Birch Plaza finally gets where it needed to go and we are THANKFUL!

Conversion of the one-block section of Birch Street from Corinth to Belgrade has been long in the making, it’s true, and it’s also true that we have been steadfast supporters of this idea from its inception. And now that the planters and bench seating have arrived and been filled in with birch trees and other plantings by the city, we are simply delighted with the results. It’s a strong improvement over the prior condition, eliminates what had been a dangerous left turn onto by motor vehicle operators onto Belgrade and provides another great gathering space in our neighborhood for things like Salsa Night in the Square (picture above). Our sincerest, heartfelt thanks to so many folks who helped make this happen, including, in reverse chronological order –

  • Mayor Michelle Wu and her Administration, especially Chief of Streets Jascha Franklin-Hodge; Jacob Wessel, public realm director for the City of Boston; and ONS Roslindale Representatives Josh McCorkle and Dianna Bronchuk;
  • District 5 Councilor Enrique Pepen;
  • Former District 5 Councilor Arroyo;
  • The Janey Administration;
  • The Walsh Administration;
  • Roslindale Village Main Street; and
  • friend and current WalkUP Roslindale Board member, Adam Shutes, formerly of Boston Cheese Cellar. Great job everyone!

Go Boston 2030 ReVisioned! TAKE. THE. SURVEY!

We’re coming up on 8 years after the initial adoption of the city’s Go Boston 2030 transportation plan and our friends at the Boston Transportation Department are now soliciting input on an update they’re calling “Go Boston 2030 ReVisioned.” As their webpage states:

Go Boston 2030 has guided the City of Boston’s transportation investments since its launch in 2017. More than half of the projects in the plan are already completed or in design. Now, Go Boston 2030 ReVisioned is an opportunity to evaluate our progress, and stake our path toward Boston’s transportation future.

To put a finer point on things, BTD sees 3 main components for the update:

COMPONENT NUMBER 1 – ARE WE MAKING PROGRESS? // UPDATED DATA AND METRICS
The plan’s targets include improving safety, expanding access, and reducing emissions. Go Boston 2030 ReVisioned will create a webpage where we’ll report annually on our progress.
COMPONENT NUMBER 2 – ARE WE INVESTING IN OUR FUTURE? // PROJECT EVALUATION AND IDENTIFICATION
Some Go Boston 2030 projects are complete, some are still in design, and some have yet to start. Go Boston 2030 ReVisioned will track existing projects and identify new ones that advance our goals.
COMPONENT NUMBER 3 – ARE WE MEETING BOSTONIANS’ NEEDS? // FOCUSED COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
Two years of city-wide community engagement informed Go Boston 2030. Go Boston 2030 ReVisioned will conduct focused community engagement to reach underrepresented communities.
Check it all out and TAKE THE SURVEY on their webpage. It only takes about 7 minutes!

UPDATE: Partial Orange Line Shutdown Incoming – Monday through Thursday – 18 to 21 March 2024 PLUS BostonBikes Convoy

Image courtesy Streetsblog MASS and MBTA.

In contrast to the full shutdown back in 2022 that, in hindsight, was sadly much less than met the eye, the MBTA are doing a partial shutdown of the line from Jackson Square to North Station for the next four days – Monday through Thursday, the 18th through the 21st of March 2024. Our friends over at Streetsblog MASS have the details, emphasizing that this is part of the ongoing, largely successful thus far, year-long effort to eliminate all slow zones on the core rail transit system. The major highlights are as follows:

  • There will be free shuttle bus service that will make stops at all of the stations between Jackson Square and Back Bay, so that riders can take the Commuter Rail toward South Station.
  • Shuttles will also stop at Copley station so that riders can take the Green Line toward North Station.
  • The fare gates will be open at both Jackson Square and Back Bay stations, signifying free fare. There will also be free fares at Copley station heading inbound/eastbound.
  • The Commuter Rail will be free between Forest Hills, Ruggles, Back Bay, and South Station.
  • Plan extra time in commutes to anticipate longer than normal wait times for trains.

