By Seth Daniel
Consultants for the City unveiled two main concepts on Thursday night, July 13, for the Re-Imagining Broadway planning effort – concepts that consultants from Nelson Nygaard said were informed on several public listening sessions that have taken place since last fall.
The two plans focus on the area on Broadway from City Hall to Chelsea Square, and consultants have tried to formulate a plan the tried to untangle the circular and inefficient traffic motions that exist along Broadway.
Those include having to go all the way around the downtown and City Hall to simply get to Fifth Street, and also the unsignalized intersections along Broadway that causes drivers crossing the street to have to edge out and do a lot of guess work to get over.
Ralph DeNisco of Nelson Nygaard described such changes as allowing drivers to move from Hawthorne Street to Fifth Street through a signal without having to circle City Hall.
He talked about a large bump out plaza jutting out from the Dunkin’ Donuts and City Hall to allow for more public space and a shrinking of the large street there.
He talked about making City Hall Avenue a two-way street, doing road calming measures for shared streets in front of the Central Fire Station, in front of the Apollinaire Theatre on Winnisimmet Street, in front of the Police Station on Park Street, and also along Cherry Street. Shared streets have a variety of meanings, but in this case they would be marked in a way to slow traffic, and also promote pedestrian usage.
On one plan, the Broadway spine remains mostly the same configuration, but on the other plan the lanes are reduced in width to create a separated bike path along the street.
Another part of one of the plans reverses the direction of Sixth Street near City Hall from eastbound to westbound, which proved a bit unpopular amongst the crowd.
One major change would be to add signals along Broadway for cross traffic, including at Fourth Street, Third Street, Everett Avenue and Hawthorne/Fifth Street. The existing signal at City Hall in Bellingham Square would continue to exist.
DeNisco said the plan is to upgrade the function of the intersections, many of which are failing at the moment.
“We believe we can improve your traffic flow on Broadway significantly by making these improvements to the intersections,” he said.
The plan includes a major bus hub across from City Hall in front of the memorial. Another bus hub would exist next to the Dunkin’ Donuts on Washington Avenue. That would indicate a move of the bus hub from in front of the old Bunker Hill Community College on Hawthornee Street – something many have been asking for a long time.
One thing not addressed, but discussed in depth, was whether to return the Broadway spine to a two-way street. Currently it is one way going southbound, but many are considering it a good idea to look at two-way traffic – especially for the purpose of reducing the circular and inefficient traffic patterns. However, the street has been one-way for generations, and many don’t think the busy corridor could handle the change.
That piece of the puzzle has been left for discussion and contemplation before a final report is made.
Much of the meeting, however, was devoted to the parking inventory and study.
That was less heartening, with the consultants indicating that parking inventories are stressed, particularly in the morning and evening hours – often spilling into the neighborhoods.
“What we usually see is that parking gets easier the further you get away from the center of the business district,” he said. “We didn’t see that here. That isn’t happening in Chelsea. That’s very unique and different about this area. We don’t usually see that in our studies.”
Figuring out the parking puzzle, they said, might require more access to private parking facilities, and also more clearly labeling existing parking lots and their rules. Many lots, they said, were underutilized because people didn’t know about them.
Some relieve could also be found by utilizing space under the Mystic/Tobin Bridge only a few blocks from the center – perhaps for resident parking and thereby alleviating the residential parking on Broadway and its immediate streets.
The plan is currently available to residents for review, and DeNisco said one very unique thing is that this is plan that will happen. There is money behind the drawings, and the political will to make big changes.
“This is real,” he said. “It’s not a simple planning exercise. The City Manager and City Council have put money behind this effort and want it to change. The improvements we’re going to talk about are actually going to happen. That’s a different challenge for us, because these plans have to be able to be implemented.”