Mayor announces planning process for business streets

November 21, 2008
By

DAVID TABER

JP CENTER—Mayor Thomas Menino announced a new transportation and streetscape planning process for Center and South streets at a ribbon-cutting for the new street clock in front of Citizens Bank Nov. 8.

The goal of the planning process will be an “ultimately healthier and safer place for people to work and walk and do business,” Menino said.

The first planning meeting will be held Dec. 3, at 6 p.m. at the Curley School, 493 Centre St., Colleen Keller, JP Coordinator form the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services told the Gazette.

The process will involve relevant city agencies, including the Boston Transportation and Public Works departments, Nick Martin, a spokesperson from the Mayor’s Office, told the Gazette.

At the ceremony, Menino said the state-run MBTA would also be involved.

A community process to improve the MBTA’s Route 39 bus, which runs along Centre and South streets en route between the Forest Hills and Back Bay T stations, has been in the works for a while. That improvement process is mandated by a lawsuit settlement and is already a year past deadline.

The MBTA recently formed a Working Group to start looking at improvements, which met for the first time, in an unannounced meeting, Oct. 24.

Keller said the MBTA Working Group will continue to hold meetings separate from the city planning process, but the efforts will be coordinated.

“We will work side-by-side on streetscape issues,” Keller said.

Michael Epp, head of the JP Centre/South Main Streets (JP CSMS) Design Committee, said the MBTA’s improvement process and the city’s efforts would be inexorably linked.

Epp noted that a wave of city work on the thoroughfare was completed this fall. The city recently repaved Centre and South streets, covering disused trolley tracks; rebuilt sidewalk ramps along the streets; installed new crosswalks; and redesigned the intersection of Centre and Burroughs streets to include a bump-out where the new clock now stands.

“But that’s not anything close to what the MBTA would do if it starts moving T stops around,” Epp said.

There could be new bump-outs, new crossings, new lighting and even the possibility of the MBTA removing the catenary poles that held the electric cables for the trolley, he said.

Some of those ideas have already been brought up by the state Executive Office of Transportation (EOT), which oversees the MBTA, in the preliminary stages of the Route 39 planning process.

EOT spokesperson Adam Hurtubise agreed with Epp’s analysis. “The timing of the two efforts will work well since transit improvements will often drive streetscape and transportation improvement decision making,” he said.

While Epp said he has not heard specific details about what the city would propose for the process, he said he hopes the scope will include Centre Street all the way to Jackson Square.

“It’s a chance, in a physical way, to tie a string around JP,” he said. Including the Hyde and Jackson square sections of Centre street will give the community the opportunity to develop a design that gives people the sense that “I must be in JP because it looks this way.”

A process of that scope would need to involve Hyde and Jackson squares organizations.

Epp said Jackson Square Partners, a group of local non- and for-profit developers planning a massive revitalization of the Jackson Square area, including extensive streetscape work, would have to be involved.

No outreach has been done to the Jackson Square developers yet because “the city hasn’t given us definite limits” for the planning process, Epp said.

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Menino urged JP residents to participate in the planning process once it gets under way. “I don’t want to hear at the end of the process, ‘Well, I wasn’t there,’” he said, in apparent reference to a recently completed planning process in the neighborhood around the Forest Hills T Station.

That community process, after running for more than a year, was extended through last summer to accommodate local residents who said they had not had a chance to participate. [See related article.]