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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Committee On Public Health & Public Safety Discuss Brick Paver Crosswalks

There are two ways to look at brick paver crosswalks. Driving through Magoun Square or along Somerville Avenue, one would appreciate the colorful appeal and notice the added safety that pedestrians feel walking in a clearly designated area from one side of the street to the other. Last night’s Committee meeting on Public Health and Public Safety, however, shed light on another side of these aesthetically-pleasing square features. For disabled members of our community, these crosswalks are not appealing...these crosswalks are not safe. Noting feelings of fear, discrimination, and apprehension advocates of the disabled, some disabled themselves, spoke of avoiding areas in Somerville that feature brick sidewalks and crosswalks because they feel unwelcome and are afraid of damage to their wheelchairs (or other assistive apparatus) and physical harm.

Although very different from the danger zone that is Davis Square, both Magoun and Somerville Avenue feature wire cut bricks with a beveled edge and interlock coating that secures them in place. During the installation phase on Somerville Avenue numerous bricks were chipped and cracked by the contractor prompting the city to inventory bricks to be used in future repairs. Neither Somerville Avenue nor Magoun Square have been signed off on as they are both pending punch list fixes.

Despite the size, weight, cut and herring bone pattern being used, one speaker described how the front casters of his wheelchair get caught on unsecured bricks posing a life threatening hazard for him. Another attendee, who is visually impaired, noted how difficult it is to navigate his way, using his cane, when walking on brick surfaces.

Bricks do serve a positive purpose, though, especially when used on high traffic roads. Able to sustain visibility that painted lines lose over time, bricks give pedestrians a clear designated area where they can cross from one side of the street to the other. The bricks also allow storm water to penetrate into the ground, avoiding freezing during the winter months. Furthermore, cars traveling over the bricks feel a vibration that serve as a traffic calming mechanism. This vibration, on the other hand, is also felt by wheelchair users, one pointing out last night, that this causes him the most discomfort in his travels.

Although there is no law prohibiting the use of bricks in sidewalks or crosswalks, local communities have pledged not to use them in future construction with Cambridge taking it a step further by setting aside funds to remove previously installed brick crosswalks and replacing them with features suitable for use by all members of the community. Arlington has also placed a moratorium on the use of bricks on pedestrian frequented areas of the city.

Currently, there are no plans to remove already-installed brick surfaces, but it was rumored that Somerville would eliminate brick paver crosswalks in the Assembly Square project (at this meeting) and will be researching future State-run projects to see if this feature will be included and can be eliminated, as well. Also announced was the complete revitalization of Davis Square where both advocates and alderman would like to see very little brick use as possible. This construction is set to begin next year with numerous community meetings being planned and conducted well in advance of any ground-breaking.


Anonymous said...

Despite the attractive look of the brick crosswalks, they are more expensive to install and maintain.

In such a bad economy, and the City seeking creative ways to garner revenue (e.g., the Assembly Square DIF and parking meter/permit parking changes), this seems like an awful waste of money.

Courtney said...

Thank you, Eila!

I apologize for the terminology and have deleted it off the post.

Regarding the Assembly Square announcement: I attended this meeting (as did you) and it was stated there. As you can understand, this post is over a year old and I no longer have my notes. I have put a phone call out to the City Engineer and an email out to other attendees to definitely verify this.

FYI, the Legislative item for this issue is 190375:;

Thank you for the invitation to cross post on Somerville Voices, but I think I will keep a majority of my work/coverage on Ward 5 Online.

Ward Five said...

I had to update this post as I have found out recently that brick pavers will be used at Assembly Square.

The section that was altered now reads: "...but it was rumored that Somerville would eliminate brick paver crosswalks in the Assembly Square project (at this meeting) and will be researching future State-run projects to see if this feature will be included and can be eliminated, as well."

Please stay tuned as legislation surrounding this will be discussed by the Committee on Public Health and Public Safety soon. Meeting information will be posted on the website as it becomes available.