Grant will help Amherst fix crumbling sidewalk near Bangs Center

  • A close-up photo of the brick and concrete deterioration on Pleasant Walk. —Submitted Photo

  • Pleasant Walk, as seen from North Pleasant Street. —Courtesy Google Maps

Staff Writer
Saturday, January 04, 2020

AMHERST — People who have difficulty walking depend on safe sidewalks to get to downtown stores and restaurants.

But using a pedestrian walkway at the edge of the Boltwood parking garage, which runs between Douglass Funeral Service and the former Starbucks, has become a difficult proposition for some senior citizens who visit the Bangs Community Center, prompting the Council on Aging to inform the Town Council about the deteriorating condition of Pleasant Walk.

“There are numerous places along that walkway where the cement is broken, crumbled and has become a tripping hazard,” Council Chairwoman Rosemary Kofler wrote in a Dec. 12 letter. “This is of particular concern for those with visual problems, mobility issues or anyone using a walker or wheelchair.”

To begin addressing the problem, the town announced Thursday that $44,100 received from the Municipal Americans with Disabilities Act Improvement Grant Program, through the Massachusetts Office on Disability, will go toward renovating this sidewalk and two downtown crosswalks.

Pleasant Walk is used by many to get to and from Clark House, the Bangs Center, which also houses the John P. Musante Health Center, and Ann Whalen, where the offices of the Amherst Housing Authority are located.

The crosswalks that will be replaced are at 76 North Pleasant St., in front of the CVS Pharmacy and extending east to the former Starbucks and Pleasant Walk, and at Cowles Lane at North Pleasant Street, adjacent to Bruegger’s Bagels.

Work on the projects is expected to be completed this summer.

Pleasant Walk was last refurbished more than 15 years ago, when it was funded by a $60,000 appropriation from Town Meeting in 2003. At that time, the walkway used a new design standard that was supposed to be in place throughout downtown, with bricks marking the edges of a smooth concrete walkway designed to minimize the potential for stumbling. Over time, though, the bricks often popped loose and needed to be set back in place, and various potholes developed in the concrete and granite surface.

The funding doesn’t address another concern raised by the Council on Aging, which is that the walk signals at the North Pleasant, South Pleasant, Amity and Main streets intersection do not last long enough for many people to make a full crossing of the roads, forcing pedestrians to cross diagonally and outside of the crosswalks, and not in view or hearing range of the signals.

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said officials are looking into solutions for that, though the grant won’t address that problem.

Kofler’s letter notes the importance of the town participating in the Healthy Aging and Age-Friendly Community Initiative, a collaboration among the World Health Organization, AARP and the Massachusetts Healthy Aging Collaborative.

“We would like to see Amherst work on becoming an Age-Friendly town with sidewalks and crossings that are safe for older people and those with disabilities,” Kofler wrote.

Senior Planner Maureen Pollock, the staff liaison to the Disability Access Advisory Committee, is serving as the project manager for the work and for updating the ADA Self-Evaluation and Transition Plan, which will lead to a list of prioritized projects to improve ADA compliance.

“This plan will identify operational, structural and communication barriers that limit the participation of people with disabilities,” Pollock said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.