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Citizen complaint of the day: Tight fit in Jamaica Plain

Inaccessible sidewalk in Jamaica Plain

A concerned citizen shows that sometimes a photo is worth a thousand words, with a complaint to 311 about the sidewalk on Amory Street in Jamaica Plain:

If we can't get a baby stroller through past this hydrant, how can someone in a wheelchair? I am concerned about accessibility.

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That's a proper urban baby stroller, too - not even close to the width of a wheelchair.

Why do people build things like this?

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The road is 30+ ft. wide and each sidewalk is <4 ft. Making the sidewalks accessible would mean asking drivers to cede some land.

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There are two driving lanes and one parking lane, but you can see that the driving lane is unnecessarily wide.

And it's not just the hydrant, it's poles as well.

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The sidewalk at 638 Centre Street has been blocked by construction workers since the start of the month. They dropped jersey barriers across it and never bothered getting a street occupancy permit to reroute pedestrians and wheelchairs. It's smack next to the South JP Health Center.

ISD refuses to issue a stop work order. From time to time Public Works will issue a $50 fine.

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I'm NOT saying this is good, but given that a fire hydrant needs to be in that general vicinity and given that the sidewalk cannot be made any wider, perhaps there was no choice. I'd need to see the streetscape to know for sure if this is just something that has to be.

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The alternative would be to remove a parking space and bump out the sidewalk when fire hydrants and other similar items need to be on the sidewalk.

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You just need to get rid of that space for people to store their dockless privately-owned personal transportation devices and suddenly there's tons of room available to expand the sidewalk.

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The alternative is to get rid of parking, which is fine because any decent person realizes that people are more important than cars.

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1) Move the fence back to wide the sidewalk in to the lawn beyond it by a foot or two.

2) Build a bump-out in to the street to get the sidewalk around the hydrant. Cambridge has done something similar to get sidewalks around trees (i.e. on Tufts Street, there's something similar going in on Pearl).

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Assuming there is not 3' of clearance there, the city will have to address this whenever that sidewalk eventually is rebuilt (any construction triggers ADA/AAB requirements, and it MUST be brought into compliance).

If they can't just move the hydrant (easiest option) they'll probably end up going with your option 2. Moving the fence back will likely be immediately ruled out because moving it back and widening the sidewalk would require a right-of-way taking, which most cities want to avoid if possible, especially in dense, urban neighborhoods. I know Cambridge, for example, is irritatingly adamant about no ROW takings whatsoever.

Side note - what do you think of the bump outs on Pearl St? I actually designed those a few years back. My firm did the Pearl St design.

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Could they take a smaller piece of the fenced side and place the hydrant there, leaving the sidewalk the full width?

I do really like the bump outs that were linked to. Would those also work where the hydrant is in the middle of the block instead of close to a corner?

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Theoretically, yes, but it would still require a ROW taking, so the city still might not go for it.

And yes, bumpouts can work mid-block as well. Would look somewhat like this: https://goo.gl/maps/8BiC71rnTf12 (but with a hydrant instead of a curb ramp). Unfortunately that does usually end up costing a parking space, so can be a tough sell sometimes. It's usually better to try and move the hydrant closer to a corner.

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You can see the car wheel in the picture clearly indicates someone has parked next to the hydrant or at least close enough that it's a tow-able offense.

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I mean, seriously...how stupid can people get? Accessibility by wheelchairs is extremely difficult, if not impossible.

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As an extremely stereotypical JP stroller-pusher, I can affirm the already-narrow sidewalks are littered with obstacles like this.

I get that a fire hydrant is maybe kinda hard to move, but there's a ton of streetlights and trees with similarly poor placement.

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I get the impression that they are doing much better with new construction. However, there are times I think they forget to pay attention...

Brand new sidewalk with "wtf" new pole: https://www.google.com/maps/@42.3382303,-71.0319488,3a,46.9y,61.63h,78.86t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1shJoBtvMfkck94vp7Mz_sIw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

And if you swivel the streetview to the other side of the street you will see (old) curbs that are downright comical.

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But if you dare have a branch that "impedes" the airspace above the sidewalk--watch out. That's a fine. Often called in by a hateful neighbor to an old buddy at ISD out of spite--but of course that's impossible to prove. Not that it ever happened to me or anything.

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What's amazing is that an engineer signed off on those plans and said "yup that looks right."

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As an engineer who works on municipal roadway projects, I can tell you exactly why that pole is perfectly fine where it is. The requirement is that it is at least 18" behind the face of the curb, and that there is at least a 3' (4' preferred) wide path of travel either in front of or behind it to accommodate wheelchairs. This meets all the required standards, and permits a wheelchair user to pass.

