‘Radical’ designs for squares unveiled

February 5, 2010

John Ruch

“Radical” redesigns of Jamaica Plain’s key Hyde and Monument Squares were presented by planners at the Jan. 28 meeting of the city’s JP Centre/South Action Plan citizens advisory group.

The redesign ideas generally involve adding much more green space to the asphalt-heavy intersections. Hyde Square could become a true rotary or a T-shaped intersection. Monument Square could have a greatly enlarged grassy island or even a large park with a T intersection.

“The potential to make this a Kodak moment in Boston history is incredible,” said advisory group member Michael Epp.

Those redesigns are still in the early, totally conceptual phase, with no construction timeline. The brainstorming is part of the overall Action Plan, which will put in place design guidelines for all of Centre and South streets through JP. Part of the process will result in new construction as early as this year, while others will wait until some unknown future when money becomes available.

Hyde and Monument Squares are two areas getting special, more specific design attention in the Action Plan. Project consultants McMahon and Associates at the meeting proposed two more areas for the same sort of detailed redesign: a Hyde/Jackson Square strip of Centre between JP Plaza and Mozart Park, and the JP Center commercial strip.

The advisory group agreed with the Hyde/Jackson suggestion. But there were several suggestions that Canary Square at the Centre/S. Huntington Avenue intersection would be better than JP Center for redesign. The group and the planners will talk further before any spots are finalized.

One improvement that could happen as soon as this summer is bicycle lanes on Centre between Canary and Monument Squares. The idea is to narrow the traffic lanes and add 5-foot-wide bike lanes on either side of Centre.

“It’s possible we could do that this year or next year,” said Vineet Gupta, director of policy and planning at the Boston Transportation Department. “It makes a proactive statement to support bicycles.”

But some of the neighborhood’s biggest bicycle advocates threw cold water on the idea. Paul Schimek, a transportation planner and former manager of the City of Boston’s bicycle program, and Jeffrey Ferris, owner of the Ferris Wheels Bike Shop, both said that bike lanes like these can create a false sense of safety and actually create more accidents. “Dooring,” where a bicycle hits a suddenly opened car door, is a major concern, they said.

Schimek said that shared car/bike lanes with proper signs and markings—along with equal police ticketing of law-breaking bicyclists—would be much safer than separate bike lanes.

Accommodating bicycles one way or another is a major goal of the Action Plan and all new City of Boston street-planning efforts. The group agreed to discuss the possibilities further.

Another part of the Action Plan will be under way this weekend: a survey of people on Centre and South streets to find out why and how they came there. The surveying will be carried out Feb. 6, 9 and 10, with another round during warmer weather. A first attempt at the surveying in December failed due to lack of volunteers, according to a Boston Redevelopment Authority planner.

‘Radical’ designs

Planners presented four “radical” redesigns for both Hyde and Monument Squares. In practice, that meant two recommended designs for each intersection. The planners likely will go ahead with more detailed versions of those designs. The advisory group eventually will select one redesign for each square.

The advisory group had little time to discuss the redesigns. The meeting started late, had a lot of topics and placed the major redesigns last on the agenda. The Monument Square redesigns almost were not presented at all until advisory group and audience members insisted on seeing them.

Either redesign of Hyde Square—the intersection of Centre, Perkins and Day streets—would enlarge the sidewalk in front of the old Milky Way and current Ultra Beauty Salon building, and place a large park-like area in front of the Sorella’s restaurant area.

One design creates a full rotary with large islands and short pedestrian crossings. The other makes a T intersection of Centre and Perkins, with Day redirected into Perkins. That would create a giant bump-out for art or green space into the square.

Ideas for Monument Square—the intersection of Centre, South and Eliot streets—focus on enlarging the grassy triangle with its historic Soldier’s Monument.

One design simply makes the triangle bigger and opens it up to pedestrians, while adding some bump-outs around the square. The truly radical second option creates a large park by attaching the Monument triangle to the land in front of the First Church in Jamaica Plain Unitarian Universalist. That would erase a large chunk of Centre and turn the square into a T intersection of Centre and South.