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To Deter Roadway Panhandling, New Bedford Leaves No Stone Unturned

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Daniel Ackerman
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Upturned cobblestones at the intersection of Route 6 and Pleasant Street in New Bedford.

The busy convergence of Route 6, Pleasant Street and Foster Street in New Bedford is known locally as the Octopus. It’s a popular intersection for people to solicit aid from drivers waiting at the lengthy red light.

But the city is making it harder to panhandle there.

Workers recently rotated the Belgian blocks (commonly called cobblestones) in one of the intersection’s raised medians. The stones now stick straight into the air, like the vertical pillars at Stonehenge.

Mayor Jon Mitchell said the move was meant to discourage pedestrians, including those panhandling, from walking along the narrow median amid fast-moving traffic.

It hasn’t had the desired effect.

This week, a man named Scotty continued to solicit from the median, just as he has for the last year since losing his job. He’s gotten used to hopping among the tops of the stones. “But I pray to God I don’t fall” amid the traffic, he said.

Scotty called the upturned cobblestones “nonsense” and said the mayor should instead focus on more urgent issues, like better serving the city’s unhoused population.

This is the second time the city has reset the same stones in attempt to repel pedestrians from the median. In 2018, workers rotated the previously-flat blocks 45 degrees, so that the edges faced upwards.

The New Bedford Light reports the city has spent $44,000 resetting cobblestone medians citywide since 2017.