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Lawsuit settled, installation of new Beacon Hill pedestrian ramps begins

The handicap-accessible sidewalks are being installed along Beacon Treet and the side streets on Beacon Hill.
The handicap-accessible sidewalks are being installed along Beacon Treet and the side streets on Beacon Hill.(John Tlumacki/Globe Staff)

Outside the Beacon Hill residence of Northeastern University’s president, a contractor cut bricks Friday morning for a new pedestrian ramp designed to help disabled people navigate the curb.

The modest construction site at the corner of Beacon and Joy streets, however, hardly did justice to the protracted legal battle that unfolded before sidewalks in the historic neighborhood could be dug up.

The 17 ramps of concrete, cast-iron tactile warning strips, and brick being installed are the product of a legal agreement reached last year by the city and the Beacon Hill Civic Association, which sued in 2014 over the project.

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The suit sought to stop the city from altering Beacon Hill sidewalks and streetscapes “using historically inappropriate materials and designs.” The legal challenge put the neighborhood at odds with other parts of the city that found ways to compromise on the ramps without litigation.

Under the settlement, the city is installing brick-red tactile pads made of cast iron, instead of the plastic pads used elsewhere. The extra cost is being paid for by the civic association. The difference is $279 per ramp, said Katie Choe, chief engineer for the Public Works Department.

“The reception to the work has been really good,” Choe said Thursday. “Residents have been closely watching what’s going on. We’ve gotten good feedback on the aesthetic and that we’re updating the ramps and making a better pedestrian environment.”

Rob Whitney, board president at the Beacon Hill Civic Association, said the ramp designs are much better than the original proposals, and cast-iron tactile pads are more durable than plastic models.

He praised the city for trying to blend the work into the existing brick sidewalks.

“I think they’re doing a great job in that area and increasing accessibility in Beacon Hill, which we fully support,” Whitney said. “We’ve been collaborating on the individual designs on each corner. They’ve been very thoughtful in having their engineers look at each corner and do a different plan.”

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Construction began in early April under a $594,322 contract with Fred DeRoma & Son Inc., a road contractor in Roslindale, Choe said. Curbs along Walnut, Beacon, Spruce, and Charles streets are the first to get ramps, the city said, because those roads are scheduled to be repaved this year.

About 240 ramps are needed to make the neighborhood’s sidewalks comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and state requirements, Choe said. Installing the remaining ramps will be timed to coincide with the street paving schedule for Beacon Hill.

“The installation of these newly designed curb ramps in Beacon Hill will provide much-improved access for people with disabilities. They will also increase visibility and safety for crossing the streets,” said Kristen McCosh, the city’s disability commissioner, in a statement. “I appreciate the efforts put forth by all those involved to implement this design for the ramps.”

As of Friday morning, ramps were fully installed at Walnut and Chestnut streets and at Branch and Spruce streets.

Some residents said they don’t like the way the ramps look but acknowledge they’re needed.

Atheline Nixon said she was happy the tactile pads aren’t yellow, as in most other neighborhoods. “I think they’re pretty ugly, but probably necessary,” she said.

John Gallaway, who moved to Beacon Hill last year, likes the cast iron. “I think it helps keep the feel of the neighborhood,” he said.

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James Lee, who has lived on Chestnut Street for 40 years, said he was unaware of dustup over the ramps. “You need them. You got to have them,” he said. “People are getting older and more beat-up.”


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.