FOREST HILLS—Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) officials asked Forest Hills residents to consider traffic flow and street design in the fifth installment of the Forest Hills Improvement Initiative (FHII) community meetings, Aug. 1.
About 70 community members attended the meeting at the Covenant Congregational Church on the Arborway.
The main topic of the meeting was a discussion of the pros and cons of turning the streets that run around Forest Hills Station¬¬¬—Hyde Park Avenue to the west; New Washington Street to the north; Washington Street to the east; and Ukraine Way to the South—into a counterclockwise one-way circuit.
Preliminary studies show the one-way route would improve traffic capacity through the area, allowing a larger volume of cars to pass through more efficiently, while accommodating the removal of a traffic lane. Cutting the number of lanes from four to three would free up space for other uses, said Daniel Dulaski, chief engineer with Traffic Solutions, a firm hired by the BRA to examine the roadways.
Dulaski also proposed to coordinate traffic signals around the loop to provide a quicker, more pleasant experience for motorists.
Currently there is an 89 percent chance of hitting a red light driving through the area, but the probability could be reduced to 11 percent if the traffic signals were centrally coordinated, Dulaski said.
Unlike many other of the ideas presented at the meeting, signal coordination is relatively cheap and would be easy for the city to implement in the near-term. A representative from the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) said there were no immediate plans to begin work on signal coordination, but that he believed it is a priority for the city.
Gretchen Von Grossman, an urban designer working with a firm called Planner’s Collaborative, presented proposals for on street parking and on-street bike lanes on Hyde Park Avenue, and either bike lanes or off street bike paths on New Washington, Washington and Ukraine.
She also presented the possibility of installing parking lanes and widening sidewalks around the loops, which would, among other things allow more space for street trees.
If the streets remain two-way it would be feasible to expand sidewalks, and possibly add bike paths on the sides of the streets abutting the train station on Washington Street, by moving the stone wall embankments back a few feet.
Generally, though, “It is limited what we can accomplish on the streets,” if extra space is not created by the removal of a lane, Von Grossman said.
In the second part of the meeting, residents were asked to participate in a straw poll by walking around and attach red stickers to different street plan designs they supported. While an official tally was not available, the majority of voters appeared to support plans including one-way streets and off street bike paths.
Some bicycle commuters, however, were less than enthusiastic about the plans.
Roger Winn, who lives off of Hyde Park Avenue and will be commuting to Roslindale on his bike in the fall, said he is particularly concerned about having to loop around New Washington to get to Washington before he can start heading south.
He was especially concerned, he said, when a representative from the MBTA mentioned that the transit Authority plans to re-route the 39 bus through the station so it enters the station on Washington Street and exits onto the left-hand side of New Washington before taking a right onto South Street.
“With the 39 crossing lanes to go right and cars fighting to get over to the left or go straight,” crossing from the right lane to the left in order to turn south on Washington will be a tricky maneuver, Winn said.
“Off-street bike lanes are only good six months out of the year,” Winn said, “They don’t plow them and there’s ice. It’s the myth of the bike path.”
Jeff Ferris, proprietor of Ferris Wheels Bike Shop on South Street, agreed bike paths are overrated. “Bike paths are a nice luxury,” he said, but “every street needs to be accommodating to bikes.”
Some bicycle advocates say they feel on street bike lanes are dangerous, especially those running next to parking spaces, which expose bike riders to the danger of being clipped by people opening their car doors, but Ferris disagrees.
“Its like a crosswalk, it has to be shared with cars. You can’t ride in a bike line and turn your brain off.” Ferris said.
These concerns, Dalzell said, would be considered as plans are studied further and solidified, “The big notion I am taking away from this is the importance of having a bike path,” he said.
The state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) is currently considering options for making the Arborway more bicyclist friendly, Dalzell said.
And one of the main goals of the redesign is to make the loop around the station, which is fed into by the Southwest Corridor bike path and the Arborway, less challenging for bicyclists. “Right now you come off the Emerald Necklace or the Southwest corridor and its like, Oh, my God!” Dalzell said.
Prominent among residents’ concerns about the one-way loop plan is that it will situate MBTA passenger pick up/drop off on the right side of the street, opposite the station.
One resident suggested installing a pedestrian bridge, but Dalzell said a 14-foot high pedestrian bridge requires 160 feet of ramp. “You all would be so mad at me if I did that,” he said.
Also considered at the meeting were preliminary options for the redesign of the intersection of the Arborway and Hyde Park Avenue.
Local resident Sarah Buermann said she has long thought the complicated intersection should be redesigned to improve pedestrian access and, perhaps, beautified. Cleaning up the decrepit area under the Casey Overpass has “always been an ambition of mine. It needs more love,” she told the Gazette.
Other residents shouted in disapproval when one of the preliminary proposals for the intersection redesign showed an access point to the overpass pushed further back into the residential neighborhood on the east side of the Arborway.
Dalzell described both the Arborway/Hyde Park intersection redesign and a somewhat controversial proposal to realign New Washington Street to create more green space on the end of the Southwest Corridor Park, as more capital-intensive long-term projects that would take years to study, find funding for and implement.
He also described the one-way street redesign as mid-term and traffic signal coordination as near-term. Because of the number of different plans proposed, however, and the fact that they are just in the beginning phases of studying them, he was not comfortable defining what near-, mid- and long-term mean, he said. Preliminary timelines will be presented “when we come back and we’ve been able to think things through in more detail,” he said.
The next presentation will also include cost/benefit analyses of different options, Dalzell said.
The subject matter was a departure from previous FHII meetings, which have mostly focused on land use with the goal of defining binding use guidelines for property the MBTA is planning to sell.
While the streetscape proposals described at the meeting would primarily be public works projects undertaken by the city of Boston, developers may be required to help out by doing things like expanding sidewalks in front of their property as requirements of their deeds, Dalzell said.