City gets go-ahead for Monument Sq. redesign

July 23, 2010
By

David Taber


Image courtesy McMahon Associates

MONUMENT SQ.—The city appears set to move forward with plans to at least design a new park at Monument Square following community approval at the July 15 meeting of the Centre/South Street Corridor Advisory Group at the Agassiz Community Center at 20 Child St.

The basic concept is to close off the section of Centre Street flanked by the current Soldier’s Monument lawn in the middle of the intersection of Centre and South streets and the First Church in Jamaica Plain, Unitarian Universalist at the corner of Centre and Eliot streets. The closed roadway would be turned into a pedestrian-oriented “carriage way” that would allow vehicular access for abutters and emergency vehicles.

“Through design, it would function as a street, but it would not look like a street,” Boston Transportation Department (BTD) planner Vineet Gupta said at the meeting.

It would likely be at sidewalk level; be constructed with granite or other materials making it look like a pedestrian area; have trees and other obstructions to encourage vehicles, including bicycles, to move at slow speeds; and have signage indicating it is a pedestrian area, he said.

Monument Square is among three “nodes” that have been targeted for redesign in an ongoing BTD and Boston Redevelopment Authority-led (BRA) community redesign process for the Centre and South street corridor from Jackson Square to the Forest Hills T Station area. The process is also intended to produce design guidelines and recommendations for the corridor as a whole. That has included a proposal to install bike lanes and shared bike/car lane markings along the entire corridor—planned for installation next year.

Two more meetings are planned for the process, which celebrated its exact one-year anniversary at the July 15 meeting. The August meeting’s agenda includes a review plans for one of the other “nodes” targeted for special attention—Centre Street between Mozart Park and Jackson Square. It also includes a review of the draft final design guidelines for the corridor. In September, the city hopes to present the final guidelines.

Full, detailed, “nitty gritty” designs for the three nodes will be presented in about a year, Gupta said at the meeting.

Monument Sq.

Monument Square is a complicated junction formed by the intersection of Centre and South streets. There are, in a way, two Centre Streets at the Monument, intersecting with South Street at two different places.

Heading south from JP Center, Centre Street turns to the right just before the monument and, passing to the right of the monument, heads west toward the Arborway.

Heading from the Arborway, Centre stays to the right of the monument and hits South Street head-on. Travelers heading north take a left at that intersection and briefly travel on South Street before it becomes Centre.

The redesign proposal would see the section of Centre Street heading to the right of the Monument closed to through-traffic and turned into a pedestrian-oriented plaza. Centre Street’s other leg would be turned into a two-way street and a traffic signal would be installed at its intersection with South Street. The signalization currently serving Centre Street would be removed, but a signalized crossing would be maintained nearby at Eliot Street.

Ralph DeNisco of McMahon Associates, the designer for the redesign process, said the traffic light at Centre and South streets should reduce wait times for cars turning left to head north on Centre Street from about 50 seconds to about 30 seconds.

The monument lawn is currently surrounded by a fence that blocks any public use of the space. That fence would be removed.

Landscape architect Michael Radner said at the meeting that one of the main goals of the new design is to reintegrate the square into the overall business district while maintaining a sense of the Civil War monument as a “sacred and historical” place.

“We really felt that Monument Square is an opportunity to create more of a special space,” he said. Opening it up could “bridge” the Centre and South Street business districts, he said, but at the same time, it should remain “set off from everything around it.”

Under the current configuration, the square has a lot of pavement. “Tragically, very little [of the space] is usable and accessible to the public,” he said.

The same basic proposal was put forward at the May meeting of the advisory group. Based on those discussions, McMahon Associates made some changes to the preliminary design. For one thing, there will now be through-access for allowed vehicles in the carriage way section of the proposed park. The previous proposal only allowed for vehicular access from the south.

DeNisco also said the designers have taken another look at South Street’s dimensions and are now confident that they will be able to expand the very narrow sidewalk on the east side of the monument without cutting into the lawn at all.

Radner said he is paying particular attention to the configuration of the trees proposed for planting in the new park to ensure that sightlines to the monument and to the church are “preserved and even enhanced.”

While those gathered at the meeting generally supported the plan, and responded positively to BTD planner Vineet Gupta’s request for approval to move forward with a full design based on the concept, some expressed concerns.

