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Beacon Street: From Main Artery to Parking Lot Courtesy of the Curtatone Administration

This recent storm provided an example of how just poorly the City's plan for the reconfiguration of Beacon St. would work out.

The last few days have given us a picture of what Beacon Street would look like if the Curtatone administration has its way in re-configuring Beacon St.  It’s not pretty. Indeed, it is unworkable and dangerous. Over the objections of residents and businesses, the City plans to install cycle tracks that will narrow the road and reduce parking by half. With this storm, Beacon was narrowed to approximately the width the City’s plan calls for and it looked more like a parking lot than a main artery. Every delivery truck that double parked turned Beacon into a one lane road. Every resident that parked to unload groceries did the same. If two vehicles double parked in opposite lanes, Beacon would be literally impassable. This is the future that Beacon St. faces 24/7/365 if the Curtatone plan goes through.  

The Mayor has acknowledged that under his plan, "fuel trucks will do what they have always done: single-park or double-park in front of the delivery location and obstruct traffic flow (bicycle or auto) until the delivery is complete." 

So, for a cycle track that runs for less than a half mile (yes, you read that correctly), the Mayor will degrade the livability of the Beacon St. neighborhood and turn Beacon St. into a driver's nighmare. Why? To be able, as his administration has already done, to tout the creation of “the first federally funded cycle track.” Nice line on an ambitious pol’s résumé, but a disgraceful price to be paid by his constituents who live and have businesses on Beacon St.  

The Mayor remains as tone deaf to the legitimate apprehension of the tax paying folks of Beacon St. as he does to the infeasibility of this badly thought through plan. Yet the City vigorously pushes this plan forward despite strong opposition from residents, businesses, business patrons and cycling experts. Something is not adding up here. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

