Cobblestone Contest

A very literal streets of Salem post today. A repaving project on Lynn and River Streets in the largest of our historic districts uncovered a subsurface of cobblestones at the streets’ intersection, which several residents want to keep uncovered: for historic, aesthetic, and traffic-related reasons. The City wants them paved over (again), so we have a standoff, and quite a public one at that: there have been stories in all the local newspapers and a piece on one of the Boston television stations. I’m not impartial on this one: I think we should take up all of the pavement and have cobblestones everywhere, or at the very least cobblestone crosswalks in the city’s historic districts. Chestnut Street, the widest in the city, has not one crosswalk (cobblestone or otherwise) to slow down the SUV-driving, phone-adhered-to-their (Marble)head commuters barreling through our neighborhood on their way home. The River Street residents are employing the traffic-calming argument, which I think is a good one, especially as the particular intersection in question transitions traffic from a major artery into a neighborhood–and smooth pavement will make this transition all too speedy–not a transition at all. City officials have cited safety concerns (for bicycles–and this in a city which has a bike lane between two car lanes–but baby carriages and wheelchairs were mentioned as well) and I’m sure cost is a factor. I think a compromise is in the works: the city engineer as offered two 30″ strips of cobblestones at the end of each street to give people an “indication that they are entering into a historic neighborhood”. Sounds like a precedent to me–although I’m a bit wary: a similar cobblestone contest played out in a Brooklyn neighborhood a few years ago, and its compromise solution was the replacement of the old cobblestones with new, machine-cut ones, which I’m not sure are cobblestones at all.

Cobblestones 020

Cobblestones 022

Cobblestones 026

River Street Flag

cobblestones Brooklyn NYT

Cobblestones at the intersection of River and Lynn Streets in Salem and a River Street flag; the old cobblestones of Brooklyn, Β© New York Times; you can see the television piece here.

Update: The Mayor has written to the neighbors informing them of the resumption of work at the intersection, which will involve not only the installation of the aforementioned strips, but also an additional triangular buffer–all comprised of the old cobblestones (which she appropriately calls “Belgian blocks”–see comments below). Sounds like a good compromise to me.


6 responses to “Cobblestone Contest

  • Helen sides

    In fact these are not cobblestones either. They are Belgian blocks. Cobblestones are the beautifully laid naturally rounded stones like in front of your house. πŸ™‚

    • daseger

      I thought those were river stones! Thanks Hobby–I should have done my research: I kept seeing the references to Belgian blocks in the NY stories but it seemed to be used interchangeably with cobblestones.

  • Matt

    I lived in Newport, RI, for years without feeling their cobblestone streets impedeing my biking habits. That was pre-ADA, but they were still there last I checked. Of course, we are “not from Salem”, so I am not sure these observations carry much weight.

  • William Lach

    the only thing I got out of Wed. meeting is that the City engineer is blowing smoke screens at the residents.
    as an engineering understudy with a professional registered structural engineer for 9 yrs, you never lay street cobbles on the flat.

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