Old Dover Traffic Plan Comes to Head in Meeting

By Seth Daniel

In a passionate meeting Tuesday night, the Old Dover Neighborhood Association hosted an open discussion on traffic plans for East Berkeley Street, and the discussion often pitted residents against local businesses when it came to removing some parking spaces.

The one concrete promise that came out of the 45-minute discussion was from Boston Transportation’s (BTD) Bill Conrad, who said he believed that the long-hoped-for traffic study could be completed “sooner rather than later.”

“From what I’m thinking, doing a (traffic) study will happen sooner rather than later,” said Conrad at the conclusion of the discussion. “People like a study, but I”m more of an action guy. There may be other things we can do too.”

He did clarify that he must get approval from the BTD commissioner to do the study, and he also said that parking restrictions and changing the timing on lights could also help.

Old Dover has been looking to create a solution that would eliminate the bottleneck on East Berkeley, submitting a plan in July 2015 for eliminating spaces on the right hand side of East Berkeley between Albany and Washington Street and replacing them down the street by the Gardens near Castle Square. That plan has been in a holding pattern for nearly one year, and a fire was lit under it at the May meeting when a representative from the Boston Bicycle Riders Union announced that a protected bike lane on East Berkeley had been eliminated from the bike lane program due to concerns about losing parking on the right-hand side of the street from Harrison to Washington Streets – where traffic often bottlenecks as it narrows down to one lane.

The tone was set when City officials, including Conrad, began the discussion with the prerequisite that everyone had to be accommodated.

“We understand this is a significant issue and I hear it every day from members of this association and others, but we need to be cognizant there are a lot of small businesses in the area that have advocated they need this parking to be successful,” said Sam Chambers, the South End neighborhood liaison.

The businesses in particular on that stretch include a frame store, J.J. Foley’s pub, a couple of restaurants, a dry cleaner, a bank and a new Asian art gallery.

Conrad said the plan Old Dover put forth just wouldn’t work for small businesses.

“If I’m a small business owner, I can say people aren’t going to walk from way down the street back to my shop,” he said. “It’s just not going to happen. Everything has a happy medium. Things need to get worked out that way…We did receive your proposal. It does have some integrity, but we have small businesses to consider and bicycles to contend with…If we need to come together as a whole to come up with a good plan, let’s do that. Everybody has different interests here.”

Residents weren’t enthralled about that response, and business owners weren’t all that excited about the plan that had been presented by Old Dover that eliminated parking.

“Changing the traffic pattern would be the most radical approach here,” said Peter Crossley of FastFrame. “We’re talking about my livelihood here, not whether or not you have to wait five more minutes at the traffic light. We need that parking to survive. People aren’t going to be carrying artwork to my store from two blocks down the street. They will go somewhere else.”

Residents said it seemed like the discussion was weighted to the businesses.

“The residents have less clout than the businesses; that’s how this is being framed tonight,” said Old Dover member Arthur Coe. “As far as parking, the reality of life in theCity is I can’t park right in front of a business or of my building. I want to do that, but I don’t. I park and walk. If I really want to go to Stella Restaurant, I will walk six blocks from my parking spot.”

Old Dover Secretary John Connelly said he felt it was not right that the conversation turned to an us vs. them discussion.

“I think it is a shame it has come down to a residents versus business issue,” he said. “It’s a volume and capacity issue…Is it that if Foley’s and Peter don’t give their blessing to any plan, then we’re just wasting our breath?”

Foley’s was also present for the discussion, and owner Pat Foley said the parking is needed.

“I’m not only a business owner, but I commute too,” he said. “At least 80 or 90 percent of the time, I get off the highway and park right away. It’s downtown Boston so congestion is going to happen. The congestion is not that bad a lot of times. It would affect us big time. People aren’t going to walk down.”

Chris Comeaux, a member of Old Dover who spent a lot of time working on the parking proposal, said the spaces don’t belong to the businesses.

“You keep saying they are ‘your’ parking spaces,” he said. “They are our parking spaces…If you’re truly going somewhere that’s a destination, you will definitely walk two blocks.”

He also added that they found that 40 new metered spaces had been added in the New York Streets area, adjacent to the businesses. That, he said, should be considered.

That viewpoint was countered by Jennifer Effron, director of Washington Gateway Main Streets.

“Overwhelmingly the businesses say they need the parking,” she said. “One of the reasons people love living here is the small business community. You really have to give attention to that because it’s harder and harder to have a small business. If we’re not supporting the small businesses, they will go away and it won’t be the same place.”

The matter was closed after much questioning, with President Ken Smith calling on Conrad to keep Old Dover in the loop on the traffic study and any suggested changes.

  • Representatives from Related Beale were on hand to make a presentation to Old Dover on Tuesday night regarding their proposed 280-unit building on the Quinzani’s Bakery site.

The building would graduate up from East Berkeley Street to a height of 14 stories, which is allowed in zoning and is about four stories taller than the Pine Street Inn tower.

The building is in its very early stages, Andrew Hayes of Related Beale, said. He said the comment period has closed, but they are taking all comments from the community and are waiting for a scoping determination from the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA).

The building would house two retail areas on the ground floor and 175 apartment units and 105 condo units above. There would be 180 parking spaces in three underground levels and 280 bike spots.

That was immediately a red flag for many in the Old Dover, who said the reality is that there just needs to be more parking.

Hayes said the number of parking spots was in keeping with the City’s goal of promoting more use of bikes, public transportation and pedestrians. Residents weren’t buying that goal, however.

“We are trying to fulfill the plans that the City is doing in encouraging more pedestrians and public transportation use,” said Hayes. “We do think there will e a significant amount of residents using public infrastructure…We will certainly continue to plan for this, but if design presses us in that direction (for more parking), we’ll look at that.”

In terms of design, there were no complaints. The all-brick building looked well-designed, and a double-grove of trees on a larger Harrison Avenue sidewalk layout was very popular. In addition, residents were pleased that all traffic would enter and exit to Traveller Street and not East Berkeley Street.

•The Old Dover Neighborhood Association voted at its meeting to move it’s regularly scheduled meeting to the second Tuesday of the month rather than the first Tuesday. That was because the South End Forum has changed its day and it conflicts with Old Dover’s time. There will be no more meetings until September, and the change will go into effect then.

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