AHM February 14, 2013 at 01:29 AM
This would be a normal thing with him. He has shown over and over that he will do what he wants, end of discussion. No matter who it hurts. I have been through many mayors here and this one is the worse. He is not a mayor of the citizens of Somerville. I wish you the best of luck. But as usual he will probably get his way.
SHS '67 February 14, 2013 at 02:18 PM
Exactly right. This article is correct. And the community meeting and invitation for public comments are nothing but charades. It is a done deal, no question. As the previous commenter suggests, it will get shoved down the throats of residents no matter who it hurts.
Domenic Ruccio, Jr. February 14, 2013 at 05:07 PM
This is my first experience with the Curtatone administration and it matches up exactly with what you've both said. If I hear "done deal" or "forget it, the Mayor wants this" again I'll break out in hives. Enough. Who does this Mayor represent, the people who have lived on Beacon Street for years (and paid the taxes that pay the Mayor's salary) and the businesses who have invested life savings on Beacon St. or the residents of Arlington, Cambridge, Medford and Lexington who spend 10 minutes a day cycling through Somerville to Cambridge? Judging by how the Mayor and his Planning Department have declined from the start to effectively seek the opinions of Beacon St. residents and business owners - but not the cycling activists, most of whom don't live in Somerville or even bike here - His Honor is clearly confused on this point. This is far from a done deal. MassDOT who oversees the project has been presented with very credible written criticisms of the plan from the cycling community. They feel, with good evidential support, that a cycle track(s) on Beacon St. will be very dangerous for cyclists. Beacon St. has too many driveways and cross streets for a cycle track to be safe. And the irony is that this miniature cycle track will be less than a half mile long. Is all this upheaval and contention for a vanity project for the Mayor? Sure looks like it: "Curtatone - first federally funded cycle track!" That should be a great comfort to Beacon St. residents.
AHM February 14, 2013 at 07:47 PM
Unfortunately that is the reality. I have watched as long time businesses that were good for the community and were nice people just tossed out of here. I can't write all the stuff this guy has done to many of the businesses here and to the ones now gone from here. And that's only what I know. Since he has been in it is his vision, end of discussion. Which is why I will be leaving this city for good after over 60 years here just like many others. It WAS a nice place at one time. It's over.
Sand Man February 14, 2013 at 08:29 PM
DR, Note that Somerville's so-called "Bike & Pedestrian Coordinator" is a member of the Somerville BIKE Committee, and not of any corresponding Pedestrian Committee (which doesn't exist), and you can see where the Mayor's flagrant bias lies....
Domenic Ruccio, Jr. February 14, 2013 at 08:59 PM
At the last public meeting a representative of a pedestrian group gave a very lucid critique of this plan and the disadvantages to pedestrians. Real concerns were raised, especially for elders. However, as with all the public meetings to date, if you looked closely you could see those concerns going in one ear of the Planing Department and out the other. The public meetings to date have been such dog and pony shows that they should have been reviewed by the theater critic from the Globe.
mark February 14, 2013 at 09:15 PM
Why pick out Beacon Street? Every street in the City lost at least half its parking and people managed to get by. I'm curious where everyone parked? Please be kind enough to answer my survey and I will blog on the results: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/P3XZDHT
Sand Man February 14, 2013 at 09:37 PM
Interesting, DR... Do you remember the name of the pedestrian group? And were the public meeting minutes posted anywhere that you know of?
Charlie Denison February 14, 2013 at 10:01 PM
We should not be designing a street to make double parking easier. As it is now, when people double park, they block the bike lane, forcing bicyclists out into traffic. One of the big benefits of the new design is that double parked vehicles will no longer block the bicyclists (except perhaps for oil delivery trucks). And the fact that they WILL block an entire travel lane will hopefully motivate people to NOT double park as much as they do today. Unfortunately, the pedestrian advocate at the meeting did not have a good understanding of cycle tracks. She was also not officially representing any organization. WalkBoston and other pedestrian advocacy groups are generally in support of cycle tracks. Compared to other cycle tracks in the Boston area, the design of the Beacon Street cycle tracks will actually be safer for pedestrians. For example, on Vassar St in Cambridge, the cycle tracks and sidewalks are directly adjacent to each other. On Beacon Street, there will be trees and street furniture separating them, which will discourage bicyclists from riding on the sidewalk and pedestrians from mistakenly wandering into the cycle track. The big question I have about the storm is, what did everyone on Beacon Street do with their cars? They must have gone somewhere!
Domenic Ruccio, Jr. February 14, 2013 at 10:26 PM
The difference between Beacon and most other streets in Somerville is that we are sandwiched between Cambridge and the T tracks. Both do not provide parking alternatives to us. If you can't find a parking space on Beacon you cannot simply go over a block and park. Those streets are all Cambridge permitted parking. And you can't go in the other direction because there is a sunken T track, upon which parking is frowned. If you go pass that you are on Somerville Ave. where so much parking has been eliminated recently that Somerville Ave residents are parking on Beacon. That is according to a property owner on Somerville Ave whose tenants are forced frequently to park on Beacon. Beacon at 6:30 in the morning when I get to work every day is lined on both sides with parked cars. Those are residents, not T commuters or workers at nearby universities as the City claims in its flawed parking study. Where are half of those residents supposed to park when half the parking is eliminated? There simply is not enough parking on Beacon, or off-Beacon alternatives, to accommodate this plan eliminating parking. To all of us who spend our lives on Beacon that is patently obvious and we are mystified that others who do not spend much time on Beacon seem not to want to believe that.