As for why it's in the middle of the sidewalk, look at the utility poles behind the sidewalk - if you wanted to put the light pole behind the sidewalk, you'd need to relocate the adjacent utility pole, and likely other utility poles too, or add a guy wire or pole, which no utility wants to do. So there's not really any other practical place to put it.

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You really think there are 3 feet of clear sidewalk behind this light pole? Doesn't look like that much to me.

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Just cause it's a standard doesn't mean it makes sense, particularly when most transportation engineering standards favor cars above all road others.

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So even though it meets all relevant standards, and is accessible, you'd rather the city spend a bunch of money relocating several utility poles just because you think it looks silly to have a pole in the middle of the sidewalk?

Sorry, but that's not how the world works.

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Two thoughts:

Then why on that same street as part of that same project, there are street lights that are less than 18" from the curb?

Just because something meets a standard doesn't mean it's the right solution. If you were a blind person walking down this sidewalk, would you expect a street light pole to be directly in the middle, or up against the curb?

Sometimes engineers need to put down the standards manual and use their brains to look at a situation using some common sense, or at least from the perspective of someone actually using the street.

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Setting aside the tiresome disparaging comments about my profession...

You have yet to actually suggest an alternative. I'd really like to hear where you'd put that light pole that meets all required standards and doesn't involve the significant expense of relocating those utility poles.

As for the scenario of a blind person walking in to it - most blind people don't attempt to walk around outside without at least feeling out their way, either by hand or with a stick/cane (which would alert them to the pole). And there are plenty of other unavoidable obstacles that could be in the middle of their way - from other pedestrians, to animals, to carelessly parked bikes/scooters, to cones, to signs, to trash cans, etc.

This may surprise you but we do make it a point to get out in the field and look at what we're designing. And we reference streetview and site photos far more than we reference any manuals. I know everyone likes to think they could do it better, but there's a reason things end up getting designed the way they do. We don't just plop stuff down willy-nilly, a lot of thought goes into it, usually involving trade-offs. Not everything ends up ideal. If you want that, move out west to a planned community built in 2000.

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I did suggest a solution, move the streetlight closer to the curb. I don't know where this 18" rule came from but I can guarantee the vast majority of streetlights in Boston don't satisfy that rule.

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Move the hydrant 6 inches closer to the curb and there'd be more room (though I don't know if that would be wide enough for a wheelchair).

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The hydrant can't be closer to the curb because you need to have room behind the curb for the necessary pipe and fittings.

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be on the other side of the hydrant?

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The pipe and fitting are directly below the hydrant.

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Because water mains are in the street, not under people's houses.

The setback requirement stems from a combination of the fact that there's a 6" gravel base behind the physical curb itself, and the fact that pipe fittings are wider than the pipe (thus wider than the hydrant you see sticking above the surface, and you need a little room on each side in case things shift and settle (as curbs are known to do), and for construction/maintenance access. You don't want the hydrant right up against the curb.

The general 18" from face of curb setback requirement for poles, etc. also stems from the fact that you want to give people a little buffer space when parking/driving/biking/etc. It's quite common for cars to bump the curb when parallel parking, and totally harmless. If there was a pole right against the curb, you'd probably scrape the pole.

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Successfully prosecuted a lamppost for being too close to the street, causing her inebriated client to run into it.

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Please stop talking facts, practicalities, and common sense. Assumptions and reckless speculating are what people are about. For goodness sake ...

. Because water mains are in the street, not under people's houses.

The setback requirement stems from a combination of the fact that there's a 6" gravel base behind the physical curb itself, and the fact that pipe fittings are wider than the pipe (thus wider than the hydrant you see sticking above the surface, and you need a little room on each side in case things shift and settle (as curbs are known to do), and for construction/maintenance access. You don't want the hydrant right up against the curb.

The general 18" from face of curb setback requirement for poles, etc. also stems from the fact that you want to give people a little buffer space when parking/driving/biking/etc. It's quite common for cars to bump the curb when parallel parking, and totally harmless. If there was a pole right against the curb, you'd probably scrape the pole.

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Since there is no adequate sidewalk for the wheelchair user, the wheelchair user should roll down the street. Drivers wanting to use the same public space for cars can wait their turn.

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pedestrians are being murdered by drivers on the sidewalk, you think a wheelchair user (who has less visibility being lower) should risk their life in the street!?

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pedestrians are being murdered by drivers on the sidewalk, you think a wheelchair user (who has less visibility being lower) should risk their life in the street!?

No, what I think is that drivers should slow the fuck down and, if necessary, wait their turn for the road if a wheelchair user got there first.

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I'm sure wheelchair users love to do that, especially in Boston.

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Different behaviors for different neighborhoods with different conditions, eh?

