City approves public way plans

David Taber

Work set to begin in spring

JACKSON SQ.—Much of the first phase of the Jackson Square redevelopment’s public-way improvements received final city approval early last month and work is set to begin on the area’s roadways and sidewalks this coming spring.

January was book ended by public meetings—one of the Jackson Square Citizen’s Advisory Committee (CAC), and one of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC)—discussing the ambitious, multi-“sub-phase” plan—itself part of an equally ambitious and still-evolving, multi-developer project aimed at fundamentally reshaping the neighborhood.

Community reaction to the infrastructure plans was largely favorable.

“Finally,” was Jackson Square CAC member Ed Bernard’s response at the Jan. 7 CAC meeting to news of the city Public Improvement Commission’s (PIC) unanimous vote to approve the plans.

Bart Mitchell, JP resident and principal at Mitchell Properties—one of the members of the redevelopment team, Jackson Square Partners (JSP)—had high praise for the CAC’s help reviewing the infrastructure plans. “We hashed out a lot of this stuff over the last year in a way that just a developer working [alone] on plans does not have the opportunity to do,” he said. “Thanks to that momentum we are able to move forward and get stuff done.”
The plans

The project is broken down into sub-phases because of the tight financing situation in the current market. Each of those sub-phases is intended to represent a convenient stopping point if the funds are not immediately available to move forward, the developers previously told the Gazette.

The first of those sub-phases—“Phase 1a”—will be covered by a $3.1 million state grant the developers received in 2008.

Phase 1a includes the installation of new traffic signals and crosswalks at the intersection of Centre and Lamartine streets and new wider sidewalks along Centre Street between the T station and Lamartine.

Because the Lamartine/Centre intersection is also a crossing for the Southwest Corridor bike path, it will see an extra-wide 20-foot crosswalk for use by pedestrians and bicyclists. That crosswalk will be oriented so bicyclists can cross Centre without having to travel on the sidewalk to get back on the path on the station side, the developers said.

The plans also include the first section of a bike lane heading toward Hyde Square from the Southwest Corridor crossing. That lane may be extended as part of a redesign of the Centre and South street corridor between Jackson and the Forest Hills Orange Line T Station. [See related article.]

The new sidewalks will be between 12 and 16 feet wide. New commuter pick-up and drop-off lanes will be installed in front of the station on either side of the street. Centre Street’s travel lanes will also be “straightened out” on that section of road, Mitchell said.

The first sub-phase will also include the installation of a new planted median on Columbus Avenue and new crosswalks and traffic signals at what is now the bus entrance to the station on Columbus.

That entrance between Centre and Heath streets will also be repaired and realigned. When the first new building in the project—Mitchell Properties’ 6-story mixed-use residential and retail development on the corner of Centre and Columbus—is completed, the busway will be opened to car traffic accessing building and commuter parking between the new building and the T station.

A new walkway will also be built along the station edge from the parking area to Centre Street, and improvements will be made to the sidewalks on Ritchie Street—the street opposite Centre on the other side of Columbus Avenue.

Finally, the Phase 1a plans include one other aspect that is still being designed: A pedestrian walkway connecting Amory Street to Centre. The final part of the first phase of infrastructure work, phase 1d, is planned to reconnect the two streets.

Community comments

While the CAC has spent many months vetting the infrastructure plans and had little to add this month, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) looked at the plans with new eyes at its Jan. 26 meeting

Noting that Amory and Centre streets had originally been connected, and Amory was blocked off from Centre to reduce congestion in the area, JPNC member Michael Reiskind asked if the “style has changed” for urban redevelopment.

Mitchell said that the disconnection of Amory from Centre Street had come as part of the “ill-fated” plan in the 1970s to turn what is now the Southwest Corridor Park into an extension of Interstate 95.

That effort created a “wasteland” in much of the Jackson Square area, he said. “A lot of this is trying to rebuild the neighborhood at a scale and with the infrastructure that did exist.”

The new section of Amory Street will be one-way toward Centre and right-turn only onto that street, he said. It will not be built until new development planned by JSP partner the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) for parcels between Amory and the Southwest Corridor is built.

JSP is also planning another new street on the Southwest Corridor side of that new development, JPNDC staffer Andrew Winters said at the meeting. Those plans will be included in future phases of Jackson Square infrastructure work, he said.

The Southwest Corridor bike path and associated infrastructure was a point of interest for a few at the meeting. JPNC member Francesca Fordiani asked whether any improvements would be made to the entrance to the Southwest Corridor bike path on the Lamartine Street side.

Mitchell said the developers’ plans “don’t extend too far beyond the sidewalk,” but they do include realigning a planter on that corner.

The path “comes to a little pinch-point with the planter on the right,” Mitchell said at the meeting.

“I think [the expanded and reoriented crosswalk] would be a great improvement,” said Jeffrey Ferris of Ferris Wheels bike shop on South Street at the meeting.

Plans are in the works improvements to and celebrations of the Southwest Corridor Park in honor of its 20th anniversary this year. At the meeting and speaking to the Gazette, Ferris, who sits on the Southwest Corridor Park Management Advisory Committee said, “It would be nice if [the JSP improvements] could get it done early so we are celebrating something that has been done rather than something that will be done.”

Mitchell said the work schedule would be determined once a contactor is selected—likely in March.

Phases B to D

While no implementation funding has been secured for sub-phases B through D of the infrastructure project, that work has been planned.

Phase 1b will include the construction of new sidewalks below the T Station on that side of Centre Street and on both sides of Columbus between Centre and the busway entrance. That section of Columbus will also be repaved and new traffic signals and crosswalks will be installed at the intersection on Columbus and Centre.

That work will reduce the number of travel lanes on Columbus from three to two, with new parking lanes and dedicated turning lanes being added, Mitchell told the Gazette.

Winters said the hope is that work will begin in 2012 or 2013.

Phase 1c will include the repaving of Centre Street below the the T Station, adding parking on the station side in front of what will, by then, be Mitchell Properties’ completed 225 Centre St. project.

It will also include a new traffic signal and crosswalk directly below the station where buses exit onto Centre St.

All three of those phases have been approved by the PIC, the developers said.

Phase 1d, reconnecting Amory Street to Centre, has not yet been approved, the developers said.

Other than the quick mention of the possible street new street next to the Southwest Corridor, future phases, which are likely to occur in conjunction with development plans that are still years away, were not discussed.

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