Blue Hill Ave. rehab plan leaves street parking for churches still up in the air

A draft plan of new street layouts on Blue Hill Avenue from July shows potential configurations in front of Morningstar Baptist Church on Blue Hill Avenue and Goodale Street. The suggested layouts would eliminate some street parking at the church and reduce vehicle travel lanes to accommodate a center-lane bus corridor and separated bicycle lanes.

Sunday mornings make up a fraction of the hours in a week, but along the Blue Hill Avenue corridor, churchgoers make two hours of that time the busiest of the week for vehicular traffic and parking needs. Yet, the issues that such traffic brings to the avenue are still being worked out within the Blue Hill Avenue Transportation Action Plan’s street layouts being proposed by city officials.

“We’re talking about two hours on Sunday, really,” said state Rep. Russell Holmes. “That’s 2 hours out of 168 hours in a week. … They are an important 2 hours, but we can’t set public policy based on those 2 hours.”

There are no firm solutions yet. The issue stems from the potential center-lane bus corridor and separated bicycle lane that would take away some parking in most church areas. But elected officials and planners with the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) hope to work out a solution at a town hall meeting, though some would like that to come sooner than others as the city’s engagement report on the two-year process is due some time in September.

There are no fewer than a dozen churches on Blue Hill Avenue from Mattapan Square to Grove Hall, and many require parking considerations at off-peak times – such as Sunday mornings for services, weekday mornings for funerals, or weekend nights for weddings and other celebrations. Were there a center-lane bus, a new bike lane, and some parking removed from near the churches, many predict it could pose a problem for these long-standing congregations.

Chief among the houses of worship is the predominantly African American Morningstar Baptist Church on Blue Hill Avenue near Morton Street. With a small parking lot, it relies heavily on street parking. There also are Jubilee Church, though it has a large parking lot that operates efficiently without street parking, and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church (formerly St. Angela’s) that utilizes a fair amount of street parking and has no parking lot.

At Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, eight spaces next to the church would be retained, but a large swath of parking in the center would be eliminated. Jubilee would have no parking in front of its church, but likely wouldn’t need it anyway due their large private parking lot. At Morningstar, there are 18 spaces retained in front of the church and seven on the next block up beyond the Clarkwood Street intersection (with two new spaces added via eliminating a sidewalk bus stop), but the longstanding tradition of parking on the center or the sidewalk areas on Sundays and special events would be eliminated.

At all three locations, the current Blue Hill Avenue draft plan calls for vehicle lanes to be narrowed to one lane of traffic on the west side of the street, and two lanes on the east side. The introduction of a dedicated center-lane bus corridor and new bicycle lanes on the edges would take away some long-standing parking spots for these churches – particularly at Morningstar where parking in the center median is common and necessary on Sundays. City planners have said they prefer a plan that includes the center-lane bus and bicycle lanes on the edge, though they are still collecting input and no decisions have been made. An engagement report summarizing two years of feedback, and that will inform the decision by Mayor Michelle Wu and elected officials, is to be completed in September, Blue Hill Avenue planners have said.

Bishop John Borders of Morningstar told the Reporter through a spokesperson that he had no comment on the matter at this time and will be happy to host the town hall.

The issue bubbled up to the forefront just as monthly engagement meetings were ending for the Blue Hill Avenue corridor. “Jubilee has a large parking lot; however, Morningstar has very little parking,” said resident Gillian Straughan at a public meeting last month. “What is this plan going to do to the members of the churches that park on Blue Hill Avenue every Sunday?”

In that same meeting, the city indicated they really didn’t have a definite plan for such parking but were considering having church members park at certain school lots. The nearest school to Morningstar is on top of Wellington Hill at the former Solomon Lewenberg School (now Young Achievers).

“We’re still looking at options and one option is to work with the schools because school parking lots are not used,” said BTD’s Charlotte Fleetwood during a public meeting last month regarding Mattapan Square. “We understand there is a very critical need for church parking and especially on Sundays. We’re still working on how to accommodate that through this plan.”

Many balked at that idea due to the older adults in the congregations, who would likely not be able to make such a walk in good or bad weather. Even Rep. Holmes – a supporter of the city’s plan – balked at the school parking lot plan and said he and others organized the town hall meeting because they felt the plan to use the schools wouldn’t work. City officials would like to have that meeting later in the fall, but community members have said they would like that to happen in September before the engagement report.

“It’s no different than the Happy Supermarket further up on Talbot, in that we have parking problems that existed in advance of the bus lane being proposed,” he noted. “I am a fan of the bus lane; I think it’s the right answer. Let’s solve these real problems that exist and not let them be something to stop the project.”

Holmes suggested that those attending services be allowed to park in the bus lanes on Sundays and approved special occasions, as well as being allowed to park on the sidewalk. There is precedent, he said, for allowing such accommodations at churches in the South End, where parking temporarily on Sundays and for funerals is allowed in the center of the street and on sidewalks.

The date of the town hall meeting has yet to be scheduled, but city and elected noted that it would be a public meeting held in Morningstar.

CLARIFICATION: This story was updated throughout with additional details on the parking layouts under consideration.

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