Third JP/Rox transportation meeting narrows priorities

July 27, 2018
By

By Richard Heath

Special to the Gazette

The transportation demand manager is the future. This was one of the revelations at the third JP/Rox transportation meeting on July 17.

Despite heavy rains, over 35 people attended the third meeting that was more organized and specific than the second and consequently a lot quieter. The meeting is part of the JP/Rox transportation planning process for the study area from Forest Hills to Egleston Square to Jackson Square. The study is officially called JP/Rox Transportation Action Plan (TAP).

The Boston Planning and Development Agency conducted a study called Plan: JP/Rox for the same area that was approved by the BPDA board last year. But the zoning from that study will not be formally reviewed and voted on until the transportation study is completed.

Consultant-driven, there was no agenda for the July 17 meeting that included the names of the five consultants who gave presentations.

Most people who attended were concerned with Egleston Square and the Washington Street-Columbus Avenue cross roads of business district and residential neighborhoods and with the east-west connections of Green Street and Boylston Street.

Priorities were the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists and to a lesser extent the management of congestion to reduce MBTA bus delays.

Managing motor vehicle congestion in the main study area arteries of Washington Street and Columbus Avenue seemed to be at odds with the recommendation of more mobility choices. Eliminating bus delays through designated bus lanes at Egleston Square was one solution; controlling street parking on the much narrower Washington Street to allow for faster bus stops was another. Yet both would increase car traffic back-up.

Anna Bruckhaus, from the lead consulting firm Howard-Stein–Hudson, one of the three working on the project, explained that the transportation plan is based on Plan: JP/Rox priorities.

“We looked at the development in the pipeline,” she said. “3,859 housing units are planned or in the works, which by 2030 would be 1 percent growth per year. We’re continuing to evaluate that.”

Bicyclists are becoming a critical link in the planning area.

“Blue Bikes have increased 67 percent from 2011 to 2017,” Bruckhaus said. “And eight hundred new Blue Bikes are coming.”

Blue Bikes is the new name for the former Hubway bike-share system.

“We want to improve the system as a whole,” she said. “Some of that are public realm improvements at key intersections. Safety is one of the priorities.”

Four areas of public realm priorities were shown; two of which are at the increasingly important Montebello Road, Washington Street, and Forest Hills Street intersection where one big development is well underway and a second will begin this summer.

Egleston Square at the major crossroad of Washington Street and Columbus Avenue has become the most important part of the transportation study area and was featured in a separate display board during the breakout session.

Pedestrian safety is a big issue in the business district.

“It takes 29 to 39 seconds to cross Columbus Avenue. It is so wide,” said Bruckhaus. “It takes a long time for cars to clear that intersection.

“We’re looking at a peak use bus lane at Columbus and Washington as well as signal retiming. We want to give mass transit priority.”

Green Street and Boylston Street have become important east-west connections as a result of increased population and the destination points of Green Street and Stonybrook T stops—particularly Green Street.

These require, in the words of transportation planners, ‘gateway treatment’: wider sidewalks, placemaking infrastructure like seating areas and bollards, more clearly defined crosswalks, and in the case of Green Street, delivery zones for the businesses.

Although not within the JP/Rox planning area the Southwest Corridor Park is now recognized as a destination that influences pedestrian and bike use on these sidestreets.

One key connection is at Jackson Square where increased peak-hour bike use from the park bikeway and pedestrians from the station require more evaluation and perhaps mid-block crosswalks.

The widest intersection is at the Casey Arborway which is outside the JP/Rox study area, although the Arborway Yard is within the scope. Over 500 units of housing either occupied or under construction are at that crossroads.

Josh Weiland of the Boston Transportation Department explained that the Casey Arborway is a state road and all the other roads in the study area are City roads making planning easier. The parkway is still under construction and has yet to have a full trial of the signalization part of which is coordinated with BTD lights.

Access to the Orange Line for residents living in the South Street and Stonybrook neighborhoods will be through the new glass headhouse with an underpass to the trains alleviating navigating the parkway.

Debbie Lubar of Atherton Street couldn’t wait for the presentation to end.

“There is no attempt to put the responsibility on developers,” she said. “Nothing. We’re letting them build parking lots. Developers should give tenants T passes.”

Weiland explained that transportation is part of development review.

“We will soon have a transportation demand manager at BTD,” he said. “They will draw up a set of policies for all developments which come under large project and will include the amount of off street parking, bike racks, electrical outlets as well as a survey of how people get around who live in the development.”

Each developer will be required to have a transportation demand manager who will be in the property management office.

MetroMark is the first new development built in the Plan: JP/Rox study area. Some of the 283 residents park in the meter-free zone along Washington Street while others use the parking garage for which they pay an annual fee.

But MetroMark management has recognized its proximity to public transportation. In its spacious lobby is a large map on which are listed 20 institutions, corporations and destinations with the name of the MBTA line to take, if transfers are required and the commuting time.

Three consultants, six City agencies and three state agencies are involved in the JP/Rox transportation planning process. The process is proceeding deliberately and a fourth public meeting is schedule for fall at which time the priorities will be refined. Final priority recommendations presumably with a budget line will be released during the winter of 2019. For more information, visit bit.ly/2Hzpb7I.

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