We’ve bolded the free Commuter Rail option because Ruggles is ideally situated right in the middle of the shuttle portion of the closure and it’ll be a free ride from Forest Hills all the way into South Station for the period of the shutdown. That really looks like the best overall alternative transit-based travel option. We also want to note that Boston Bikes have been leading bike commuting convoys on the Mondays of this month, starting at 8:00 am at Adams Park in Roslindale Square with stops at Green Street (8:20 am) and Jackson Square (8:30 am) before ending at City Hall Plaza. The return trip in the afternoon starts at 5:15 pm from City Hall Plaza and retraces the morning’s inbound route in reverse. So, see you all there at 8:00 am tomorrow at Adams Park and we’ll see if we can get Boston Bikes to sponsor convoys for the following 3 days of the shutdown. Stay tuned! UPDATE: Boston Bikes have agreed to lead the convoy again tomorrow, Tuesday the 19th, but that will be it for this week.

 

 

Squares + Streets Initiative – WalkUP Roslindale Support and Comment Letter Submitted Today

As is our custom, we provide the full text of our support and/or comment letters and this one is both. The letter fairly well explains our thinking at this point in this program, but it is worth pointing out that “this point in the program” is really just about table-setting. Our support and comment letter relate to the set of proposed zoning text amendments soon to be considered by the Boston Zoning Commission that will, most critically, add a series of floating zones that are not yet mapped anywhere in the city. Instead, those zones will float, available in the Zoning Code, until they are brought down to the ground through specifically focused small area planning processes. While the floating zone concept is relatively new to Boston, it is not by any means a recent innovation in land use regulation. The concept has been around for a long time and has been used elsewhere even here in Massachusetts.

As we are all well aware, Roslindale Square has recently been identified among the first group of places where such small area planning processes leading to new zoning and an accompanying action plan will be undertaken, we understand commencing at some point in late winter/early spring. We look forward eagerly to engaging with the city and our neighbors in that process and adopting effective zoning changes that will make the principal center of our neighborhood a better, more active, and more welcoming place where more people can live, work, shop, and just connect with each other.

We urge everyone reading our letter to take a look at the initiative in more depth and we’d be delighted if you concluded that you wanted to weigh in with your support through the BPDA’s online comment submission portal here.

January 24, 2024

BY ELECTRONIC MAIL ONLY

james.jemison@nullboston.gov

squaresandstreets@nullboston.gov

James Arthur Jemison II

Chief of Planning and Director of the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA)

City of Boston

Re: Squares + Streets Planning and Zoning Initiative

Dear Chief Jemison:

Please accept this comment and support letter on behalf of WalkUP Roslindale with respect to the Squares + Streets planning and zoning initiative currently underway by the BPDA. Squares + Streets is a new planning and zoning initiative furthering key updates to the city’s current zoning to focus on more housing, public space, arts and culture, and transit in our neighborhood centers like Roslindale Square and along main streets.

WalkUP Roslindale strongly supports this initiative and appreciates the BPDA undertaking this ambitious and exciting endeavor to enhance Roslindale Square and other neighborhood centers around our city. We especially extend our gratitude to the BPDA staff who have already held numerous community meetings, drop-in sessions, and opportunities for feedback throughout the first phase of this process as the floating zones are first adopted into the zoning code, to be mapped later upon the conclusion of subsequent small area planning processes.

We are excited by the intent of the Squares + Streets initiative to facilitate critically needed new housing growth and to strategically increase population density which will help support our small businesses and improve walkability in key neighborhood centers. For nearly a decade now, WalkUP Roslindale has supported new housing in our neighborhood, organized for better public transit, and advocated for enhanced street safety and walkability to support our neighborhood’s small businesses and community residents. We believe the Squares + Streets initiative is very much in line with this mission and these actions of WalkUP Roslindale and are excited to support its progress. In particular, we applaud the removal of unnecessary and counterproductive parking minimums through the proposed zoning and the capacity for enhanced building heights adopted through to-be-undertaken small area plans – two specific elements that will facilitate new housing growth and improved walkability.

