A city plan to reduce traffic lanes on Center Street in West Roxbury is dividing the community


The Boston Globe

Peace for pedestrians is rare on Center Street in West Roxbury, where speeding is a problem. David L. Ryan/Globe staff

Center Street in West Roxbury will be transformed later this year. Whether this transformation is for the better is a topic of debate that has deeply polarized the neighborhood. For four years.

The city’s plan for the Center Street project, released May 31, would reduce the dangerous four-lane thoroughfare between LaGrange Street and West Roxbury Park to three and add protected bike lanes for parking. City officials say it’s been redesigned Improve safety for pedestrians, motorists and bicyclists and transform a transit thoroughfare into a vibrant neighborhood street under Mayor Michelle Wu’s Safety Surge program.

But the so-called “victory” proposal has sparked fierce opposition from a section of residents who fear the roadside regime will further endanger residents, increase traffic and hurt businesses. local. It’s the latest example of tension in Boston urban city ​​planners who aim to reduce pedestrian injuries and make streets more walkable and bikeable compared to residents who say the city isn’t listening to their wishes.

“This is not the plan of society. We don’t want that,” said Stephen Morris, founder of the West Roxbury Safety Committee, a citizens’ group organized against the plan. “The will of the public must be what the government does.”

Center Street, West Roxbury’s main artery and commercial corridor, has been the site of many accidents and injuries in recent years. She became a woman in February 2019 was killed while crossing the intersection of Center and Hastings streets, prompting the city to install revised signage and pedestrian crossings on the street. Since then, nine pedestrians have been struck and injured on the street, according to the Boston Vision Zero Injury Crash Map. Last winter, a kindergarten child, who was coming home from school, was run over by a car running a red light.

Most of the roughly 15,000 vehicles that cross Central Street on weekdays have a 25 mph speed limit. Data for January 2022 From Boston Department of Transport. On Lagrange Street, 15% of drivers drive 35 miles per hour, a deadly speed for elderly pedestrians. data shows, and The accident rate on Center Street in recent years is 34% higher than the state average for similar highways.

Even the plan’s staunchest opponents agree that Center Street is dangerous.

“Sometimes at night or every morning it feels like Interstate 95. People are going 50 miles an hour,” said Dimitri Meleplidis, owner of Maria’s Kitchen on Center Street and an opponent of the plan. “So something has to be done about it.”

However, the question is how to improve pedestrian safety the camps split up.

Some West Roxbury residents fear that lane narrowing will increase traffic and cause congestion, and have supported alternative measures to pay more attention to vulnerable pedestrians without changing the road surface, such as longer walk signals, signalized intersections and increased police presence. reprimanding speeders.

But city planners say the fixes aren’t enough to fix the safety risks on Center Street. Four-lane streets are “basically a dangerous configuration,” said Yasha Franklin-Hodge, the city’s streets chief.

Drivers turning left on a four-lane road without a designated turn lane have to worry about two lanes of oncoming traffic, the cars behind them and pedestrians crossing the turning street, Franklin-Hodge said.

“When you give drivers a complex environment with so many conflicts to think about, it’s a recipe for accidents,” he said.

The new street design maintains one lane of traffic in each direction and adds a third “flexible” lane in the middle, which serves as a left-turn lane near intersections. The plan also would preserve 95 percent of the current on-street parking along the corridor, the city said. Although the road will be reduced by a quarter, its capacity for vehicles will not change, Franklin-Hodge said.

“When you narrow the band, the effect is very small because . . . You create a much more organized flow of traffic on the street,” he said, adding that road diets are a “very common practice” approved by federal and state transportation agencies.

But West Roxbury The Committee of Safety and its supporters question the city’s claims, and some expressed disbelief that the plan would actually reduce parking spaces by only 5%. Instead, many opponents see evidence of an ulterior motive: government giving over to cyclists.

“All the studies I’ve seen that talk about improved security or less traffic, they either end up as dot-gov or they come from a consulting company that makes money,” Morris said. . “Their real intention was to satisfy the cyclist union and not worry about improving safety or security on Central Street.”

A bicyclist was using the sidewalk near the main street, where there is a debate about the narrowing of the street from four lanes to three lanes and the addition of a bike lane. DAVID L. RYAN/GLOBE STAFF

Bicyclists “are not primarily residents, they don’t go to business very often,” said Joan McGrath, a West Roxbury resident since 1962. “They only want to ride six months of the year.”

City officials argue that the main goal of this plan is to improve pedestrian safety, not to add bike lanes.

“The bike lane is an added benefit,” West Roxbury spokeswoman Kendra Lara said last month. “When we removed (trip lanes) which allows us to protect bike lanes with parking, so they are included, but bike lanes are completely secondary.

The neighborhood group’s current opposition is its 2019 Martin J. Shows the Walsh administration’s campaign against a similar proposal. After distributing a petition with over a thousand signatures, the group He was able to convince city officials to cancel the road diet. Instead, city officials have installed brightly painted crosswalks and vowed to enforce enforcement in the area.

Not everyone in West Roxbury shares the group’s concerns.

Chrissy Peterson, whose daughter attends Patrick Lyndon Flight School near Center Street, said she was “always worried” that drivers wouldn’t see her child when she had it. cross the street and revel in the peace of mind the redesign brings. Peterson said in conversations with other parents that he hasn’t seen “particular opposition” to the overhaul and that it’s “frustrating” that the neighborhood has adopted an “us vs. them” rhetoric.

However, the campaign against this year’s proposal won a major attraction in the neighborhood: hundreds of people have signed a new petition and several businesses have red “Save Central Street” signs in their windows. He even got some support from General Counsel Erin Murphy, who issued a statement denying the overhaul.

But despite the opposition, the city authorities say that this time the plan has been implemented.

“There are few cases where the data is so clear. . . and this is one of them,” said Franklin-Hodge. “So we’re moving forward with the project, but we’re incorporating the feedback we’ve received from community members.”

The plan is to cut two lanes with an extra lane for flexibility. DAVID L. RYAN/GLOBE STAFF

The final project is expected to be completed by mid-July, and construction is expected to continue through October and early November. The area will be monitored for any unexpected impacts, such as increased traffic on adjacent streets, the city said.

However, the neighborhood committee believes it has the ability to block the measure, and its members are discussing their next steps, Morris said. And if the plan goes ahead, Morris said, there will be political ramifications.

“I would expect that voters who feel like they’re not being listened to aren’t going to vote for someone who’s not listening,” he said. “Personally, I would remember him in the voting booth.”

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