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Beacon Hill commission should yield on ramps for disabled

A blind man pauses on Beacon Hill.

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

A blind man pauses on Beacon Hill.

Like every historic neighborhood, Beacon Hill makes certain common-sense concessions to modern times. Cars instead of carriages park under the stately old elms. Instead of forming a period-appropriate bucket brigade in emergencies, firefighters tap into the hydrants that line the sidewalks.

But ramps for people with disabilities? That, apparently, is going too far for some preservation absolutists in the neighborhood. “We don’t want prominent things people will see commonly to smack of modernity,” said one local official, explaining why the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission was blocking the installation of 259 pedestrian ramps.

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The ramps, which are required to bring the city into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, aren’t mere conveniences. They’re lifelines to elderly and disabled people who might not otherwise be able to navigate the sidewalk. But the commission objected to the bright yellow strips, which help people with weak vision see the ramps. The city offered to use a terra cotta shade instead — as it has in the South End historic district — but the commission is holding out for a gray color, which would be so hard to see it would defeat the purpose. They also wanted the ramps built in expensive granite instead of concrete.

Historic preservation is important for Boston. But so is livability, and it’s unfair to ask the disabled to make disproportionate sacrifices to keep Beacon Hill quaint. If the neighborhood can allow “prominent things” like cars, it can survive a few ramps, too. Mayor Walsh rightly condemned the commission’s stance and vowed to find a way around it. Let’s hope he succeeds.

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