The Boston Transportation Department has halted design work on a proposal to reduce Centre Street from the Holy Name Rotary to Spring Street in West Roxbury from four lanes to two and add pedestrian islands, bike lanes and new turn lanes so that it can study an alternative plan from a newly formed neighborhood group to keep four lanes but add pedestrian crossing lights at some intersections, re-stripe cross walks and step up police enforcement of traffic laws.
Interim BTD Commissioner Gregory Rooney told a packed meeting of the West Roxbury Safety Association at the Irish Social Club tonight the department should never have simply rolled out the proposed "road diet" plan at a June meeting without additional meetings with local residents and business owners. He said he now expects BTD to release a new proposal, or proposals, in January.
Residents who have been calling for increased enforcement are about to get a feel for that, good and hard. New E-5 Capt. Darrin Greeley, himself a West Roxbury resident, told the group he plans a traffic-safety crackdown along Centre Street - starting with all the double-parking residents and Uber Eats drivers who now infest the westbound side of Centre as they pick up food at the take-out places clustered along Manthorne Road. He said he knows only too well what happens between the Continental and Christo's from personal experience, because that was his route home from his previous job as a detective in the BPD homicide unit.
Greeley said he also plans to step up "Operation Crosswalk," in which officers will pull over drivers who blow through intersections without stopping for pedestrians there - and that he will bring in additional resources if necessary to get miscreants under control. He added, however, that, at least initially, most people will likely get warnings, rather than tickets. "We want to educate people," he said. "We don't want to fine people."
Steve Morris, who helped form the safety association, said the group agrees with proponents of the road-diet plan that the end goal is to make Centre Street safer, but that members felt the road-diet plan would only force drivers onto side streets. And citing what they said were stats from other cities, members said the plan would actually lead to increased pedestrian and bicyclist deaths, that the plan would put residents of the neighborhood's seven nursing homes at risk because it would slow first responders and that it would drive businesses out of the neighborhood. And besides, hardly anybody rides bicycles on Centre Street, they said.
Morris and other members conducted "audits" of all the intersections along Centre from the rotary to Spring Street and while he acknowledged they were not traffic engineers, he said they had something valuable - common sense. And that common sense led them to believe that the answer to greater pedestrian safety was to install pedestrian-crossing traffic signals that would only activate when a pedestrian pressed a button at certain intersections. such as at Hastings Street, where Marilyn Wentworth died in February and another pedestrian suffered a traumatic brain injury when it by a car a few years ago.
The group also called for replacement of the brick crosswalks Tom Menino was enamored of with more traditional and easier to spot striped crosswalks - something BTD crews recently have begun doing. And despite their disdain for the members of an alleged "bicycle lobby," they said they support signs along the road alerting drivers that they have to share the lane closest to the curb with bicyclists.
Although the group's founders spoke calmly and said they wanted to engage in dialog with both BTD and road-diet supporters, once they turned the room's microphones over to the audience, the anger spilled out towards bicyclists, people not from West Roxbury and the federal government, all of whom they accused of foisting the road-diet idea on West Roxbury for reasons that some said were quite sinister indeed.
The very first resident to get a mic said the city doesn't give a damn about safety and that the road diet is part of a plot to reduce Boston's carbon footprint. He accused the city of installing Blue Bikes stations along Centre Street - and even down by the Star Market on Spring Street - as part of this plot.
To applause, he said it's time to license and fine bicyclists who "cut cars off, they drive down the sidewalk and they hit people."
He was followed by the owner of a Centre Street business who said the road diet would drive her out of business. Besides, she yelled, "This isn't Amsterdam!"
Another resident said bike lanes on Washington Street in Roslindale and Beacon Street downtown have turned those roads into gridlocked hellscapes.
City Councilor Matt O'Malley (West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain), was booed when he said there are parts of the road-diet proposal he thinks are good, but that he wants to hear other proposals, too. "You're tap dancing, Matt!" one resident jumped up to yell at him. The resident then accused O'Malley of acting like a socialist whenever he's in the Jamaica Plain end of the district.
Nobody mentioned that the road-diet idea sprang from a study by a civil-engineering team at Northeastern University about Centre Street two years ago - which started when a graduate student from West Roxbury complained to her professor about Centre Street safety - and which basically gathered dust on a shelf somewhere until a February meeting at the Elks Club at which Wentworth's husband and son pleaded for the city to do something so that nobody would ever again have to go through what they did.
A Roslindale resident, who first joked he wasn't sure if he would make it out of the room alive, was, in fact, booed into sitting down when he explained how he thought the road diet would improve safety by forcing motorists to slow down and how the ultimate answer was to get more people onto public transit.
A West Roxbury resident essentially told bicyclists they can just shut up until they start paying taxes for roads. After asking car owners to raise their hands, he said, "These are our roads!"
One West Roxbury resident did rise to support the road-diet proposal, saying he owns both a car and a bicycle and that he and his wife both "drive all over the place." He said his top concern are crashes in which one driver stops for a pedestrian and a second one then plows into the person.
He tried to rebuke the notion of some "Bicycle Lobby" sinisterly pulling strings to destroy West Roxbury.
"We're people just advocating for safety," he said. "I"m a dad, a brother, a husband and a son, I'm not just a [bicyclist]."
Morris, who had earlier called the road diet "a stupid idea," said his group's plans would reduce such crashes through better sight lines - in part by having police deal with the issue of double parkers. And he said he and other founders felt "bushwacked" at the July meeting, when he said it seemed like outside bicyclists and other non-local agitators had had a series of secret meetings to prepare.
One mother of two young children, who live up at Lagrange and Keith streets, said she wasn't even sure what the fuss was about - she walks up and down Centre with her kids in a double-wide stroller and finds it "extremely safe." But if people don't agree, "why can't we put it on a ballot?" she asked.