Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced on Thursday that the city would move forward with a plan to install wheelchair-accessible curb cuts on Beacon Hill sidewalks, making it the last neighborhood in the city to be brought into compliance with the Adults with Disabilities Act.
“My intention is making sure that Boston is handicap accessible and curbs are handicap accessible,” Walsh said before a standing-room crowd of more than 125 people at Suffolk University. “People who are handicapped should have the same right to the streets as everyone else, so we should move forward.”
City officials said the first 13 of more than 250 ramps would be installed on Beacon Street beginning in the first or second week of August. Walsh said the ramps would be made from concrete because using brick would be four times as expensive. The project is moving forward without the approval of the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission, which in December rejected a proposal to use poured cement for the ramps with plastic tactile strips.
“We want to keep the historic integrity of the neighborhood,” Walsh said. “We’re not talking about removing brick sidewalks.”
Walsh described the project wouldn’t result in the loss of trees and described it as a “short-term plan.”
“We will look at the whole neighborhood very differently, looking towards long-term solutions,” Walsh said. “The long-term plan is to figure out what the solution is. Everything is on the table long term.”
Keeta Gilmore, chair of the Beacon Hill Civic Association, said the group has always supported accessibility improvements in the neighborhood but preferred that the ramps would be built from wire-cut bricks with concrete pavers for the tactile strips.
“We’ve never disagreed with the size, shape or number of ramps,” Gilmore said. “Our only issue is the material from which they’re made.”
State Rep. Jay Livingstone cited the raised platform on Temple Street as an accessible and attractive alternative.
“It would costs the same or have a negligible cost difference,” Livingstone said. “You should check if it’s feasible on Beacon Street.”
Brian Swett, Boston’s chief of environment and energy, responded that the city would look into that possibility.
While residents have urged the city to use brick-red tactile strips on the ramps, Swett said that they would be need to be a lighter color to provide better contrast with the bricks.
Beacon Hill resident Frank McGuire urged the city to explore other options.
“There are some really good ideas about how to make Beacon Hill more accessible that are compliant with historic guidelines and ADA,” McGuire said. “This step is going backwards more than forwards.”
Colin Zick, an attorney and a 25-year resident of Beacon Hill, was among those who expressed frustration that the city was undertaking the project without what he deems as a sufficient dialogue with residents.
“I’m not seeing a collaborative process about what we can do and what we can dream,” Zick said. “It seems the city has gotten frustrated with the process so they’re not going to welcome input from the community.”