While South End Wants ‘Fresh Eyes’ on Transportation, City Officials Encouraged by Future

Common sense and community process seem to have met at a congested crossroads in the South End.

Increasingly, residents of the South End are growing restless about what appears to be a piecemeal planning effort by the City for transportation around massive residential and commercial projects – such as the Exchange South End project that is now ground zero for concerns about traffic gridlock due to the project 7,000 employees that could be commuting there, if built.

The overall conversation was breached at the South End Forum on Tuesday night with several members of the administration, including Boston Transportation (BTD) Director Gina Fiandaca and Chief of Streets Chris Osgood.

“I’m concerned about transportation related to development,” said John Connelly, of Old Dover. “I see a lot of developments built, and I don’t see things changing via the mitigation for impacts. It’s alarming. We’ve seen a lot, but we’re going to be seeing a lot more. We in the South End are concerned.”

Forum Moderator Steve Fox said the Exchange South End project has several of its Impact Advisory Group (IAG) concerned about traffic planning. He said it seems that only one consultant – Howard Stein Hudson – is ever hired to do the traffic planning, and they work off of projected numbers generated by the BTD. He said  the Exchange project has been a tipping point for many to want to talk about an overall plan where development fits into the traffic plan rather than vice versa.

“What we want to do here is have a fresh set of eyes on the neighborhood,” he said. “We have so much development with so much impact we think we need someone with another perspective to look at the impacts and give us an outside opinion. We’re very concerned because we’re not believing everything we’re told. Common sense tells us these things are not going to work.”

Osgood acknowledged many concerns, but said he is optimistic about the future of transportation in the South End.

“There are some real transportation challenges in front of us, but I really think there is very good momentum,” said Osgood. “I think that because we’re building the things we should have been building…We are in a total transportation revolution right now. Turn back the clock 10 years and the idea of shared vehicles and shared rides and autonomous cars was nascent at best…There is a lot of good opportunities…The thing that give me the most optimism about our transportation challenges is we are all talking about it. It’s a priority for the City, the mayor and all of the communities.”

Osgood said some of the things that will improve transportation in the South End include:

  • Instituting the two-way Washington Street and two-way Traveler Street in the New York Streets area this summer.
  • New traffic signals that have been installed along the Washington Street corridor.
  • Transit Signal Prioritization (TSP) for buses on the Silver Line. TSP allows a bus driver to lengthen a green light or shorten a red light long enough for the bus to pass through the signal and not have to stop.
  • The Phase 1 project of the Tremont Street Safety effort will begin to be implemented this spring, with long-term solutions coming after a great deal of public input. To date, there has been one meeting of key stakeholders along the corridor.

Another issue lately has been the exponential increase in the numbers of Uber and Lyft ride-share drivers flooding the downtown neighborhoods. Many stop in awkward places, neighbors said, and contribute more traffic to the area.

Osgood said they are looking to control the curb – which is one area the City has total control over. He said they have received a state grant to pilot a program that would create hubs for transportation where several modes would come together. For example, a bus stop could also serve as a ride-share drop off and pick up point, while also including a Hubway bike depot and pedestrian amenities.

“We realize if we co-locate these things we are creating a set of mobility choices for people,” he said.

City officials committed to a long-term look at transportation, and assured that they are looking comprehensively at planning in neighborhoods like the South End.

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