While broadly supportive of the Squares + Streets initiative, WalkUP Roslindale strongly encourages the BPDA to further consider the following recommendations:

  • Utilize Objective Criteria. BPDA staff must use objective criteria to map out the small area plans for Roslindale Square and other neighborhood centers. These criteria should include, but not necessarily be limited to: proximity to transit (both rail and bus), walkability, existing conditions, and anticipation of growth. It is crucial that easily understandable and transparent criteria are utilized to plan and zone these small plan areas to create the conditions for future growth and enhanced density and walkability. 
  • Limit Conditional Uses. We recommend that the BPDA reduce the number of conditional uses imposed throughout the new, proposed zoning. While conditional uses have a place in some situations, the proposed zoning can and should go further to make many of these conditional uses allowed by right. We know from experience in Roslindale that conditional uses can bog down applicants and small business owners in unnecessary bureaucracy that delay new housing and new businesses and raise the associated costs.
  • Use Existing Conditions as the Floor. In Roslindale, the vast majority of lots are existing non-comforming. That is to say, the lots were initially developed with small lot sizes, minimal setbacks, and similar characteristics, but made retroactively nonconforming by later downzoning. This situation means almost any development, whether new construction or simple exterior renovations, will require zoning variances. At a minimum, the new zoning should restore existing lots to legal status and remove the requirement of variances to do basic work and simple additions to them.
  • Keep S-5 Placemaker Squares. We understand and applaud the BPDA for returning the S-5 (Placemaker Squares) districts to the Squares + Streets options for small area plans after they were previously removed. The S-5 districts enable the greatest density of housing and uses where appropriate to create vibrant, active neighborhood centers. We wish to reiterate that the S-5 districts are a crucial tool for planning and should be included in the final set of floating zones adopted.
  • Address Displacement. Displacement is inevitably most prevalent when the status quo is maintained. If no new residential or commercial space is built, steadily increasing demand for both guarantees that residents (renters, aspiring homeowners, and business owners) will be priced out. That said, changes that increase permissible commercial and residential density will result in new construction and potentially higher rents if anti-displacement measures are not considered from the outset. We encourage the BPDA to proactively plan for this in small plan areas under the new zoning and create incentives for existing property owners to keep rents reasonable through property tax abatements and other measures, such as providing current commercial tenants the right of first refusal to return to the space at issue.
  • Engage All Stakeholders. As an organization of neighborhood residents and local business owners, we firmly believe in public feedback and input into planning and zoning decision-making. At the same time, we know that no one group, including our own, can speak for an entire neighborhood, never mind an entire city. We have been impressed by the outreach conducted by BPDA staff to date and urge its continuation as the process moves forward from adopting the proposed set of floating zones to undertaking the small area plans. It is crucial that staff continue to actively reach out to stakeholders where they are. It is well documented that evening meetings are difficult for individuals with small children, evening jobs, and other life commitments to attend, for example. We hope to continue to see opportunities for feedback at pop up events, the Roslindale Farmers’ Markets,  on transit platforms and bus stops, and at community activities where people naturally congregate and deserve an opportunity to be heard.

In closing, we wish to reiterate our deep support and appreciation for the Squares + Streets initiative. We believe a thoughtful neighborhood and citywide rezoning is long overdue in Roslindale and Boston, respectively. Starting with the Squares + Streets planning and zoning, we hope that the city can finally and fully enable the density, walkability, and investment we need in our neighborhood centers to enhance the vibrancy of our communities, to provide intrinsic support for local businesses, and to tackle the critical need for more housing so evident in our Roslindale neighborhood and across our entire city.