Domenic Ruccio, Jr. February 14, 2013 at 10:38 PM
We're not designing a street to make it easier to double park, we're designing a street that will leave them no alternative but to double park, as the Mayor admits. What else are they going to do? And when the street is narrowed, traffic flow will be severely impaired. What happens with first responder situations under these circumstances? The thing about cycle tracks is that they are very good in some places and dangerous as hell in others. Beacon has far too many intersection driveways and cross streets to be a viable place for cycle tracks. Cycle tracks need to be evaluated based on very specific applications, not with sweeping blanket statements. As for where people parked in the storm, some parked in municipal lots, . Some parked in paid lots and paid $30 a day. I don't quite understand the point of the question. I'm sure you're not suggesting that on a dally basis residents of Beacon Street should park miles away from their homes and sometimes pay for the privilege. The City's own web site, under the Parking Section, states that residents have a right to expect to be able to find street parking in front of their homes.
Domenic Ruccio, Jr. February 14, 2013 at 10:50 PM
PS: there is a mountable curb planned for the north bound side of the street, which allows - encourages - all sorts to vehicles to mount the curb and park in the cycle lane. On the south bound side of the street the curb is not mountable and vehicles will double park in the street turning Beacon into a one lane nightmare. As the Mayor said, "In other words, fuel trucks will do what they have always done: single-park or double-park in front of the delivery location and obstruct traffic flow (bicycle or auto) until the delivery is complete." How is that not dangerous for cyclists and motorists? How the hell is that sane urban planning? And we're doing this for a cycle track that will run .4 mile. Completely insignificant distance. Then you're back on the road in painted cycle lanes for the most dangerous stretch of Beacon near Inman Square. This plan does not make sense, will get cyclists hurt (or worse), and will turn a main artery into a nightmare on a daily basis. But it will be, "The first federally funded cycle track!" Albeit a very, very short one.
David Olmsted February 14, 2013 at 11:51 PM
The pedestrian was stating concerns as a member of the community and a frequent user of Beacon Street. First hand experience holds more weight than an organization speaking in generalities. Vassar street doesn't have driveways, homes, or cross streets, therefore it shouldn't be compared to Beacon. There is no law that prevents people from walking along the cycle track, standing in it waiting for a bus, storing furniture there while moving, etc. Since the cycle track is essentially a 19 foot sidewalk, bicyclists on them must follow the rules for pedestrians, and as such should stop (or nearly stop) at every cross street and driveway to make sure no vehicle is coming.
Freddie February 14, 2013 at 11:58 PM
I find it kind of funny how one of the guys who started Zipcar has a vested interest in eliminating a rather large chunk of residential street parking in one of their biggest markets. Cash in those ZIP shares yet, Mark?
Sam February 15, 2013 at 12:36 AM
"The big question I have about the storm is, what did everyone on Beacon Street do with their cars? They must have gone somewhere!" Actually my downstairs neighbor had to abandon his car at work and carpool in for the past few days. Most people I know had to use the JFK school lot. Some other neighbors told me they had to park their cars in Alewife station garage (you can overnight park up to 7 days in a row). These are temporary situations that people can deal with for a few days..but to have one sided parking on from Oxford to museum every day of our lives? If only being able to park on one side wasn't a problem then why did when I put in a 311 request to get the even side of the street plowed out that they told me there had already been SEVERAL requests to have it done? Get over yourself Charlie - you don't live on this street and you wouldn't know the full story about the parking situation unless you did. Now that the even side of the street has been carved out it's already full of cars - cars with resident stickers on them. And in regards to the double parking thing - as someone who both bikes and drives, having being able to fully use a travel lane instead of serve into a lane of on coming traffic is actually a lot safer than the current door zone bike lanes you lobbied for a mere few years ago. Less parking = far more instances of double parking anyway.
Domenic Ruccio, Jr. February 16, 2013 at 01:37 PM
I just posted two pictures that are illustrative of the parking situation on upper Beacon Street between Oxford and Museum. Taken early morning on a weekday. One shows parked cars as far as the eye can see and the other shows the only open parking space on this stretch of Beacon. I would like to ask Mayor Curtatone and his Planning Director, as well as anyone else who thinks there is enough excess parking here to eliminate half, how the City proposes to take all the cars that are on the left side of the road and fit them in that one little available space on the right side?
AHM February 16, 2013 at 03:12 PM