In my neighborhood, the sidewalks are narrow, frequently interrupted by tree pits, mail boxes, other items, and were built mainly as a landing to get from the street to and from the houses, and not for through pedestrian traffic. Pedestrians and wheelchair users generally use the street when they're moving about the neighborhood. I see wheelchair users in the street every single day, mixed in with the pedestrians proceeding on foot. When a car comes up the street, the driver waits for the person to get to the next convenient place to move out of the way. In the case of a pedestrian, that's generally the next large space between parked cars; in the case of a wheelchair user, generally the next intersection, hydrant, or other space where he or she can pull aside and let the car through.

Obviously this would not be the norm on a major thoroughfare, but it is the norm where I live. Judging by the photo, the street is one where, like mine, the sidewalk isn't really designed for pedestrian or wheelchair traffic.

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On Harrison Ave near Mass Ave. It's not unheard of.

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You're kidding, right?

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In my neighborhood, the sidewalks are so narrow that most pedestrians (and every single wheelchair user, of which there are plenty) uses the street instead. It doesn't seem to be a problem; if someone driving a car tries to come down the street, they simply wait until the wheelchair user reaches the next intersection.

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Can someone help me out? The photo shows what looks like a black wrought iron type fence along the sidewalk. The address says 260 Amory st. There is a hydrant at 260 Amory, but the fence is different.

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Google Street View is from July 2017. The house was for sale then. New owner probably put up a new fence.

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I'd suspect...
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1- can't move the hydrant more than a couple of inches towards the curb, otherwise threaded connection/cover would project into road and get hit by a plow.
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2- street cross-section of road pavement and sidewalk(s) was probably done in 1923 or something like that when there were different standards (as in "no consideration for accessibility"). Updating corners to include curb cuts & wheel chair ramps is simple. Changing the cross-section of the block probably requires a complete redesign.

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Curious to know if this issue gets resolved. The city could purchase part of the owner's front yard to expand the sidewalk if moving the fire hydrant is not possible.

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I noticed that a few new tree surrounds in Cambridge have a "track running surface" type material, and boy, is it ever comfortable to walk on!

In light of so many sidewalk barriers/uneven surfaces due to tree roots, upended bricks, pavers and the like, would this material work as a sidewalk?

I'm hoping someone is familiar with it and can shed some light.

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Federal ADA regulations state there must be 36 inches of access.

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There are exceptions built in. From the DOJ 2010 ADA Standards (see page 117 of this PDF):

From Chapter 4: Accessible Routes

403.5.1 Clear Width. Except as provided in 403.5.2 and 403.5.3, the clear width of walking surfaces shall be 36 inches (915 mm) minimum.
EXCEPTION: The clear width shall be permitted to be reduced to 32 inches (815 mm) minimum for a length of 24 inches (610 mm) maximum provided that reduced width segments are separated by segments that are 48 inches (1220 mm) long minimum and 36 inches (915 mm) wide minimum.

I would have stopped there because you mentioned ADA. However, because we are Massachusetts, we have our own Architectural Access Board. Common thinking is to design to the more stringent of the two guidelines. Let's see what we can find on the MAAB site:

521 CMR 20.00: ACCESSIBLE ROUTE
20.3 WIDTH
An accessible route shall have a minimum clear width of 36 inches (36" = 914 mm) except at doors and at openings less than 24 inches (24" = 610mm) deep where it shall comply with 521 CMR 26.00: DOORS AND DOORWAYS.

So in your comment you are semi correct. It's not ADA we must follow, but MAAB. Massachusetts has the more stringent guidelines and thus this sidewalk/hydrant interface, if work was performed recently, should have been looked at. These guidelines indicate that they pertain to new construction, but they also hold true for when any work is performed on public buildings or facilities (per 521 CMR 3.00: JURISDICTION). There is a chance to request a variance, which I've had to do in the past (historic structure, and while much was done to provide access, but not every area could be modified 100%).

Followup: one could argue (though it's a stretch) that since the MAAB Door and Doorways section allows for a reduction in width to 32" for a distance of 24" or less, that could apply in this location. However an opening between a fence and hydrant is not an opening, per se. You can see above that the ADA allows for this reduction along any walkway where MAAB includes it only in doors and doorways and the language therein indicates interior locations.

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and curating the baby shower list, maybe.

The level of Lady Lululemon's concerns ends at her nose.

F*cking Hilarious to see the backflips the commentariat Urban Planners lapping at her no doubt charming ankles are doing.

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Believe it or not, our society somewhat depends on there still being kids in the next generation. And as they point out, handicapped users also deserve room on the sidewalk.

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ADA regulation access is 36 inches.

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James Whiteside at Chestnut Avenue and Ashley Street https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNDvLAca1ME

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