A Slow Streets update: 2017 picks revving up; new applications available

Applications for the latest round of Boston’s Neighborhood Slow Streets program are now available, as neighborhoods from the first batch start to see movement from the city to make their chaotic intersections and unmarked crossings safer for cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians alike.

Slow Streets is an initiative focusing on multi-block sections of the city for made-to-order traffic calming and mitigation efforts. Forty-seven groups, weighted by needs that included crash and population metrics and support from the community, applied last year. The list was finally narrowed down to five — including two in Dorchester.

“Due to the popularity of the pilot, BTD developed a metrics-based application review process to evaluate requests by groups of residents interested in bringing the program to their neighborhoods,” said Boston Transportation Commissioner Gina N. Fiandaca in a statement announcing the new round in late June.  “Five new zones were selected in 2017 and BTD is currently advancing through the planning and design work for each of these zones. Boston’s Public Works Department will manage construction of the five new projects and we anticipate that all work will be completed in 2019.”

City transportation officials presented early suggestions to the West of Washington (WOW) Coalition last Thursday. The proposals were drawn from a survey of the study area and presented “really good options,” WOW president Laquisa Burke said in an interview this week.
“It’s been very positive,” she said. “People are really excited.”

Their zone is a rectangle of 12 blocks, including four one-way streets, hemmed in by Norwell, Harvard, Whitfield, and Washington streets. It is one of five new zones selected in 2017 for the program, which was launched with two pilot areas the year prior: Talbot-Norfolk Triangle (TNT) in Dorchester and the Stony Brook neighborhood of Jamaica Plain.

WOW’s area touches the TNT zone along Talbot Avenue, which will mean the creation of a larger Slow Streets area once both are completed.
“We’re able to use a lot of the implementation they used in the pilot program in TNT,” Burke said, “because whatever effects TNT ultimately affects Norwell Street.”

Standing driving behaviors have long aggravated WOW residents, she said. Some preliminary options for fixing up the zone include “no parking” signage at certain corners, speed humps, pedestrian light signals, speed readers, and lane dividing lines on Norwell Street.

“Those will hopefully get people to slow down,” Burke said. “There’s an astronomical amount of speeding on the streets and it’s starting to filter out into the neighborhood.”

Traffic in the area is not only a frustration — Burke said some 1,000 cars pass along their stretch of Park Street every day — but also a profound safety issue. On a night in May 2015, 18-year-old Fritz Philogene was riding his bicycle along Talbot Avenue near the intersection with Norwell Street. An unlicensed 33-year-old Dorchester man driving a white Cadillac slammed into the rear of a BMW and both vehicles careened into the intersection, striking and killing Philogene, a Haitian-born West Roxbury Academy student, just a block from his home.

That crash is still on the minds of West of Washington neighbors, Burke said.

Shifting some streets to one-way only in certain sections, like a “major” stretch of Park Street around the intersection of Norwell Street heading toward Washington, will prevent routine use of the roadway as a “cut through,” Burke said. Although some wish Norwell itself was floated as a one-way street, raised crosswalks at the Park Street intersection should also help, Burke added.

Last Thursday’s was one of several Slow Streets meetings, with another planned in a few months, Burke said. “Implementation won’t start until next spring, and it might take a year,” she said. “We’re just going over the options now.”

But they have a good head start. Through 311 requests and working with the Transportation Department to bring in some new signage and painted crosswalks, traffic movement around WOW is already under way.

“It was just the community prepping ourselves,” Burke said, “so now that Slow Streets is coming, they have more to work with.”

The four other zones from WOW’s batch — parts of Chinatown, the Grove Hall/Quincy Corridor, Highland Park, and Mount Hope/Canterbury — are also in the first few rounds of public meetings.

New applications, submitted by neighborhood associations, community groups, faith-based intuitions, or other organized groups of neighbors, can be submitted to the Boston Transportation Department through Fri., Aug. 24, 2018.

Additional information about Slow Streets application requirements can be found online at boston.gov/departments/transportation/neighborhood-slow-streets.