Back when Tony Lafuente ran against Joe, even though I really knew he would not win I had some hopes since he is a businessman and may be of help to us. Lately even he is starting to sound like Joe. I don't know how much the others can or would help. Don't know if you have talked to any of the Aldermen or Aldermen at large. Tom Taylor is a real good guy, Bill White will listen and give advice, I don't always agree with Bill but he does not ignore a problem. Tony I don't know yet. The others I can't tell you. Joe could care less if you shut your doors and left. I don't know why more people don't see that side of him. Or maybe they just don't care. All that was needed there was a little common sense.
Domenic Ruccio, Jr. February 16, 2013 at 04:21 PM
AHM: It's pretty obvious that this Mayor is anti-business. The Aldermen at large some months back took a formal resolution requesting that the City's plan be redesigned. It was a much appreciated gesture on their part, although it is obvious that the City was listening to the Aldermen with the same deaf ear it listens to the rest of us. However, I did ask the Aldermen in an email a couple of weeks ago if there was a way to get his issue on a ballot question and did not receive a reply from any of the Aldermen at large or the President. I wanted a way for the people of Somerville to express themselves on this plan since every public meeting gets flooded with cycling advocates, most of whom do not live in Somerville, many of whom do not even ride on Beacon, and then the City reports that there was widespread approval from the audience in attendance.
AHM February 16, 2013 at 05:44 PM
I would try a call to Bill White. You may not like his answer but he will at the very least get back to you and talk to you. At least he always has in the past with me.
Domenic Ruccio, Jr. February 16, 2013 at 06:09 PM
If memory serves, he was a recipient of the email I sent. I'm sure he's a good guy and, hell, anyone can get busy and miss an email in their in box, but for not one of them to respond was a bit striking to me. This was well before the storm, so no excuse there.
AHM February 16, 2013 at 07:27 PM
Sometimes it's better to call also. I have emailed, called and wrote letters on one problem I had. My experience with Bill is he usually will get back to you very soon. At least in the past. My problems were not solved, but at least he got back to me. This is your living. You have to be relentless. Tom and Bill were the 2 that I had the best dealings with. I did speak to Connolly on one issue and seemed very nice but it appeared to me that after I left it was a forgotten issue. One person I know said that he had come to his aid and took care of him. Not an excuse but these people also hold down a job as well. Which is why you have to be aggressive so your voice gets heard.
Domenic Ruccio, Jr. February 16, 2013 at 07:36 PM
I hear you. And, yes, I'm sympathetic to the fact that they have day jobs. I have had a number of interactions with Tom Taylor and he is first rate. Very nice guy and genuinely concerned about people. Plus this issue has become so hot that I'm not sure people aren't a little hesitant to get involved. The word is that this miniature cycle track of .4 mile is important to His Eminence. That, I think, is code for "don't cross the Mayor on this." Imagine, this is how we run a city government ... Stunning to me. When you really examine how this whole project has been conducted, it is a disgrace.
AHM February 16, 2013 at 11:53 PM
Tom is a good guy. I have crossed paths with him at various times over the last 50 years. I don't think he is a yes man for the ceo of Somerville. Bill has the legal experience. Keep pushing. I have never called on the help of the Chamber of Commerce so I don't know how helpful they can be. I used to be a member.
cathy collins February 19, 2013 at 12:19 AM
The aldermen have abdicated their responsiblity to the citzens of somerville. The mayor has bullied them into submission, so much so that they are figureheads only. As for Tony when the mayor was against him lost, when the mayor openly supported him he won. The mayor flexed his power and now Tony is in the Curtatone fold.
AHM February 19, 2013 at 12:42 AM
Thanks, I was trying to hold onto the little bit of hope I had left for Tony. What I have seen coming from him is very disapointing as a businessman. You would think after 60 plus years here I would know better.
Chev April 04, 2013 at 04:18 PM
"....every public meeting gets flooded with cycling advocates, most of whom do not live in Somerville, many of whom do not even ride on Beacon, and then the City reports that there was widespread approval from the audience in attendance." As a cyclist, I agree this is a problem. When I first heard about a plan to construct a cycle track on Beacon street I was very excited. I signed a petition in support of the track from the BCU but when I learned the specifics of the plan I felt duped. I don't think most of the cyclists supporting the cycle track actually know the specifics of this plan b/c I have a hard time thinking they would be so supportive if they did.
Chev April 04, 2013 at 04:22 PM
Above Domenic R said ... "...And we're doing this for a cycle track that will run .4 mile. Completely insignificant distance. Then you're back on the road in painted cycle lanes for the most dangerous stretch of Beacon near Inman Square. This plan does not make sense, will get cyclists hurt (or worse), and will turn a main artery into a nightmare on a daily basis." As a cyclist, this pretty much sums up why I am opposed to this plan. The plan is completely backwards!
AHM April 04, 2013 at 05:49 PM
Maybe another way to approach this is to repave the street. Make lines doing test runs for a period of time with different configurations that may work for some specified period and see which works the best for everyone. Be a whole lot cheaper than actually building something that may or may not work. As with many streets in Somerville they no sooner get them in and they start tearing them back up again so it is not like anything is really all that permanent here. Maybe we can find a happy medium for everyone. Plus just having a repaved road will be an improvement over what is there now.

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