Debate reignited over design of New Bedford median to deter panhandlers

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WLNE) – A center median at a busy New Bedford intersection is causing controversy yet again.

The city recently dug up the median at Pleasant Street and Route 6 and reinstalled the stones, putting them upright, to deter panhandlers.

Back in 2018, the city initially installed angled stones on the median, and the decision stirred up controversy. New Bedford City Councilman Hugh Dunn sent a letter to the mayor at the time.

“I don’t know why we pour more resources into something that’s not working,” Dunn said Monday. “The first time they spiked the cobblestones, about two years ago, it didn’t work. There’s much better uses of our resources.”

Dunn said the city should invest the money spent to restructure the median on infrastructure and resources for the homeless.

“If we’re gonna be pouring infrastructure into something, it should be our roads. Spiking cobblestones is really no deterrent to addiction, poverty, mental health issues…that’s not gonna make somebody less desperate. What we should be doing is investing more in the resources that these people need to get back on their feet.

“This is a cruel and unusual way to treat people that live in the city that are experiencing extreme poverty, that we should be trying to give people a hand up and not making public roadways more dangerous for them,” Dunn added.

He said he fears there will be serious safety consequences.

“I think about people who are cyclists, maybe they have to lean on the median to catch their balance…now the thing is essentially booby-trapped. I just can’t imagine a scenario where I would take public resources and make the city more dangerous.”

A homeless man spoke to ABC6 off-camera, saying he lost his job during the pandemic. The median is his regular spot, and he was standing on the jagged stones on Monday.

He said he won’t be moving locations.

“People panhandle. They have a constitutional right to do it. I’d rather see them getting services and getting, you know, back on their feet. To make the city more dangerous for those people is just the wrong approach,” Dunn said. “In a time where people are experiencing unprecedented poverty in a pandemic to be spending money to make our public roadways more dangerous is absurd.”

ABC6 reached out to the mayor’s office and received the following statement:

“Walking along the narrow median of a major roadway, for whatever purpose, is an inherently dangerous activity.   To protect pedestrians and motorists alike, the City installed obstacles on medians at certain intersections several years ago.  Recently the City repaired and upgraded the median at the intersection of Purchase Street and Kempton Street (Route 6) to improve its effectiveness.  If other dangerous intersections can be made safer, the City will not hesitate to continue to undertake necessary improvements.”

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Categories: Massachusetts, New Bedford, News, Regional News, Rhode Island