The American Disabilities Act of 1990 is not a law, it is a right. You can put a law into effect and then, just as easily, vote it out. One day, something is not allowed and the next, it is perfectly permissible.
Not so a right.
This right means that accessibility for the handicapped must follow certain guidelines. For example, if a town is filled with nature trails with half-buried rocks and ankle twisting roots some provision for the disabled needs to be provided such as paths that have smooth surfaces. Newburyport has done that by opening up the Clipper City Rail Trail and providing the Gloria Braunardt Little River Bike Path on the abandoned Route 95 roadbed. So we’re covered in that area.
But we’re not covered downtown or in the historic district.
As a right it needs to become a priority for Newburyport.
Newburyport is one of those places where these guidelines are largely not followed because of two factors. One, the downtown’s restoration was completed by 1984 and there was no ADA for which to comply. Two, and this is the prevalent issue: the city was too poor to install sidewalks, put in ramps or provide any standardized municipal practice. It has been a shameful but often necessary process by which spit and chewing gum has been applied to the city’s infrastructure.
I kept my mouth shut as I have watched concrete sidewalks being poured in spots here and there. I have shaken my head realizing that eventually these are a waste of taxpayers’ money. Most will have to be torn up and done right.
An unnecessary and wasteful redundancy.
First, the ADA fundamental requirement of consistent surfaces has been mostly violated block by block. We get jumbled mixes of black top, brick, cobblestone (pretty but not ADA!) and concrete. Second, there is no consistent design – we have brick in dozens of configurations ready to stub the toe of a pedestrian: some parallel to the street, others perpendicular. We have concrete done in many different ways and of course, ‘slathering’ of black top. Third, space for gardens have been installed that do not allow wheelchairs to pass by each other – a basic requirement of ADA. Fourth, ramping down to the curb in every style imaginable or concrete put in where ramping will have to be put in eventually. (stupid waste) Fifth, the property owners suffer and the city suffers when brick is not used in the historic district – it boosts property equity and enhances heritage tourism – our bread and butter! Smart abutters will end up tearing up the concrete (for which they paid for in taxes already) and replacing it with brick.
Why all this wasteful silliness?
The mindset that we as a city may not be able to afford or have the resolve to do it again for years to come! In other words, the City, the City Councilors, the Mayor, the DPS and the Planning Office still think we are a poverty-stricken town! This, with houses going for half-a-million or far more! A fear that standards need not be applied because we are thankful for the crumbs we occasionally get! Our history as a poor city is on display on many streets because we have sidewalks installed from the Great Depression!
Remember, ADA is a right. Poorer towns have been slapped with court-ordered compliance and have been forced at the taxpayer’s cost to comply. We have been very lucky that we have not suffered the same fate…so far.
ALL WE HAVE TO DO IS HAVE A MAPPED-OUT SIDEWALK MAINTENANCE PLAN WITH CONSISTENT ADA-COMPLIANT STANDARDS TO BE SPARED SUCH PAIN.
Who will take the lead in City Hall?
Time is running out!