Curtatone likes to say,

In order for Somerville to be truly livable, it should be walk-able and bike-able – not only for our children, but for all of us.”

In 2006, the City’s draft “Safe-START Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Priority Locations” names 27 priority locations, plus other improvements, estimated to cost between $4.4 and $4.7. million, and conceived on the premise that these  improvements will promote healthy living; encourage urban development patterns that support walking, transit and bicycling as the primary  means of transportation; and to accommodate ” youth who cannot drive and seniors who no longer drive.”

The daily impact of Somerville’s deficient pedestrian environment on constituents- especially, constituents with disAbilities, has been conspicuously ignored at the planning stage.

The result of planning and constructing transportation and infrastructure improvements without evaluating and integrating maximum feasible accessibility opportunities during the design phase is that…

now, we must contend with hundreds of newly constructed pedestrian access route deficiencies- and millions of dollars wasted in Chapter 90, local and HUD-funded streetscape construction.

Engaged local disAbility rights experts made constant efforts to turn it around.

In 2007, the Somerville Commission for Persons with Disabilities distributed 1,500 surveys amongst low-income housing developments and agency offices as well as several municipal facilities and received 103 responses back.  We sent the Final Report of this inaugural disAbility Access needs survey to the Mayor, Department directors, elected officials, nonprofit agency partners, and other colleagues.

Deficiencies in streetscape Access and Safety and inaccessible municipal facilities were top priority concerns for respondents (62% were person with disAbilities).

This writer also sent in Community Development Recommendations for programming some HUD funds to increase equity and opportunity in Somerville.  One suggestion (pages 7,8) is that the City invest in a Pedestrian Access & Safety Mapping Project.

Despite a steady stream of sweat equity donations- information, resources, recommendations, public comments and statements of concern– the Mayor and his designated deciders haven’t acknowledged a single offering, nor demonstrated any accountability or competence to begin responding to these gaps in municipal service programming; and, the resultant civil rights violations.  (Although there are many wonderful and competent City staff, they are not, in general, the designated deciders.)

Evidence matters.

In the Summer of 2009, Community Access Project of Somerville surveyed 80 streets that were listed as Somerville Street Reconstruction Projects, 2004-2008.

We were stunned to discover that over 80% of this new construction was completed without even minimal adherence to Federal and State safety and access regulations and codes.

In Summer of 2009 alone, we documented over 700 recently reconstructed intersection and sidewalk locations that contain multiple violations of Federal and State regulations.

The CAPS survey found that

  • School and other Pedestrian Crossings are routinely re-striped, signed and signaled without providing curb cuts on either side.

Somerville Cummings School inaccessible crosswalk, 2011

 above:  Cummings School, Prescott Street.  “accessible” entrance and crosswalk.   School Crossing lacks curb cuts on both sides.  These sidewalks were also repoured without providing any curb cuts, even at the designated “accessible parking” locations.  This also serves as a Ward 3 Voting location.

Somerville Walnut Park crosswalk- no curbcuts

above:  Walnut Street Pedestrian Crossing, On the left is a municipal Playground.  On the right, within 100 feet,  is Somerville’s Recreation Department Building.

  • Streets, sidewalks and curb cuts are reconstructed without mitigating pedestrian safety and access needs. Even where some meaningful improvements are made, apex and other poorly located curb cuts are still being installed, even though proper perpendicular locations are feasible.

above: Howe at School Street, Spring 2011 construction.  North curb cut is designed without safety or access in mind, and violates 521 CMR 21.2.1.  This design leads Blind people to smash into fence corners; and, wheelchair and walker users to swerve and tip.  When curb cuts and tactile strips are incorrectly located, they can separate users from the general pedestrian path of travel, and deny people who are Blind and visually impaired the use of reliable, standardized wayfinding cues.
  • Curb cuts and sidewalks are routinely reconstructed and resurfaced without any attention to sloping, transition, landing area, and location standards to make them usable, per 21st century standards, for a wide variety of diverse users.

Somerville, MA:  Cross St/Fountain Avenue safety and access violations

above:  A newly constructed intersection in front of the Capuano LEEDS-certified Elementary School, Municipal Park and Community Gardens contains multiple code violations, forcing children and adults with various lifelong disabilities to run half a marathon just to cross the street.

30 Allen St. 9.8% cross slope

above:  9.8% cross slope on newly reconstructed sidewalks in front of the Allen Street Head Start facility. (Drive-in for busses and parking located further down the street.)

Somerville’s transportation improvements need to ensure the long term viability of our infrastructure.  

Sidewalk and curb cut construction generally lasts for 30 to 50 years.
The Community Access Project chose approximately 100 locations that are hazardous to use, are within 200 feet of municipal programs or other facilities; and, are within one or more of the 15 bus routes that crisscross the Ville, and submitted those locations to the State Access Board for review.

Report from Access Board Hearing October 17, 2011

On October 17, 2011, the City of Somerville ADA Coordinator, Solicitor, Engineer, and outside consultant shared a table with three expert disAbility rights advocates and partners, and the State Architectural Access Board, for the first Public hearing on these complaints.

A clear message was delivered to the City of Somerville representatives:

“If you’re going to build it, do it right.”

