Traffic “think tank” speeds ahead

November 17, 2006
By

JOHN RUCH

Traffic, parking, bicycling and pedestrian safety—everybody in Jamaica Plain talks about them, but few people can do anything about them.

A new JP-wide Traffic and Parking Committee (TPC), uniting major decision-makers, is aiming to change all that and asking residents to join in.

“It’s a big think tank, but it’s working,” said Officer Mike Santry, auto investigator at the local E-13 Police Station, which formed the group as part of its strategic planning efforts.

The monthly meetings now include police, a Boston Transportation Department representative, elected officials, business associations, occasional MBTA official visits and dozens of residents.

“It really deals with all elements of transportation,” said TPC chair Michael Halle, a bicycling activist and former Cambridge traffic calming expert who now lives on Wyman Street. “I’m upbeat and enthusiastic, but also realistic.”

Slowly gearing up over the past six months, the TPC has already accomplished some changes. That includes re-signing much of Jackson Square as two-hour parking to halt long-term commuter parking on local streets, and scoring a traffic count on Amory Street in the Brookside neighborhood as part of a possible anti-speeding project.

Halle said the name is somewhat misleading, because bike and pedestrian issues are also fair game. The group will tackle anything from a busted sidewalk to full-scale redesigns of street systems, he said.

“So many people in JP get around without cars, and hopefully more will,” Halle said. “One of my favorite things I’d like to see are more bike racks in front of businesses along Centre Street.”

TPC focuses on what Halle calls “the three Es”—education, engineering and enforcement. And it works by putting actual decision-makers together in the same room, so action follows.

Targeted police enforcement alone, Halle said, just means that “everyone becomes a traffic angel” while the cops are there, and a devil again once they’re gone. But enforcement combined with good planning and educating residents and businesses can work, he said.

In Cambridge, Halle chaired official city advisory groups on traffic and bicycling/pedestrian issues—including promoting equal law enforcement on bicyclists, who often break traffic laws, too.

Cambridge is well-known for its traffic calming efforts, often being cited by JP activists. “It’s good to see the beginnings of this in JP,” Halle said.

He said the Hyde Square Traffic Calming project, a system of speed humps and other devices, partly inspired his involvement in TPC. That project was supposed to be a pilot project for the city, though it was controversial for never really being completed or imitated.

Santry said turnout at TPC is already good, and the set-up fits his personality. “I’m an action guy,” he said. “It’s a big, quality meeting. It’s probably the best interaction we’ve had with the community in any area.”

Residents are welcome to attend and suggest areas that need work. Halle said he’d especially like to hear from representatives of neighborhood associations who could serve as regular liaisons.

TPC meets the third Thursday of every month at 6 p.m. at the E-13 Police Station, 3345 Washington St. For more information, call 343-5634.

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