Centre/South redesign ‘begins’

August 14, 2009
By

David Taber

Community focused on Monument Sq. area at meeting

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The redesign of Centre and South Streets is official following a public meeting July 15 at Curtis Hall on 20 South St. introducing the community to city-hired consultants and the project’s 12-member citizen’s advisory group.

The July 15 meeting—and official commencement of the Centre and South Street Corridor Transportation and Streetscape Action Plan—follows a May meeting of the advisory group and two community-wide brainstorming sessions beginning in November of last year.

The consulting team will be led by transportation engineers and planners McMahon Associates, along with landscape architects Von Grossman & Co. and engineering firm HDR Engineering.

The planning process is proposed to run through 2010, with some improvement work to begin shortly thereafter. One part of the project, major redesigns of the intersections at Centre and South streets at Monument Square; Centre Street and S. Huntington Avenue; and Hyde Square, are only planned to make it through the preliminary design phase in the process.

For now, the consultants led the community and the advisory group in a “visioning” session to build on broad conversations from previous meetings.

There were only about 30 people at the July 15 meeting, compared to between 40 and 50 at previous brainstorming sessions. And while the redesign is meant to focus on a 2-mile stretch between Forest Hills and Jackson Square, the majority of the “visioning” comments at the July 15 meeting were focused on the stretch of Centre Street between Monument Square and S. Huntington Avenue.

Gupta told the Gazette that future meetings would be held at other locations along the corridor.

The July 15 meeting also lacked a diversity of opinion on one issue that inspired some debate at the November, 2008 meeting: parking.

In a presentation at the recent meeting, Boston Transportation Department Director of Policy and Planning Vineet Gupta said the consultants would work to identify options to improve off-street parking in the business districts along the corridor.

Later in the meeting, advisory group member Laura Ockene pointed out, “No one is commenting about needing more parking,” and suggested that the planners not “go [into the process] with a vision that we need to increase or even maintain parking.”

But last November, on-street parking received a passionate defense from Jeffrey Ferris, who owns the South Street bike shop Ferris Wheels, among others.

“I don’t want you to take parking away from in front of my store because [as a society] we are not there yet,” he said at the time.

While it is unclear how conflicted community feelings about parking will be resolved, Ralph DeNisco from McMahon Associates said the design will include “a corridor-wide bike plan.”

Gupta said, “Our goal is to put in bike lanes. We want to start with bike lanes throughout” and only remove them where they are infeasible.

Other ideas floated at the meeting included a suggestion from advisory group member Michael Reiskind that streetlight poles along the corridor be replaced with wires strung across the streets for hanging lights.

“I am thinking, eliminate all the street light poles,” Reiskind said, saying it would give the district a “European” look, and make snow-plowing easier.

Community members Andrea Howley and Sarah Freeman both spoke in favor of double-acorn lampposts, which break off into two “branches” at the top, each supporting an acorn-shaped light fixture. The fixtures are meant to mimic Victorian gaslights.

Corridor-wide ideas were floated as well. Advisory group members discussed the advisability of planting a single species of tree and advocated for ecological diversity up and down Centre and South Streets.

Michael Epp recommended that all of the street crossings along the corridor be graded at the sidewalk level, to make the flow of pedestrian traffic smoother and slow vehicular traffic heading onto side streets.

But, while a lot of conversation focused on improving pedestrian crossings at Monument Square, very little attention was paid to Hyde Square and the intersection of S. Huntington and Centre, two other major transportation nodes the city said it plans to focus on.

And Reiskind said he would like to see a “pedestrian node” outdoor plaza in the JP Center area.

“The problem is we don’t have one except for the plaza in front of J.P. Licks,” he said.

One of the only comments about other sections of the corridor came from Carlos Shillaci, head of Hyde/Jackson Square Main Streets. He said he would like to see murals in those areas “maintained or enhanced.”