Here in Jamaica Plain, where the shopping districts consist of long corridors, the extended buffer between pedestrians and vehicles makes an important first impression.
As soon as the City of Boston put down the bike lanes and related lines on the South/Centre/S. Huntington corridors last year, the business districts seemed to improve. Sure, it was great that bicyclists got their rights of way and drivers got their consciousnesses raised. But a wonderful side effect was that the streets suddenly looked tidy and pleasant as they never had before.
Where exactly is too close to an intersection to park? Thick white lines showed where the front of cars should be. How far is too far away from the curb? Other long white lines evened up parked cars for blocks.
In a street-painting extravaganza showing great imagination, at the same time as bike lane painting, the City created a large “traffic island” using swirls of yellow markings on the street at the intersection of S. Huntington Avenue and Heath Street. A spot that used to be confusing to drivers confronting turning trolleys cleared up right away. Most people would not dare drive on the “island” now, even though it is only two-dimensional.
After such success on the western side of JP, it’s time Washington Street got bikes lanes and other lines, too.
As orderly and pleasant as bike lanes make the neighborhood, the skimpy trees regularly sticking out of sidewalks are another straggly story. JP’s business district street trees, with some full exceptions, are more blight and interference than they are natural addition.
Several are dead, including trees in front of Evelyn’s Market in Jackson Square and JP Art Market in SoMo. One near Greenough Avenue became a spike a couple of weeks ago. By the end of this summer, if it is like most, more trees will be withering.
If there were a society for prevention of cruelty to trees, it would ban them from most JP business district sidewalks. Most JP tree pits are too close to the foundations of buildings and underground infrastructure—no room for the roots. No room for pedestrians, either. Trees and their aptly named pits make it impossible for two people to walk abreast or pass each other on the sidewalk in many spots in JP, making those areas downright inhospitable to humans.
Businesses’ signs in one section of Forest Hills are invisible because some streets trees actually had space to grow. The poor tree in front of Boing! JP’s Toy Shop has obligingly twisted itself around the projecting sign.
It’s time for the City and the rest of us to stop kidding ourselves. Trees are great to have around, but “street tree” is an oxymoron. Let’s work to preserve trees in more welcoming places in JP and replace them on narrow sidewalks with attractive pots and other colorful, smaller plantings that can survive and thrive in a bustling shopping district.