Planning ends with two Monument Sq. designs

December 17, 2010
By

David Taber

BTD: Hyde Sq. redesign will likely happen first

CENTRE/SOUTH CORRIDOR—Two plans for Monument Square are going to be included in community guidelines for the redesign of the Centre and South street corridor, Boston Transportation Department (BTD) director of policy and planning Vineet Gupta said at a final public meeting to review the guidelines Dec. 14.

A proposal for the redesign of the square at the intersection of Eliot, Centre and South streets—which is home to the Civil War-era Soldiers Monument—emerged as a major point of controversy in recent months. The controversy bubbled up as city planners from the BTD and Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) moved to finish the over-two-year community planning process.

In addition to a previously proposed plan to turn a section of roadway in the square into a park area, the city will include a second option that will propose the expansion of the green-space at the center of Monument Square, but not change traffic patterns in the square, Gupta told about 50 meeting attendees.

He said the conversation about the options would likely be taken up early next year, when the city begins the process of developing specific designs based on the guidelines.

The guidelines, officially called The Centre and South Street Corridor Transportation and Streetscape Action Plan, include proposals for corridor-wide improvements, as well as detailed proposals for the Monument, Hyde and Jackson Square areas.

Because there is little controversy about the proposed plans for Hyde Square, those designs will likely be finalized before the Monument Square plans, and construction funding will probably be sought for Hyde Square first, Gupta said. He previously said construction would probably not start before 2013.

Late last summer, the city and the Centre and South Street Corridor Community Advisory Committee, a group of community members appointed by the city to work on developing the transportation and streetscape guidelines, thought they were close to consensus on an ambitious plan for the redesign of the square.

That plan would see Centre Street between the Monument and the First Church of JP Unitarian Universalist—at the corner of Eliot and Centre—closed to through traffic and turned into a pedestrian-oriented “carriageway.” The carriageway would essentially be an extension of the green-space at the center of the square, where the monument is located.

Throughout the fall, business owners and residents expressed increasing alarm about the impact redirecting traffic would have on the traffic-flow in the square, and about the potential net loss of 17 or 18 parking spaces.

“There was a lot of support for the plan, but not consensus,” Gupta said at the recent meeting.

Those concerns were not allayed by studies conducted by the city indicating that parking is rarely at capacity along the Centre and South Street corridor, and that directing traffic around one side of the monument would not significantly increase congestion if traffic signals are installed at the square, Gupta said.

Meeting attendees rehashed their pro- and anti-Monument Square redesign positions at the meeting, with plan proponents saying that the community should be doing more to move away from car-oriented streetscape designs.

Jamaica Plain resident Karen Wepsic brought up a new point: She said she is a regular bus rider, and that she fears that, if the Monument rotary is cut-off, the MBTA will cut off Route 41 bus service at Hyde Square. That route runs through Dudley Square in Roxbury, to the JFK/UMASS T Station in Dorchester.

“It is a nice long bus ride, I would hate to see it shortened,” Wepsic told the Gazette, saying that could cut riders off from the Monument Square end of the business district.

She said she thinks the alternative of extending the route down South Street to the Forest Hills T Station would make the route less reliable and cost the MBTA too much. MBTA officials have not specified how they plan to handle the potential changes.

At the meeting, CAC member Mike Halle advocated for a continuation of the Monument Square conversation before the resumption of the process next year. He suggested that the locally elected Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council could play a more active role in helping the community find consensus. “The neighborhood council spans JP and could possibly shepherd the process,” he said, “Consensus happens in people’s living rooms.”

Andrea Howley, current head of the JPNC, was at the meeting, but did not directly respond to Halle’s proposal. She did note that discussion of the action plan is on the agenda for an upcoming JPNC meeting. [See JP Agenda.]

In the meantime, the action plan has already seen results in the form of new bike lanes and “sharrows”—markings indicting that cars and bikes should share the on-street travel lane—along the corridor.

Those plans were helped along by community members last year, when Jeff Ferris—proprietor of Ferris Wheels Bike Shop—and others did the initial street measurements to indicate where bike lanes would be feasible.

The Hyde Square guidelines would see sidewalks expanded and new trees and gardens installed in the square, and see the four-way intersection—which currently features a traffic island—turned into a proper rotary.

The plan for Jackson Square is to test out a number of the smaller-scale improvements that the city hopes to eventually implement throughout the corridor. Those could include sidewalk expansions, raised crossings at side streets intersecting Centre Street and a redesign of the entrance to the Stop & Shop at the corner of Centre and Bickford Streets.

More information on the The Centre and South Street Corridor Transportation and Streetscape Action Plan, see the “planning” section of the BRA’s web site www.bostonredevelopmentauthority.org.

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