Residents want wider sidewalks, safer intersections for Centre/South streets project

About 30 residents congregated at a public meeting held by the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) on May 14 to learn about the design planning schedule and contribute ideas and concerns about the Centre/South streetscape project from Jackson Square to Forest Hills.          Residents generally felt strongly about increased safety for pedestrians and cyclists, and overall seemed most interested in seeing wider sidewalks and safer intersections and crosswalks.

During this summer, the BTD and their partners will be working on preparing designs based off community feedback heard at the meeting, and plan to present a final design in the spring of 2019.

The project team is BTD, Boston Public Works Department, Boston Planning and Development Agency, Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, and other city agencies, as well at Nitsch Engineering.

The background priorities are drawn from the GoBoston 2030 and 2011 Centre/South Transportation Action Plan processes. The 2011 Transportation Action Planning Process first began in 2009, and since the plan has been established, just a couple of projects have been completed. Bike lanes were added to Centre Street in 2010, making them the first bike lanes in Boston, and the Hyde Square reconstruction was recently completed.

The scope of the current proposed project includes sidewalks, street furniture, street trees, lighting, and safety and traffic signals. The budget for the project is currently unknown because BTD needs to submit a final design in order to be reviewed for capital funding.

“We’re not going to be able to do everything that you ask of us,” Josh Weiland of BTD said. “We’re going to be constrained somewhat by financial and engineering feasibility, but we are very eager to hear everything you want us to do.”

The intersections that the City has deemed important to plan street signals are at Monument Square and the entrance for the Stop and Shop by Jackson Square.

“In the 2011 plan, we selected a few locations to start with, and we prioritized Hyde Square because there was more community desire at the time to look at this area,” Vineet Gupta, BTD’s director of planning said. “We also implemented bike lanes, which gave the community a level of confidence that we were not just planning.”

The May 14 meeting’s agenda was to update the design to meet current standards and trends.

Weiland said that some of the ideas from the 2011 are outdated. For example, he said that the street lights featured in the plan are not used as a standard street lights by the City anymore, as well as solar panel trash compactors.

“The City is finding the solar panel trash compactors very expensive to maintain and repair so it’s moving away from those, even though they were recommended in the plan,” Weiland said.

The City said that they were now considering just barrels for trash.

Residents advocated to keep or add more solar trash compactors because they prevent trash from flying around the streets. Their second suggestion was to look at installing more trash barrels so that they’re not overwhelmed with excess garbage.

Several residents were in support of metal web grates to protect trees from pedestrian traffic and increasing walkability on the sidewalks.

“The City doesn’t support the tree grates anymore because they’re a maintenance issue and they are an issue for the tree growth overall, which is why the standard right now is to leave them off,” Zach Wassmouth of Public Works Department said.

Michael Reiskind, member of Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council, strongly disagreed with Public Works on the tree grates standard.

“You can’t just say ‘no, we’re not going to put them in,’ because effectively you’re narrowing the sidewalks,” Reiskind said.

Reiskind also requested that the design of the streets be permanently designed for bikeshares.

“All of the bikeshare stations look like they’ve dropped in from Mars, they look like they don’t belong,” Reiskind said. “Let’s assume we’re always going to have the bikeshare, and plan our streets with them in mind.”

Sarah Freeman asked if there was any plan to remove the old trolley poles, to which Gupta did not know the answer to because they are owned by the MBTA, and the MBTA was not in attendance.

“Why isn’t the MBTA here?” Brad Brown of Blue Frog Bakery asked.

Gupta said that the MBTA is “definitely engaged” in the process, but were not physically at the meeting.

Will Poff-Webster, an aide for Councilor O’Malley, suggested removing a couple parking spots that were very close to crosswalks where there have been pedestrian deaths or challenges in order to make the area more inviting for pedestrians.

Gupta said that the design team heard very clearly from the business community in the previous design process that there was a strong desire to maintain street parking, and that having parking allows an extra barrier for pedestrians on the sidewalk from street traffic. Some business owners, such as Brown, were not very adamant about maintaining as many street parking spaces.

“Losing some parking spots on Centre Street for me as a business owner is not that big of a deal,” Brown said.

Safety on the sidewalks was a big priority for some people because there are many pedestrians with strollers and wheelchairs.

Residents were also either concerned about lights being too bright, which takes away from the night sky, or wanted lights in major intersections to be bright in order to increase visibility and safety.

“One of our objectives is to make the street lights consistent along all of the corridor,” Gupta said. “When we do that, we’ll be installing either the acorn or pendant light.”

There was discussion of a decorative strip of some sort of colorful tile along the edges of certain sidewalks in the commercial parts of the strip to give the neighborhood some character. Residents recalled that the decorative “feature strip” seemed like more of an idea coming from the design team in the 2011 transportation plan instead of from the community. Other residents agreed that the feature strip was not very important to them if it was not done well and if it took funding away from higher priorities. One resident suggested adding historical plaques could be an interesting way to make the design feature meaningful, and not just decorative.

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