Walking to pond to get easier

July 10, 2009
By

JOHN RUCH

Traffic light, rotary changes for J’Way

PONDSIDE/JAMAICA HILLS—Walking to Jamaica Pond Park could become a walk in the park—or at least less dan-gerous—thanks to three pedestrian and bicycle access improvements planned for key spots on the Jamaicaway and Parkman Drive. The ideas were presented at a community meeting last week held by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and the Emerald Necklace Conservancy (ENC).

The work will begin moving the Jamaicaway “back to what this parkway is all about,” state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez told the audience of about 45 people at the July 1 meeting at Arnold Arboretum. “It’s a parkway, not a highway.”

One fix—installing a traffic light and crosswalk on the Jamaicaway at Eliot Street—is a priority and probably will happen this fall, according to DCR officials.

A massive change to Kelly Circle—the complex rotary where the Jamaicaway meets the Arborway, Parkman Drive and Pond and Prince streets—is possible as well. Community consensus supported a plan to remove a lane of the rotary and add a large strip of green space to it—enhancing pedestrian access, but also raising con-cerns of more traffic congestion and spillover onto other streets.

A third proposal would put a crosswalk across Parkman Drive, between the virtually inaccessible Francis Parkman Memorial and the pond. But that mid-block crossing idea was widely criticized as dangerous, no mat-ter how it is arranged. Planners may look at improving the Parkman/Perkins Street intersection instead.

While Jamaica Pond is a top local park, there are only three pedestrian crossings—spaced 1,500 to 2,000 feet apart—connecting it with the neighborhood across the Jamaicaway, the park’s front-door access point. Illegal, dangerous crossings are common, especially at Eliot Street.

At the same time, the four-lane Jamaicaway has become a major roadway, used by nearly 39,000 vehicles a day and choked with traffic about one-third of every weekday, according to the DCR-hired design firm Fay, Spofford & Thorndike (FST). Speeding is common.

The Jamaicaway’s tree-lined, serpentine design is the only clue that it is technically a “parkway”—a state park with a road running through it. Local parkways and Jamaica Pond Park were designed more than a century ago by Frederick Law Olmsted. [See related article on DCR maintaining control of the parkways.]

Various plans for reducing the ever-growing impact of car traffic on the parkways have sprung up in recent years, starting with the DCR’s Arborway Master Plan. That dormant effort, which proposed large-scale redesigns of the Arboway’s three rotaries, was highly contro-versial, especially for possibly forcing traffic onto neighborhood streets.

Smaller-scale fixes have proven more popular, including the grassroots proposals that led to the ongoing “Gateway to the Arborway” project. The Jamaica Pond Park access improvements are intended as another relatively small-scale fix. The goals are improving pedestrian/bicycle access; calming traffic at key spots; and preserving or increasing green space.

The meeting attendees—many of them longtime, highly vocal parkway advocates—still had disagreements about the project’s vision. Some wanted more drastic or large-scale design changes. Some wanted solutions for other parts of the parkway. Some wanted more attention to bicyclists, while others argued for keeping traffic moving.

But as the crowd separated into small groups for a discussion period, Sánchez noted to the Gazette that it was a triumph just to get so many advocates talking together after years of controversies.

Presented with two design options for each of the three pedestrian hotspots, the meeting attendees were able to reach a rough consensus on favored plans.

• Eliot/Jamaicaway intersection. The plan calls for a traffic light and crosswalk, with a possible curb extension at the spot Pond Street enters the Jamaicaway. While most illegal pedestrian crossings are now on the west side of the intersection, where a traffic median gives walkers safe haven, the meeting attendees favored putting the crossing on the east side, where the road is narrower.

• Kelly Circle. The general plan is improving the pedestrian crossing at Parkman Drive with a crosswalk and better signage, plus adding painted traffic lanes to the rotary. Meeting attendees favored a large-scale increase in green space that would remove a lane of the ro-tary and make it a tighter circle, to slow traffic. A large curb extension would make the pedestrian crossing shorter. The other proposal was limited to enlarging an existing traffic island at the crossing.

“If you were designing this from scratch, you wouldn’t have all those curves in there,” said FST vice president Gary Hebert of the rotary. He acknowledged that reducing the lanes would slow traffic, but said FST studies indicated that will not drive significant numbers of cars onto neighborhood streets.

• Parkman Memorial crossing. The large stone memorial to historian Francis Parkman, surrounded by a wide lawn, is currently inaccessi-ble. FST offered two plans for a crosswalk—one near the memorial, and one farther down Parkman Drive with a path leading to the memorial. Meeting attendees favored the second option as more visible to drivers. But the real consensus was that both options are unsafe, and that improvements at the Parkman/Perkins intersection make more sense. Hebert said FST was ordered to look only at Parkman Drive, so a Perkins Street crossing would require more research.

The ENC has been leading the planning effort under a matching funds grant from DCR. The budget for actual construction remains fuzzy. DCR officials said that they placed $250,000 into the agency’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget. But previous estimates for the Eliot Street light/crosswalk alone have ranged from $500,000 to $1 million.

FST will refine the proposals—including more specific cost information—and return for another community meeting in September. The Eliot Street crossing is DCR’s priority, and work on that could begin in October, according to DCR officials.

The entire design proposals, including all alternative options, is available online at www.mass.gov/dcr. Written comments are being accepted through July 15 at dcr.updates@state.ma.us.