A Sneak Peak of Our Newly Accessible City Hall Plaza

Various plantings, green shrubs, and trees on the side of Boston City Hall plaza
Boston City Hall Plaza Renovations: progress of plantings and trees along one of the paths as of late June 2022. Photo by Hana Estice, courtesy of Sasaki.

Last Wednesday, the City of Boston’s Boston Disabilities Commission celebrated the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act with a street festival on City Hall Plaza, which is nearing the finish line on a renovation project that will deliver major accessibility upgrades. 

Music filled the air as folks meandered through the resource fair and picked up information on immigration services, volunteer opportunities and even flyers with details on how to get around during the Orange Line shutdown.

people meander through the south side of City Hall with some under a white tent and others by an MBTA bus
ADA Day festivities on the south side of City Hall Plaza, where folks could get information and meet various community and city groups serving the disability community.

Isreal and Biadi pose infront of an MBTA bus
MBTA employees, Israel Vasquez (left) and Biadi (right) brought a T bus to demonstrate how the ramp works and give folks a chance to try it out for themselves. Vasquez shared the T’s System-Wide Accessibility office works in partnership with the City of Boston’s Disabilities Commission to offer trainings and familiarize folks with accessibility measures at transit stations.

Kristen McCosh, City of Boston Disabilities Commissioner, told StreetsblogMASS that after the Orange Line shutdown announcement, they began working with the T on a daily basis to ensure the disability community was considered.

“When the Orange Line announced it was shutting down, we got right to work with them to ensure that buses were accessible, the shuttles were accessible.” 

chris poses by one of the welcome tables
Chris Morawski, Constituent Support Specialist with the Disabilities Commission, offered a range of informational resources and even free at-home Covid-19 test kits during the city’s ADA Day celebration.

“We really kind of think of (ADA Day) more like a party and a celebration of the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is definitely one of the bigger community events in the local disability community,” said Chris Moraski, a constituent support specialist for the city’s Disabilities Commission.

In a speech to the gathering, Kristen McCosh, City of Boston Disabilities Commissioner, described City Hall Plaza as a place that “traditionally has been really difficult for people with disabilities to navigate.”

McCosh acknowledged how far the City’s efforts around accessibility have come since she was first appointed back in 2010, when adding one accessible path in the plaza was considered a huge win. 

“Today the city is saying, ‘No, we’re not just having the path, we’re having the whole plaza be accessible,’” said McCosh.

a cloth MBTA system maps with red, orange, green, purple and gray ribbons representing different train lines
Tactile map of the MBTA subway network by the agency’s System-Wide Accessibility office where each train line is represented by a different textured ribbon and each black bead represents a transit station.

The project, designed by Sasaki, faced significant accessibility challenges within the plaza space, where there’s a the 30-foot difference in elevation between Congress Street and Cambridge Street. 

The construction has experienced delays throughout the pandemic, but when it’s complete, folks will have access to City Hall through a new north entrance, which is being expanded and made accessible as part of the project. 

Many of the granite steps, a key feature of the old plaza, have been removed, and will be replaced with what McCosh describes as  “a series of sloped walkways.”

Once the larger plaza is complete, the next area in City Hall to see accessibility improvements will be the southern side of City Hall, where the city’s ADA celebration was held.

a large wooden shade structure with the sky in the background and people walking and rolling under and in front of it
A partial view of the area on the southside of City Hall where the event’s speakers addressed attendees and where future accessibility improvements, like brick replacement, are set to take place. Replacing the existing bricks which currently have large gaps between them with smoother bricks set closer together reduces chances of breakage and gives wheelchair users a smoother surface to ride on.

“We haven’t reached the finish line yet. But we’re making really good progress. It’s coming around the corner, and we’re really looking forward to that,” said Fiske Crowell, Principal with Sasaki.

No official opening date has been announced yet. You can also track the project’s progress from a webcam mounted on City Hall.

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