BTD: New square discussion still “active”

November 8, 2010
By

David Taber

Monument Sq. alternative may be coming

MONUMENT SQ.—Amidst mounting controversy about a proposal for redesigning the square at the intersection of Centre and South streets, a Boston Transportation Department (BTD) official last week told the Gazette planners may propose another alternative.

“We are trying to figure out what is the best direction to go,” BTD senior planner Vineet Gupta told the Gazette in a phone interview.

The proposal he was referring to would radically reshape Monument Square, cutting off a section of Centre Street to most vehicular traffic between the island where the Civil War Soldier’s Monument now sits to the front of the First Church in Jamaica Plain, Unitarian Universalist, at the corner of Eliot and Centre streets. The cut-off section of Centre Street would become a pedestrian-oriented paved park area.

The Jamaica Plain Business and Professional Association board of directors voted to oppose the proposal last month, on the grounds that it would create traffic snarls, eliminate up to 20 parking spaces, and eliminate an important turnaround for delivery vehicles.

The MBTA also uses that turnaround for some of its buses, and community members have expressed concerns about both of the alternatives that have been proposed for bus traffic. Sending them down South Street to Forest Hills and down Centre Street to Murray Circle would, in either case add stress to already congested roadways, they say.

Community members have also expressed concerns about whether planned access for emergency vehicles, including fire trucks, through the proposed new park would create a potentially dangerous conflict with the intended pedestrian and recreational uses.

In response, BTD is rethinking its proposal. “We might go with two options at this stage,” Gupta said. “We are in active conversation—weighing different approaches.”

BTD, along with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), is currently wrapping up an over-a-year-long community planning process intended to guide the eventual redesign of the Centre Street and South Street corridor between the Forest Hills and Jackson Square T Stations. The process is officially named the JP Centre and South Street Corridor Transportation and Streetscape Action Plan.

At least one more public meeting on the action plan as a whole will be held by the end of December, Gupta told the Gazette.

A public comment period for the corridor-wide plans ended Oct. 18, but city planners generally continue to accept comments after the official ends of comment periods. Information about the plans is available in the “planning” section of the BRA’s web site, www.bostonredevelopmentauthority.org.

The community vision planning process is only the first step in the overall planning process, Gupta previously told the Gazette. The next year will likely be devoted to developing specific engineering designs based on the conceptual designs that have been developed. Community input will also be sought throughout that process, he said.

No funding has yet been allocated for specific construction projects that would result from the planning process.

That process—conducted largely via public meetings attended by city planners, members of the Centre/South Street Corridor Citizens Advisory Group and community members—has produced recommendations for things like reducing the clutter of street signs along the corridor and standardizing the style of street lighting. It was the forum for an extended discussion this year that led to the installation of bike lanes and “sharrows”—markings indicating that bikes and cars should share the road—along the corridor this fall.

The planning process also included the identification of Monument Square and two other “nodes” that were targeted for more extensive redesign—Jackson and Hyde squares.

The Monument Square proposal ended up being the most sweeping, and, in recent months, has emerged as most contentious proposed redesign in the process.

In addition to expanding the park, the fence around the current monument lawn would also be removed, allowing public access to that space.

The idea of cutting off vehicular access on one side of the monument was initially suggested by resident Michael Halle—a member of the Centre/South Street Corridor Citizens Advisory Group—in January.

The concept was developed over the months and met with general approval by the advisory group at a meeting in July attended by over 50 people. The community opposition has emerged since then.

Two other preliminary proposals for the square, presented earlier this year, were eliminating the roadway that connects Centre Street to South Street on the South Street side of the monument, and expanding the monument’s island-lawn without completely eliminating any of the surrounding roadways.

Gupta said planners have not begun looking at what a second alternative might look like.

Corrections: This article was altered from its print version to emphasize ongoing community involvement in the Centre and South Stree redesign processs, and the number of parking spaces that could be lost under the Monument Square redesign plan was corrected. The correct number is 20.

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