Portland, ME, is an example of what can be done to keep the legacy of brick sidewalks intact while satisfying the needs of the disabled. I looked into how Portland accomplished this feat.
I spoke with people who are or were in city government and who helped to shape the city’s policy. In the 1970s the city decided to preserve and repurpose the old buildings built in the 1860s. The city saw value in this area and developed a Sidewalk Material Policy (revised in 2010) to insure that it kept its brick sidewalk legacy to complement the historic buildings.
People began to be drawn to the area as a consequence of the preservation of the city’s architectural history and, as the city revived, new businesses and restaurants slowly began to open until Portland became the vibrant city once more that it had been in the mid-19th century.
Authenticity of materials is important in the historic districts. In these districts bricks are required (with an exception for industrial sites if so elected). Over the years the city has tried different types of brick and methods of installation. Brick now used that evolved from the process is still molded brick but, unlike legacy brick, is flatter and more uniform which means a better surface for the disabled and for snow plowing. Texture has been added to the bricks to make them less slippery.
Portland’s sidewalk policy assures maintenance of both brick sidewalks and ramps in the historic district. If brick is removed for construction, either on the flats or the ramps, then the sidewalks and ramps are restored with brick after the construction is completed. Concerning the ramps, assuming a less than 10% incline (universally the case for Cambridge ramps), either wire cut brick or modified molded brick (as described above) can be used and meets the needs of the disabled.
Cambridge could also do this. It is difficult to put a precise dollar value on maintaining historic districts which draw many visitors to our city. However, if you walk through Harvard Square and Harvard Yard you get the feeling for the draw of our history. The many visitors to this area spend money in our restaurants and other retail businesses. It is important to maintain these areas to preserve the legacy that draws so many visitors from around the country and the world.
Below is a photo of a beautiful brick ramp on Brattle Street.
Pouring asphalt over brick sidewalks is not the answer. Asphalt may be acceptable as a temporary fix but in many instances around Cambridge, it has been the fix for years. Below is one of our streets patched with asphalt.
Support to maintain our brick walk legacy is necessary and should be a partnership in the city not only for historic preservation but also safe streets for all. Money should not be the issue for the areas that draw so much interest in our city.