What Does the Avenue Want?

"It's construction project after construction project," said Ellen Swanberg, sounding a frequent complaint of motorists trying to navigate Dorchester's primary commercial thoroughfare. She added, "You can't get there from here."

Swanberg should know. A delivery driver for Coleen's Flower Shop in Savin Hill, Swanberg said Tuesday that she spends "too much time" brokering her way between construction sites, up and down side streets.

For Shawn Burgess, principal broker at the Burgess Realty Group, the street's beginnings as a means for merchants to transport goods between the city's southern flank and downtown spelled bustle. "It's always been a busy street," said Burgess, behind the desk in his office tucked into a small parking lot in Ashmont, "probably since the beginning of time."

If an embryonic City Hall plan proves effective, Dorchester Avenue will be cured of its ills - traffic and blight banished to less civilized roadways like, say, Interstates.

The Dor-chester Day Parade will not march along underneath a monorail, that much the mayor will tell you. But most everything else is on the table and, for details of the plan to rejigger Dorchester Avenue, Thomas M. Menino suggests open ears and eager opinions on Saturday.

"We want to get input from the community and see what their needs are," Menino said. "We have ideas, of course, and I think that they'll meet what the community wants." Six months after he announced a plan to rejuvenate what he calls "one of this city's great boulevards," Menino has scheduled the scheme's inaugural meeting for March 5 at noon in the Dorchester House Multi-Service Center.

The scores of businesses - autobody shops, pizza joints, insurance firms, hair salons - arrayed along the avenue stand to hear the difference in the rings of their cash registers, the mayor says.

"I think we lose a lot of business because people don't want to get on Dorchester Avenue because it takes an hour to drive down it," Menino said Tuesday in a phone interview.

Swanberg said the ongoing construction of the street, which stretches the length of the neighborhood and divides it into eastern and western halves, has harmed businesses and slowed vehicle traffic. She suggested a central coordinator of construction projects, so one utility company doesn't dig up a patch of road that has just undergone construction.

Ed Henderson, a bartender at the Tara Pub across from Ashmont Station, said Dot Ave congestion could be an unsolvable problem.

"I don't think you could ever really change it traffic-wise," Henderson said. "Because it's the city. It's going to be congested no matter what."

Anne Reed agreed that only a bold solution could alleviate Dot Ave's traffic and image problems. A lifelong Dorchester resident, she's been at Coleen's for 18 years, and said the avenue needs big thinking.

"Placing trees here and there," she said, "that's not going to do it."

But for Henderson, getting back and forth between the pub and his Quincy home means avoiding the avenue altogether, an option motorists fed up with snarled traffic often take, and a trend Menino hopes to reverse while drawing business.

"I just take a right on Ashmont, and I'm outta here," Henderson said.