‘Radical’ designs discussed

January 8, 2010
By

David Taber

Plans for Monument and Hyde squares coming soon

Months of requests from city planners for “radical” ideas for redesigning Centre and South Streets began to bear fruit at the Dec. 16 meeting of the Jamaica Plain Centre & South Street Corridor Advisory Committee (CAC).

Four CAC members and close to 20 others attendees gathered at the Julia Martin House in Jackson Square gave voice to an array of visions. The most dramatic ideas included shutting down the section of Centre Street that runs between the Civil War Monument and the First Church in JP, Unitarian Universalist in Monument Square.

The roadway could be transformed into green space, said CAC member Michael Halle. “I hope [that is] radical enough for you,” he said.

The CAC spent much of the meeting discussing Monument Square and Hyde Square—two sections of the Centre/South corridor that city planners and the CAC had identified as potential focus areas for major redesigns.

City planners and consultants will come back with design options for them at a meeting this month. They plan to carry out a similar process for two more sections—likely including Canary Square, the intersection of S. Huntington Avenue and Centre Streets—in January and February.

Part of the logic behind singling out particular sections for major redesigns is there is a lot of space to work with, said Ralph DeNisco of planning and engineering firm McMahon Associates, which is working with the city on the community planning process. “These are two places where we think we can make a transformational change,” he said.

“Historically, there is too much asphalt,” was how Lauren Ockene described Hyde and Monument Squares.

The traffic islands at both locations could be expanded and “restored as public space,” she said.

CAC member David Worrell said that whatever happens in Hyde Square, it should be bold. ”Hyde Square is a central location. Any design that comes into Hyde Square should be reflective of that. It needs to be spectacular,” he said.

Halle’s suggestion for Hyde Square was that the traffic island there be redesigned as a rain-water garden. That idea—for a garden planted in shallow depression with water-tolerant plants that can filter rainwater runoff as it absorbs into the soil—harkens back to a similar suggestion made at the first Centre/South redesign meetings in December, 2008.

As he has at previous meetings, Gupta challenged the group to think big. “The scope is to think broadly,” he said. But one suggestion from an audience member—for a dedicated bike lane, with its own curbing, between the parking lane and sidewalk in the Centre Street commercial district—provoked a note of caution from the BTD planner. “It’s not going to be easy to get buy-in [from the city] on that,” he said.

“What’s the matter, it’s not radical enough for you?” Worrell quipped in response.

The planners did announce that they had measured the width of the Centre/South Corridor, and are confident they will be able to add bike lanes, at least on some sections of the corridor.

The curb-to-curb measurements between Jackson and Hyde squares, and between Canary and Monuments are 42 and 45 feet, respectively—likely enough space for bike lanes, Gupta said.

“You can do a whole bunch of things with 45 feet,” he said, offering the example of 10-foot travel lanes, 5-foot bike lanes and 7-foot parking lanes.

The average curb-to-curb width on South Street is only about 38 feet, considerably tighter, he said.

Gupta said future meetings will focus on balancing car, bicycle and pedestrian traffic.

CAC member John Iappini said that a plan by the MBTA to add large bump-outs at Route 39 bus stops along the corridor—a plan he has long opposed—could limit some of those options. “The plan for bus extensions conflicts with what you just said,” he told Gupta.

The CAC also discussed strategies for planting street trees, reducing the amount of sign clutter on the corridor and options for including public art in the redesign.

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