Prescription for clogged traffic arteries planned

May 19, 2008
By

DAVID TABER

FOREST HILLS—If the congested roadways around the Forest Hills T station were veins and arteries feeding a human heart, the person whose blood it is pumping would be just a few short steps from the operating table.

It would be high time to consider a diet heavy in fiber and light on cholesterol, and probably a new exercise regimen.

That was the message delivered by Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA)-hired traffic consultants at the seventh meeting of the Forest Hills Improvement Initiative (FHII) April 30.

The area is slated for intensive redevelopment in the coming years—development that, if successful, will increase the volume of traffic the area sees.

But there are plenty of improvements that could be made to move motor vehicles through the area and encourage walking and biking, according to Dan Dulaski of Traffic Solutions and Gretchen Von Grossman of Gretchen Von Grossman Associates and the Planners Collaborative.

The FHII—a now over year-and-a-half-long, BRA-led community process—is an effort to develop use and design guidelines for a number of parcels around the station and transportation improvement guidelines for the area.

The MBTA plans to open four of those parcels—about 6 acres of land—around the station to development this summer. Close to 400 residential units and 64,000 square feet of retail space could potentially be developed if the Use and Design Guidelines developed in the process are followed.

The process also considered potential uses for two other lots that are not slated for immediate redevelopment—part of the Arborway Yard bus lot and a privately owned parking lot known as the Fitzgerald lot.

“By and large, what is really incredible is the impact is going is going to be very small compared to the [increased] capacity,” BRA Senior Architect John Dalzell, who is running the FHII process and lives in JP, said of the traffic study findings.

Currently, about 1,800 cars move through the Forest Hills area during the peak morning rush; about 1,300 on Hyde Park Avenue/Washington Street on the east side of the station and about 700 on the west side, where South Street turns into Washington Street heading south to Roslindale, Dulaski said at the meeting.

The traffic-volume increases generated by the new developments during morning and evening peak hours for most of the proposed development sites are projected to be between 1 and 6 percent.

The biggest volume increases will be during the evening rush at the Arborway Yard community land. The community guidelines propose a small grocery store for that site. That and other proposals would raise the volume of vehicles entering and exiting the site by 30 percent.

Those projections are based on the assumption that 50 percent of new trips generated by the new development will be on foot or by bicycle, he said.

Traffic Solutions’s short-term recommendations for the area are, in part, based on making the roadways around the station more comprehensible to motorists and pedestrians by improving signage and pavement markings.

“What you really want to do is establish a pattern language,” Dulaski said.

For example, all crosswalks should be clearly marked with zebra stripes, and dotted lines guiding motorists through intersections can reinforce signs and street markings describing turning restrictions, he said.

Traffic Solutions also recommended that short-term congestion relief could be gained by coordinating the traffic signals around the station. The Boston Transportation Department (BTD) has already begun that work on the east side of the station, Dulaski said.

There is a 50 percent chance today that a car rolling along Hyde Park Avenue between Walk Hill Street and the intersection of Washington and New Washington Street will hit a red light. That is down from an 88 percent chance before those signals were synchronized, he said.

Congestion could be relieved on the west side of the station if taxi drivers are discouraged from their practice of using spaces designated for T rider pick-up and drop-off as a cabstand. Cab stands on the north and east ides of the station are currently underused, and other drivers on South Street are forced to double-park in the travel lane because cabs are in the way.

All of those recommendations were well received by the about 40 meeting attendees, but some expressed skepticism that the city would move on making the improvements.

“The BTD should have been dealing with these things. We have been living with this for 20 years,” said Bernie Doherty, president of the Asticou/Matinwood/South Neighborhood Association.

Vineet Gupta, a senior planner with the Boston Transportation Department, said he disagreed that the BTD had been ignoring the area.

The department does do regular maintenance work in the area, Gupta said, and as for the improvements, the proposals are “running through BTD even as we speak. You should already see the improvements on Hyde Park Avenue. I would like you to look at this optimistically.”
Long-term plans

Dulaski and Von Grossman also discussed more substantial, long-term proposals for the area, including a proposal, unveiled at the November FHII meeting, to turn the roadways around the station into a one-way loop.

The proposal would turn Hyde Park Avenue/Washington Street to the east of the station, Ukraine Way to the south, Washington/South Street to the west and New Washington Street to the north into one-way streets

Traffic Solutions is currently studying the feasibility of a number of different loop plans including clockwise and counter-clockwise loops and the possibility of having two lanes of traffic going in one direction and one lane in the other, Dulaski said.

“We looked at it, and it requires further study, but we have not kicked it to the curb,” Dulaski said.

The main advantage of looping traffic around the station is the streets could be laid out with three lanes instead of four. That could potentially make room for bike lanes, on-street parking and wider sidewalks around the station, Von Grossman said.

Von Grossman also discussed a number of other proposals:

• Reorganizing the streetscape sprawling intersections at New Washington and South Street and New Washington and Washington.

• A major redesign of pedestrian walkways under Casey Overpass.

• Extensions of the Southwest Corridor bike/pedestrian path east to Franklin Park, and south through Forest Hills Station and along Washington Street to Ukraine Way.

The southbound bike path would run across the plaza on the north side of the station, which Von Grossman proposed could itself be redesigned to include kiosks catering to commuters.

Moving forward

The BTD is currently working to implement some of the most basic transportation improvements, and the next step will be the development of a “25 percent” early draft construction document, Dalzell said at the meeting.

That plan will include things like new crosswalks and neckdowns—curb build-outs that reduce the length of pedestrian crossings.

Work on those improvements will likely begin in the next year, he told the Gazette.

The more grandiose proposals, including the bike path extensions and the one-way loop, will be considered over a much longer timeframe, he said.

And while the FHII planning process is winding down, Dalzell told the Gazette, there will be plenty more community meetings to attend.

“The next phase [of transportation planning] will run concurrent with project development [at the parcels the MBTA is selling],” Dalzell said. “Once we have potential developers we will start working on a district-wide plan,” he said.

With specific proposals from developers on the table, it will be easier to determine what specific transportation improvements to make, he said, and the developers will also likely be expected to help fund those public works projects. Other funding sources could include city and state capital funds.