Centre/South ‘vision’ nears completion

John Ruch

Visitor survey starts tomorrow

A community “vision” for a redesigned Centre/South streets corridor is coming soon, along with new guidelines that may include such items as raised crosswalks on the intersecting streets.

An on-street survey of visitors to the corridor will begin tomorrow as a way of further informing the planning process.

It’s all part of the city’s Centre/South Streetscape and Transportation Action Plan, which aims to have general design principles, and many specific fixes, in place by the middle of next year.

A community advisory group working on the project with the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) and the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) met Nov. 23 at the Julia Martin House in Jackson Square. The group plans to finalize its vision statement and streetscape design guidelines at its next meeting on Dec. 16.

At the latest meeting, the advisory group reviewed a draft vision statement: a four-page pamphlet of about two-dozen brief thoughts organized underneath general headings. The main idea is creating a modern street, open to all types of users, that still feels like Jamaica Plain and solidifies the corridor as the center of the neighborhood.

The guidelines are more specific: principles for what the streetscape should look and feel like. The advisory group discussed sidewalks, crosswalks and streetlights before running out of time and agreeing to talk further via e-mail.

On sidewalks, the advisory group generally favored normal-looking materials and function over aesthetics, rejecting a consultant’s suggestion of fancier, modernist materials. However, the group expressed interest in a so-called “feature strip”—an area of more colorful material along the curb that can highlight key areas. One possibility discussed was decorating such an area with tiles bearing locally made art.

In any case, the city appears committed to making new sidewalks more permeable, meaning that water can get through cracks in certain spots to benefit street trees and reduce stormwater run-off.

As for crosswalks, there was general agreement that slightly raised crosswalks should go on cross streets in main commercial districts to calm traffic. For marking the crosswalks in the corridor, the group again rejected fancy options and called for an examination of whether the traditional “zebra-stripe” pattern can be pressed into the asphalt to make it longer-lasting.

On streetlights, the advisory group had a variety of thoughts and ran out of time. The only point of consensus was agreement with consultant Michael Radner of Bartsch & Radner Design that the 200 streetlights currently in the corridor are ugly and inappropriate.

“It’s highway lighting,” said Radner.

Discussion included designs ranging from traditional to modern, the issue of “pole pollution” on the sidewalk and energy efficiency. One high-tech possibility is LED streetlights, which could also have motion sensors that raise the light level when someone is nearby.

Vineet Gupta, BTD’s director of policy and planning, said that the city is considering putting the energy-efficient LED lighting in the city-owned parking lot behind Blanchard’s Liquors on Centre Street in a separate initiative. There is also a pilot project testing various kinds of LED streetlights under way on Tremont Street downtown, next to the Boston Common.

Such high-tech possibilities show the connection between the Centre/South Action Plan and the city’s new Complete Streets Guidelines—rules that will apply to all new or rebuilt streets in Boston. The Complete Streets program calls for streets to be “multi-modal, green and smart,” Gupta explained.

Multi-modal means that various types of uses are factored in, such as placing bicycle lanes wherever possible. “Green” means using materials that are as efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. “Smart” means technological innovation, like building in infrastructure to serve electric cars, or placing electronic devices on poles that will deliver directions and brief local histories to a cell phone user.

“This [Centre/South] process will help us with real-life examples,” Gupta said. The Complete Streets initiative has its own advisory board, which includes JP resident and Centre/South Action Plan advisory group member Michael Halle.

Meanwhile, the BRA and the pedestrian advocacy organization WalkBoston are doing something much more old-fashioned in the corridor: a pen-and-paper survey to find out why and how people use the street.

Survey-takers with clipboards will be on various parts of the corridor tomorrow, Dec. 5, as well as Dec. 9, 10 and 12. They will return sometime in the spring to factor in seasonal uses. The survey will be available in English and Spanish. The results will inform the Centre/South Action Plan.

Before the advisory group meeting, there was a slide presentation on Centre and South street history given by Michael Reiskind, a member of both the group and the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. His theme was the “old spirits that still live with us” in terms of street design—the leftovers of former transit and building uses.

His talk included disputes about what the Soldier’s Monument in Monument Square should look like and the way the 1980s reconstruction of Forest Hills T Station altered the area. He described Centre Street between Canary Square and Green Street as a “no-man’s land” of car-centered uses such as gas stations, and described the Bromley-Heath and South Street public housing developments as “non-gated gated communities…[that] people aren’t comfortable going in” due to their imposing designs.

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