Neighbors Weigh in on Lower Roxbury Transportation Study

As traffic issues continue to plague neighborhoods across the city, residents of Lower Roxbury have asked the City to study transportation in the neighborhood. The Lower Roxbury Transportation Study has kicked off and already generated feedback from the community about what they like and dislike about streets in the neighborhood. According to the city, “the project area is bounded by, but does not include, Columbus Ave., Massachusetts Ave., and Melnea Cass. Blvd.”

The City hosted six “ideas on the street” pop-ups throughout Lower Roxbury in August and September, where they asked people what they love about the neighborhood as well as what they envision for the future of Lower Roxbury. On October 28, the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) held an open house at Peoples Baptist Church to announce their findings so far and to gather more feedback.

Materials presented at the meeting state that 285 comments have been gathered so far from residents and visitors, and that BTD hopes to work with Lower Roxbury residents and stakeholders to get an idea of what the priorities are and come up with a design that works best for the neighborhood.

Things residents said they liked the most include the Southwest Corridor bike bath, the Carter Playground, Bessa Barnes Community Garden, Slades, and Peoples Baptist Church, among others. Also popular is the Silver Line, as people commented that it is easy to use and comes frequently.

Some things that people would like to see are “better wayfinding and markers related to neighborhood history: Frederick Douglass, Melnea Cass, MLK, Eustis St., and Harriet Tubman House,” read a comment on the project’s website. Others said crossing the street as a pedestrian is currently dangerous, more crosswalks are needed, blind people have difficulty crossing the street, and the sidewalks and streets have uneven surfaces.

“We heard many comments about improving safety for people walking and biking,” the City said on a fact sheet. “We also heard a lot about improving bus service, accessibility, and walkability in the neighborhood.”

BTD proposed some changes that could be made to the streets to increase walkability and safety, such as crosswalks, crosswalk “daylighting,” bike facilities, speed humps, and crossing islands. They hope to get feedback from residents about which street changes would be most beneficial to the streets of Lowe Roxbury.

Carol Blair, President of Chester Square Neighbors, said she is pleased that the study is underway. “When you ask anybody in the city [about transportation], they’ll tell you it’s broken,” she said, and changes need to be made.

Blair said that “transportation is how the city moves,” whether it be to and from work, or picking kids up from school.

“One of the biggest challenges is getting people to the table to wrestle with the issues,” she said. With limited resources such as parking and the width of the streets, as well as monetary limitations from the city and state, the tradeoffs have to be dealt with, she said. “People have to be willing to pull up their sleeves and listen to each other.”

Blair, who has transportation planning experience, said some possible solutions to issues on Lower Roxbury streets include reducing the width of the street and the number of lanes so a pedestrian doesn’t get stuck crossing the street. “My belief is that a second lane might go to a bus,” she said, which would in turn lead to more reliable bus service and more public transportation riders, and a safer crossing experience for pedestrians.

She said another solution that might make sense for streets that are “fairly low volume” is contraflow bike lanes, which are protected lanes that can help bikes travel safely against the flow of traffic. “It’s a great way to improve safety for cyclists,” she said. “It also helps to make those connections to the green spaces as well.” The painted bike lanes make the road appear narrower, which will slow down traffic. 

“We really want to think about mobility,” Blair said, when it comes to making changes to these streets. She said that a lot more thought needs to be given to how curb space is used to help with handling dropoff/pickup, buses, and visitors (including people like home health care aides, home construction workers, and the like) who might want to park on residential streets. She said that resident parking in the city is “rigid” and “geared to people who own cars,” and she believes the rules around resident parking should change so that more people could benefit from using the curb space.

As the city, BTD, and the community continue to work towards coming up with a definitive plan for the streets of Lower Roxbury, BTD said the community engagement process has been an important factor in shaping the future of the streets.

“Residents and others involved in the community have provided us with a wealth of information about how they move around their neighborhood and what they envision for their streets,” said Gregory Rooney,  Boston Transportation Department Interim Commissioner.  “We appreciate their participation in the pop-ups, walking tour, and open houses that have taken place, and we look forward to continuing to work with the community on a planning process that responds to their needs and maps out future improvements in the neighborhood.”

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