Sidewalk Standards

Oh that I had the legal contacts and the resources for a class action lawsuit!

There I was up in Seabrook dropping my wife off at work.     Since I was up there, I thought I’d check out the new shopping center and the Market Basket expansion.      To my surprise, even in free wheeling New Hampshire, they had installed concrete sidewalks to the highest standards and handicap accessible ramps right to the street level.

Seabrook Standards Seabrook Standards II

So, we snobby Newburyporters are suppose to be so much ‘better’ than a bunch of ‘Brookers but we have blacktop where we’re supposed to have concrete, concrete when we’re supposed to have brick to encourage heritage tourism traffic flow; brick, concrete and blacktop all mixed together based not on municipal standards but on the whim of the abutting owner.        And we have long lengths of streetscapes either absent of sidewalks, sidewalks from the Great Depression or blacktop just so we can say that it got ‘done’.

My wife was going through her files of old political flyers for the last three decades in Newburyport – I was checking them out and was amazed to see candidates with the same old claims to fix ‘our sidewalks’.

Thanks to Mayor Holaday, we actually have sufficient money to redo large sections of the city in a few short years.

Which is why we are now wide open to a class-action lawsuit.        We can’t cry hardship anymore and yet the city refuses to take leadership in coordinating a plan for the consistent re-surfacing of the city.       Portsmouth (Yeah, another New Hampshire city) has done brick sidewalks in their historic district and concrete in the rest of the city.         Why can’t we?

We as a city are acting like a retiree who’s won the lottery.     Yahoo!     Let’s splurge the money.

So now instead of crappy sidewalks, we have a patchwork of uneven, sporadic resurfacing that diminishes our heritage tourism, forces most citizens to have to still do the ‘Newburyport Walk’ and in which we still have locals and visitors running up to the hospital for sprained ankles and even broken bones.      We even had one person fall and die a few years back.

This is not a violation of health and safety laws, this present condition is a violation of our civil rights as described by the American Disabilities Act.

It is not our beleaguered Department of Public Services – they are understaffed and barely able to keep up with holding the city together.

Nor is it our subcontractors and private contractors bonded with the city – they are simply NOT given firm directions as to the required standards for sidewalks.

Nor is there any ordinance on the books for enforcement on sidewalk violations done by private landowners.

It is up to the city councilors and the Mayor’s office (through the Planning Office) to resolve this problem.

Yes, we are ripe for a lawsuit – we have the money, we have the problem, we have the solution (standards) and the city is negligently premeditated (plan and standards called for in the Master Plan) and willful in disregarding basic civil rights.

After all the promises, and after the election in November – it should be a priority to create a Sidewalk Installation and Maintenance Plan.     One that promotes heritage tourism and safety and actually provides for citizens and visitors.    Newburyport is a very walk able city (but without walk able sidewalks).

The clock is ticking toward a doomsday lawsuit.      Let’s get this issue resolved in 2014 and avoid a looming financial drain on the city.

-P. Preservationist
www.ppreservationist.com

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This entry was posted in Developers, Downtown, Economics, Education, finances, Health and wellness, Heritage Tourism, Planning, sidewalks, Streetscapes. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Sidewalk Standards

  1. Councillor Robert J. Cronin says:

    In an ongoing effort to establish factual communication for the residents of Newburyport, your above article has some inaccuracies:
    The City Council established that 50% of local meals tax monies went to sidewalks; not the mayor. The mayor asked for the local option meal tax, there was no sidewalk fund attached to the request. The Council (I sponsored/was lead negotiator) to dedicate 50% of those monies to sidewalks. The mayor was informed without this piece, the measure would fail. The Council actually took a recess so the Director of Policy and I could negotiate the issue. That is where sidewalk monies came from…check the public record. I believe the vote was in the 6-5 range.
    Secondly, ADA requirements are triggered during construction improvements, not before. Existing standards are not in violation until that trigger. All new construction includes ADA standards.
    MA General law limits liability for sidewalks to $5,000.00. According to DPS most claims are tripping on brick sidewalks. I am NOT advocating inaction on sidewalks, in fact as you can see I am proactive, but there is a limited, very limited money source.
    Are you suggesting a multi-million dollar bond for sidewalks, ramps, tree replacement etc? Let me know and we can run some numbers, I may be off but I think its in the 15-20 million dollar range.

    • indyjerry77 says:

      You are right on the money when you discuss the cost of fixing the sidewalks ALL AT ONCE.

      I’m talking about a Sidewalk Maintenance Plan that outlines the parameters, maps out the city for future repairs and establishes a unified standards plan for the city. It is listed as one of the important items that needed to have been accomplished in the 2001 Master Plan. Thus as a regular flow of financing arrives, the Plan would outline the course of action. Such a plan would cover us if the city was taken to court. Such a plan would need to go through the City Council, assisted by the Planning Office and vetted by the subcommittees with public meetings and hearings. It would also give teeth to the building inspector to enable enforcement against violators.

      As for inaccuracies, the Mayor advocated very strongly for the meals tax increase to help fund improvements to the ‘downtown’.

      It was the city council’s action (lead by you!) to put that much-needed money to fund the improvements of the sidewalks; but that is where the definition of ‘improvements’ stops.

      Instituting harmful willy-nilly ‘fixings’ around the city in which the surfaces continue to be inconsistent along any given streetscape and giving in to private abutters as to their preferences.

      Another inaccuracy, ADA fully accepts brick as a legitimate surface as long as it is flat, anecdotal evidence to the contrary.

      Putting in cold concrete reflects lacking the understanding of the importance of re-enforcing our heritage tourism that brings in the visitors.
      Our brick sidewalks draw in visitors because of the history they reflect. In order for that ‘theme’ to be maintained, the brick sidewalks flow in and away from our downtown drawing consumers toward the Tannery and down the side streets.

      I was horrified that cold concrete was put in front of the Middle Street Foods while historic brick lay to the left and to the right, disrupting the flow of commerce. It is basically sending a message for customers to go no further than the corner of Center Street that lies before them.

      This is generated by a lack of imagination, and typical ignorance as to the importance of our historic district being promoted.

      14% of those heritage visitors over the years have returned to now live here in the historic neighborhoods only to find they have a city government that is willingly doing everything possible to ignore the very reason they originally came.

      As for lawsuits, we’re not talking about limited liability for some stretch of sidewalks. Ipswich was taken to court and at great cost to the taxpayer was forced to bring their entire network of sidewalks up to ADA standards. It has also happened in many other communities across the U.S. too.

      And yes, it could happen here.

      As I have said repeatedly, historic brick in the historic district and concrete in the rest of the city.

      It wasn’t a hard concept in the Live Free or Die State.

      Why is it so difficult to understand here?

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