Re-imagining our avenue a heady task

The comprehensive report about Dorchester Avenue published last week in these pages has engendered some thoughtful discussions about what steps could be taken to improve conditions on Dot Ave.

The “re-imagining” project is the work of Katarzyna Balug, a student at the Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, and already it has elicited some thoughtful comment from area residents.

Dorchester Avenue was mapped out in the mid-19th century as a toll road, a quick and efficient turnpike across the community for travelers between Boston and the South Shore. In those post-colonial years, our community was a rural, agricultural town, a place where Beacon Hill gentry would come for summer retreats. The winding Adams Street was the main route across Dorchester, a thoroughfare named in honor of the Quincy family that gave the country two presidents.

Then, as now, Dorchester was a “pass-through” community for businessmen, merchants, and statesmen commuting to the Hub city. And as the region’s population grew, Dot Ave provided a spine around which new neighborhoods emerged. Later, as the railroad artery that now is the route of the T’s Red Line improved access to the city, new housing sprung up on and off the avenue, which became the main thoroughfare for not just pass-throughs but for new residents who would eventually swell the community’s population.

For decades over the last century, Dot Ave served as the community’s “main street,” the center of commerce and population growth. Slowly but surely, the artery became more and more clogged with activity as the automobile replaced the horse and buggy, and the heavily traveled intersecting streets required traffic control.

Old timers can recall the time when police officers were stationed at busy intersections like Adams Street in Fields Corner; soon enough, their duties were preempted by automatic traffic lights, and the increasing vehicular volume brought about more traffic lights. Today, along a three-mile stretch of the avenue, motorists encounter no fewer than 14 traffic lights, necessitating multiple red light stops at most times during the day.

What was once a turnpike had become a stall-and-crawl roadway; the once-modern toll road now extracts a heavy toll on the patience and good humor of those who use it frequently.

For decades now, public officials and civic organizers have sought ways to remedy these conditions. Most electeds serving the area have at one time or another called for special study commissions to come up with improvements. So far, most of those efforts have fizzled.

To be sure, there are other compelling street traffic issues across the community. The bridge construction in Neponset, inefficient traffic signals in Adams Corner and Gallivan Blvd., and clogged traffic through shop districts in Codman and Mattapan squares, along Blue Hill Ave. and in Uphams Corner are all issues calling for study and improvements. These are quality of life issues in our neighborhoods, and each deserves thoughtful attention from government planners and residents alike.
– Ed Forry