Residents and others, including Jan Travers, who works at Pondside Dental Associates, located next to the church at 793 Centre St., said they are concerned about the cut the new park would take from on-street parking in the area.

In addition to parking for the dental office, the new design would remove parking at Atreva Health Care at the corner of Centre and South streets south of the monument, Travers said. Atreva is often visited by ambulances and both Pondside and Atreva are visited by the MBTA’s “The Ride” van service for elderly and disabled people, she said. Elderly patients who drive rely on parking spaces close to the businesses, she said.

“The needs of the elderly are worth thinking about,” when the designers start to flesh out the details of the carriageway, Gupta said. Cobblestones, for example, are rough terrain for people with mobility issues and would probably not be an ideal surface for that area, he said.

“The Ride” would have access to the carriageway, Gupta said.

As the design process moves forward, the city will sit down with individual abutters to discuss their concerns, Gupta said, but “I can’t guarantee you will be 100 percent happy with the parking situation,” he said.

The city’s presentation did not specify how many parking spaces would be lost by the plan, but PowerPoint slides from the meeting indicate that all parking around the monument would be eliminated. The slide presentation is available in the “planning” section at http://www.bostonredevelopmentauthority.org.

The MBTA currently uses the Monument as the terminus for its 41 bus to Dudley Square and its 48 “JP Loop” bus. Those buses would have to head down South Street to Forest Hills or down Centre Street to Murray Circle, the rotary where Centre meets the Arborway.

Gupta said the MBTA is aware of the city’s proposals for Monument Square, but will wait for roadway changes to be finalized before it considers how to reroute the buses.

While there were a handful of comments in favor of the designer’s proposal to remove trees around the monument, Jamaica Plain resident Brittany Gravely said she is “one vote for trees. All of the talk I have heard here is seeing them as obstacles,” she said. But, “People don’t hang out where there isn’t shade.”

Jamaica Pond Association Board members Kevin Moloney and John Papson were among those with opposite perspectives on that issue.

Moloney said he “would not support” anything setting the monument apart from the rest of the park area, including a smaller fence or plantings. He also said he is concerned there were still too many trees in the revised designs, noting that some of them might cut off sightlines from Centre Street south of the monument.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am going to be when the trees are gone,” Papson said. “I would hope there is nothing except grass surrounding the monument…In Washington, you can put your hands on [the] Lincoln [Memorial.]”

Another advocate for removing the trees, Michael Epp, noted that the overall plan would about double the number of trees in the square.

DeNisco defended the street design plans as pro-tree. The overall design guidelines for the corridor will include redesigning street-tree planters along the roadways so that the trees that are planted have a better chance of survival, he
said.

Some expressed concerns about homeless people congregating in the new park.

Gupta said the design team would create the park plan with those concerns in mind. There would be “no obvious places where the homeless can collect and spend the night drinking,” he said.

“The solution to homelessness is not to build miserable spaces,” Radner said.

Mozart/Jackson

The redesign of the section of Centre Street between Mozart Park and Jackson Square will give the designers the opportunity to implement many of the guidelines that have been developed for the corridor as a whole, DeNisco said.

Proposals that will be discussed at the next meeting include:

• Installing raised sidewalks at intersections running parallel to Centre Street.
• Widening the sidewalk in front of the Bromley-Heath housing development

• Creating a small plaza at the intersection of Chestnut and Centre streets and possibly installing “reverse angle parking” where drivers could park in spaces perpendicular to the flow of traffic on Chestnut Street.

• Alternatives for redesigning the entrance into JP Plaza.

Process concern

In a recent phone interview with the Gazette, JP resident Jeff Ferris told the Gazette he is disappointed that the City is no longer planning to host a broader community meeting to review its proposals for Centre and South streets.

At the beginning of the process last year, Gupta said it would include full-scale community meetings in addition to the advisory group meetings. Following the July 15 meeting, Gupta told the Gazette that the city is satisfied with the response it has gotten to the advisory meetings, which are advertised in the Gazette and regularly draw crowds beyond the 12-member advisory group.

But Ferris said advisory group meetings and full-scale community meetings serve two distinct purposes. “A broader community review of the whole thing” is useful “not so much to change the results, but to inform the community about what is in store,” he said.

Ferris—who owns the Ferris Wheels bike shop on South Street—did not attend the July 15 meeting, but he told the Gazette he had raised his concerns with Gupta earlier that week at a morning Centre/South redesign meeting geared toward business owners.

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