BROOKLINE — To educate Brookline residents, businesses and property owners about their responsibility to help the Town keep sidewalks passable for all pedestrians, the Department of Public Works has teamed up with the Commission on Disability to create an informative Public Rights of Way fact sheet.
The COVID-19 public health emergency has underscored the importance of preserving and enhancing Brookline’s walkability, which is also the focus of the Town’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee. “Walkability” must embrace the diversity of Brookline residents and visitors, including those with mobility issues requiring wheelchairs and walkers, the visually impaired, and those using strollers and shopping carts.
“One of Brookline’s top assets is our pedestrian network, connecting our parks, commercial areas, schools, and other destinations for business and pleasure,” said Erin Chute Gallentine, Brookline Commissioner of Public Works. “But it is so easy to erode the accessibility of our sidewalks with overgrown vegetation, improperly parked vehicles and bicycles, rubbish bins left out too long, and accumulations of snow and ice. It is every property owner’s responsibility to maintain adequate passage along adjacent sidewalks and through curb cuts.”
The publication of the new Public Rights of Way fact sheet is one facet of a multi-pronged strategy to improve awareness and streamline enforcement of Brookline’s “Obstructions” bylaw, and advance compliance with state and federal law and standards. It is currently common, particularly in residential neighborhoods of Brookline, to see overgrown hedges and tree branches intruding upon the area that is to be kept obstruction-free wherever possible: 48 inches of sidewalk width, and 80 inches of clearance above it.
The Town has created a door hanger that inspectors will use to notify property owners of verified complaints, which will start the clock ticking on a 21-day window for coming into compliance before incurring fines. But the emphasis is on education first, as many owners may not be aware that pedestrians, particularly those with disabilities, may not be able to proceed if they face inadequate width or are unable to dodge an obstacle. The best approach is prevention—for example, keeping a hedge neat and trim within your property boundary can prevent the need for unsightly overdue pruning, and shoveling snow promptly can prevent treacherous ice from forming.
Residents and others who encounter sidewalk obstructions are encouraged to report them using the Report A Concern web form, or by downloading the BrookOnline mobile app, both available from the Town of Brookline homepage. Select the “Sidewalk Obstruction” option under Public Works, or select “Other” and “Handicapped Accessibility” under Miscellaneous and then the “Handicapped Accessibility” Request Type.