NEW BEDFORD (CBS) – What looks on the surface like a simple way to keep people and panhandlers off a median strip has turned into a controversy in New Bedford.
It’s a new section of cobblestone, but instead of being flat, the stones stick up. It’s a median strip where Pleasant Street crosses Route 6, an area where there have been a lot of accidents.
“About a year and a half ago there was someone out there panhandling and somebody stopped to give him some money and whenever they went to cross the street they got struck by a car,” one man said.
This design means people can’t really stand on the median strip and that worries some elected officials. They claim it’s a potentially harmful way to deter panhandling.
“I believe it’s called hostile architecture,” said New Bedford City Councilor Hugh Dunn.
Dunn wrote a letter of protest to the city’s mayor, signed by two other councilors arguing against what they call “spiked” cobblestones and calling for more action to help the homeless.
“We shouldn’t be spending tax dollars on things that are designed to inflict harm on others,” Dunn told WBZ.
Though Mayor Jon Mitchell wouldn’t talk to WBZ on camera, his office sent a statement saying: “The improved median strip is intended to address an increasingly dangerous situation where people walking along the median have put both themselves and motorists at risk.”
The city has also put jersey barriers on some median strips to keep people off them. City Councilor Scott Lima, who favors deterring panhandling, says the barriers are better than the cobblestones.
“I just think from a functional standpoint the jersey barriers make more sense than having cobblestones that are placed at an angle where people could get hurt,” Lima said.
New Bedford’s City Council has also decided to place signs around the city asking residents not to give panhandlers money, but rather to donate to charities that help the homeless and mentally ill.