These newly built barriers not only obstruct safety and walkability; they  deleteriously impact the daily lives of people with a wide variety of disAbilities.  That’s one-in-five.  Add in our families, our friends, and our family’s friend’s friends to the mix, and you’re almost at 99% !

The list below shows the first 50 locations that the City has agreed to re-do (reference:  Somerville Variance Application , AAB Docket #11-201) and represents a waste of approximately $500,000.

This story has just begun.

  1. Melvin & Broadway
  2. Central & Albion
  3. Central & Berkeley
  4. Central & Cleveland
  5. 26 Central – CHA
  6. Central & Monmouth
  7. Appleton & Newberne
  8. Francesca & Liberty
  9. Francesca & College
  10. Pritchard & Kidder
  11. Pritchard & Kidder (W)
  12. Pritchard & Kidder (S)
  13. Warwick & Cedar
  14. 13, 15 & 18 Morton
  15. Cross St. & Broadway
  16. East Somerville Library sidewalk- 115 Broadway
  17. Bartlett & Robinson
  18. Bartlett & Vernon
  19. Fennel & Chas. E. Ryan
  20. Vernon & Lowell
  21. Sidewalk, 100 Lowell St.
  22. Sidewalk, 30 Cross St.
  23. Cross St, 38 & 39
  24. Cross & Otis
  25. Cross & Alston
  26. Cross & Fountain
  27. Cross & Auburn
  28. Cross & Flint
  29. Cross & Flint
  30. Cross & Pearl
  31. Cross & Fountain
  32. Glen & Brook
  33. Glen & Brook (N)
  34. Merriam & Washington
  35. Washington & Washington Terrace (curb cuts)
  36. Montrose St (#2 sidewalk)
  37. Madison & Sycamore
  38. Richdale & Sycamore
  39. 29-33 Allen St. (sidewalk)
  40. 30 Allen St.
  41. Mansfield & Washington
  42. Mansfield St. (sidewalks, nr. 36, 41)
  43. Rossmore & Somerville Ave.
  44. Newton & Webster
  45. Newton & Joseph
  46. Bonner & Homer
  47. Benton & Westwood
  48. Summer and Craigie
  49. Summer & Spring
  50. Concord Square
GD Star Rating
Back to Top ↑

«« Previous: 11/2/11 MBTA Community Meeting 

 Next: Somerville Journal Endorses Neither Candidate in Ward 7 »» 

9 responses to “Somerville, MA: Millions Wasted on Deficient Walkability Improvements”

  1. John says:


    If the city has indeed agreed to repair 50 violations it is an impressive first step, and victory for the advocates. I understand and agree that alot has to change, but take a small bow and know that you are making change. Now that the bow is over, get back to work and keep the pressure up.


    GD Star Rating
  2. John Kelly says:

    Great work, eila! It’s just amazing to me that just a few years after the city of Boston was successfully charged with hundreds of complaints — and forced to fix miles of shoddy work — that Somerville would make the same mistake.


    GD Star Rating
  3. Karen Schneiderman says:

    It is ridiculous for the city to think it can get away with this when all that needs to happen is for someone with courage and skill to shine a light on their mistakes. Good work.

    GD Star Rating
  4. Kara says:

    I was wondering if the ramps added to Orchard St and the cross streets were legal. The ramps themselves look sound (although some do appear to be located awkwardly), but then the contractors just dumped asphalt to make crude connections to the street.

    GD Star Rating
  5. eila says:

    Hi Kara, and Thanks! Sounds like the Orchard St. ramps might not fulfill the following regulation, but the only reliable way to know is to measure them:

    Transitions from curb cuts to walks, gutters, or streets shall be flush or free of changes in level greater than ½ inch (½” = 13mm). Maximum slopes of adjoining gutters, road surface immediately adjacent to the curb cuts, or accessible route shall not exceed one-in-20 (1:20) (5%).

    GD Star Rating
  6. Luke says:

    It saddens me to see these ramps not being built properly. I think these are issues both for persons with disabilities and for persons without disabilities. I credit the City for agreeing to correct these issues, but clearly some additional, careful homework needs to be done before putting these ramps in.

    Another, I think related issue: it frustrates me to see these ramps not properly cleared of snow in the winter, rendering them useless for much of the year. Oftentimes the issue is snow dumped by city snow plows right on them.

    Thank you, Eila, for your hard work on these issues.

    GD Star Rating
  7. eila says:

    The Fay, Spoffard & Thorndike 2013 @SomervilleCity Pedestrian Accessibility Study is now online for public view at:

    In a nutshell:
    p. 11: “This investigation has revealed approximately 77% of Somerville sidewalks do not comply with MAAB requirements.”

    p. 17: “ was determined that 2,428, or 80% of the total ramps in Somerville are likely not compliant with MAAB standards.”

    GD Star Rating
  8. Reli-Abilities aka Reli-Abilities says:


    Your commitment and amazing work continues. I commend you for your articulate detail and incredible evaluations which have blessed the Somerville community with a service that is priceless. support is sent your way.

    Always a friend, Scott

    GD Star Rating
  9. eila says:

    In recognition of the urgent need to continue vigorous advocacy around #EqualAccess, #a11y and #HumanRights issues locally, nationwide and worldwide, this article now linked at

    GD Star Rating

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.