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Historic Districts Push for Red, Not Yellow, Panels on Handicapped-Accessible Ramps

Groups disagree over the best color to use in sidewalk curb cuts.

The Public Works Department has begun installing hundreds of handicapped-accessible curb cuts with yellow panels but people on Beacon Hill and in other historic districts are urging the city to reconsider its color scheme for these neighborhoods.

"Nobody wants yellow in the South End because we live in a very brick-oriented community," Stephen Fox of the South End Forum told the dozens of people assembled in a room in City Hall Wednesday.

The Public Works Department called the meeting to facilitate a discussion between those who are looking to preserve the look of historic districts and those who say that visibility and accessibility are more important than aesthetics. 

Fox was one of many people from historic districts – including Beacon Hill, the Back Bay and Bay Village – to air their views to the city's proposal to install yellow tactile strips on concrete ramps in their neighborhoods. For the most part, the historic districts were in agreement that a brick-colored panel on a contrasting background was the way to go not only aesthetically but practically as well.

"The best color of all the studies is not yellow, it's actually red," Rob Whitney, of the Beacon Hill Civic Association, said. He produced data from studies that say a darkish red is significantly more visible than yellow. In fact, Whitney said, many states have opted for red panels, not yellow. 

But DPW Commissioner Joanne Massaro, and Kristen McCosh, commissioner for Persons with Disabilities, said that other studies and other states favor yellow panels. Still, McCosh noted, her commission is willing to support a proposal for bright red panels. But this option might still be too objectionable to many looking to preserve the integrity of historic districts.

However objectionable yellow may be, some in the disabled community say that functionality should come before beauty, and if yellow is deemed to be more effective then it should be used. "Quite frankly, my ability to participate in the city of Boston come first ... and aesthetics second," said Thomas Hopkins, executive director of the public works' Architectural Access Board.

McCosh agreed that function should trump historical considerations: "The sidewalks are meant for traveling. We wouldn't go back to cobblestones because you can't drive over them."

In the meantime, the public works department has put 43 projects to install accessible curbs in the South End until it can reach an agreement with the neighborhood. If the South End rejects the yellow panels then the city might not have time to get the necessary approvals to install the red ones before the winter, Massaro said.

And work on Beacon Hill is even farther off. "It's going to be very hard to bring Beacon Hill into compliance," Massaro said, adding that her department is not planning on doing work on Beacon Hill until this issue is resolved. Furthermore, bringing the entire Hill into compliance may not be the best option, she said. It might be more effective to create accessible routes through the Hill.

The various groups loosely agreed to another meeting in early October to discuss the issue further.

John D September 20, 2012 at 06:50 PM
NIMBY. sigh...............some have to be difficult for the sake of being difficult. a hobby perhaps for some. the yellow is being used all over the country, and in some areas that make Beaco Hill look like a project. making the sidewalks level should be a bigger concern. I need crutches to get around and I have to walk in the street as the frost heaves in the sidewalks make walking difficult at best.

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