At the end of a contentious meeting over handicap ramps at intersections, Mayor Walsh and Beacon Hill residents may have come up with a compromise both sides can live with: "tables," or raised pavement that would satisfy Walsh's insistence neighborhood sidewalks be made more accessible to people with disabilities and residents' insistence that concrete the city would use in ramps be kept well the hell away from what they insisted was one of the most historic neighborhoods in the country.
Walsh told residents the city DPW will look at tables - there's already one on Temple Street right in front of the Suffolk basement where the meeting was held - before a planned repaving of Beacon Street and installation of 13 ramps along the road slated for mid-August. City officials say they have to give people in wheelchairs and people with visual issues a way to cross the street to comply with federal disability regulations - and get some federal reimbursement for the repaving on a road last resurfaced in 1999.
Walsh told a packed room of largely hostile Beacon Hill residents that while he recognizes resident deserve a say, the issue has been going on for 2 1/2 years and enough is enough - people with disabilities deserve the same right to enjoy Beacon Hill as the able bodied and fully sighted. "My administration is moving forward," he said.
He noted the city was able to come to agreement with residents in the city's other three historic districts - the Back Bay, the South End and Bay Village - on how to minimize the visual impact of the ramps.
"We're not the South End," one resident retorted.
After residents insisted Beacon Hill deserves better than the concrete framing that other neighborhoods get with their ramps, Walsh said, no, he's not going to approve fancy stuff for Beacon Hill when other neighborhoods get lesser stuff - it just wouldn't be fair to those other neighborhoods.
Residents basically retorted: So? "To say Beacon Hill is the same as any other neighborhood, it isn't," one resident said. "It's a gem for the nation and the city." And, he reminded the mayor, Beacon Hill makes a major contribution to the city tax base.
Residents, many of whom acknowledged taking a spill or two on the neighborhoods disjointed, if historic, brick sidewalks, said the concrete components of the planned ramps would be a blight that could lead to even worse things.
One warned it could lead tourists to stay away from one of the nation's premier attractions. "The terrible problem is, we are, if not the most important, certainly one of the most important tourist attractions in this country. and we have worked for the last 50 years to enhance that tourist attraction" and now the city wants to blow that all by installing ramps with concrete framing, she said. "I must say that the idea that we would care about a few federal dollars to fix our potholes and jeopardize this unique historic district in the United States of America, I don't think there's any comparison," she continued, adding a better solution for her husband - who is in a wheelchair - and others would be dedicated handicapped lanes, similar to the bike lanes that the city has striped on roads in other neighborhoods.
Another resident worried that the city wouldn't stop at concrete parts of ramps - it would come back and tear out the neighborhood's sidewalk trees in some mad dash to make narrow sidewalks fully ADA compliant.
One resident recalled how, in 1947, the ladies of Beacon Hill, in their hats and gloves, sat on Beacon Hill sidewalks to protest a city plan to replace bricks with cement.
Some residents said the city should just install all-brick ramps, but DPW Commissioner Michael Denhey said that would defeat part of the purpose of the ramps: Providing a contrasting color as a clue to the visually impaired the street is coming up.
Keeta Gilmore, chairwoman of the Beacon Hill Civic Association, said the group supports handicap ramps, just not the materials the city wants to use. There's nothing wrong with wire-cut bricks, she said.
But John Winske, in a wheelchair, said there is. "Wire-cut bricks, yes, they go in smooth, no, they don't stay that way." He challenged residents to try navigating some of the city's existing wire-cut brick sidewalks with a cup of coffee in their laps.
Winske said he and others are only looking for basic access and wondered just how far residents are willing to go to be "historic."
"Things change. We used to power our buildings with coal. We used to not have stop signs. We used to have cobblestone roads. Would you like them back? it would be historic. It would be hell on your cars."
"We're not tearing down your neighborhood," he said. "We are not going to rip the steps from your front door. We are simply asking to get around, without walking in the streets. we are simply asking to enjoy your neighborhood in our city. We are one city."
One resident who rose with his cane, said the ramps would make the neighborhood less safe for people like him. "You put your cane down on one of those dimples and you slip, you go down," he said.
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