Sincerely,

WalkUP Roslindale Board of Directors

 

Cc: Michelle Wu, Mayor

Enrique Pepén, City Councilor District 5

Ben Weber, City Councilor, District 6

Ruthzee Louijeune, City Council President

Julia Mejia, City Councilor At-Large

Erin Murphy, City Councilor At-Large

Henry Santana, City Councilor At-Large

Bill MacGregor, State Representative

Rob Consalvo, State Representative

Michael Rush, State Senator

WalkUP Roslindale Year in Review 2023 – The year that was…

Well, another year has come and gone and we here at WalkUP Roslindale thought we should pause as the new year gets underway to look back at what seem to us to be major stories/events/improvements to our neighborhood and/or city that would be worth remembering, so:

WINTER

In January, we marked the reconstruction efforts (which continue) for the Square Root/Belgrade Building after a West Roxbury resident lost control of his motor vehicle and plowed it into the unsuspecting building on a Sunday morning the previous December, while also noting that the Square had its first bookstore – Rozzie Bound – since the demise of Village Books lo these many years ago.

SPRING

In April, we marked the very significant rebranding of our long-time walking advocacy partners, WalkBoston, to WalkMassachusetts, reflecting the fact that their work had been all across the state for well more than a decade.

In May, along with everyone else in Boston, we welcomed the Boston Transportation Department’s “safety surge” as they declared the end of eye-droppering street improvements and, among other things, marked the end of the Hunger Games-like Neighborhood Slow Streets program and pointed to a massive, city-wide program to install 500 speed humps per year for the foreseeable future. This was and is a big deal.

In June, we were thrilled to host a community screening of The Street Project at the Rozzie Square Theater (complete with a brief welcome and introduction from Mayor Michelle Wu and attendance by locally-based but internationally-respected urban designer and author Jeff Speck that we described in a post the next month).

SUMMER

In July, we co-hosted a District 5 City Council Candidate Forum with Progressive West Roxbury/Roslindale, the Forum for Racial Equity via Educational Experiences in Hyde Park, Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, Keep Hyde Park Beautiful, Longfellow Area Neighborhood Association, RozzieBikes, and the Ward 18 Democratic Committee.

In September, we hosted a post-Annual/Board meeting public presentation double-header featuring Jarred Johnson from TransitMatters on their Orange Line Extension report and our own Greg Tobin giving an update on the start of construction on the Roslindale Gateway Path. At that meeting, we welcomed new board members Nikki Kong and James Guerrier.

FALL

In October, we happily marked the installation of several speed humps (part of the BTD safety surge and the result, in part, of our post Poplar Street Walk Audit advocacy) on the section of Poplar Street between Washington and Sycamore streets. Motor vehicle operating speeds dropped immediately and permanently.

Finally, in December, we paired our fall board meeting with a presentation from Boston Planning & Development Agency staff on the Squares + Streets program.

 

Public Presentation on the new Squares + Streets Initiative – Sunday, 10 December 2023 – 5 pm Upstairs at the Substation

We’re pleased to announce that, on Sunday, 10 December 2023, at 5 pm at the Substation (Upstairs) in Roslindale Square, we will be hosting a presentation from representatives of the Boston Planning & Development Agency on their recently-launched Squares + Streets planning and zoning initiative. The top-line description of the initiative from the BPDA webpage reads as follows:

Squares + Streets, a new planning and zoning initiative that will focus on housing, public space, arts and culture, and transit in neighborhood centers and along main streets.

We are looking to enhance small areas that are near transit and already provide essential goods and services for local residents, businesses, and visitors.

Squares + Streets will:

  • Focus on housing, public space, cultural amenities, transit assets etc. that reflect the unique needs of each area
  • Develop a number of Small Area Plans in 6–9 month timeframes that are shorter, more intentional, more transparent, and more predictable

This project is meant to complement and support Design Vision and Zoning Reform work.

What are Squares + Streets?

Squares + Streets are centers for activity within a neighborhood. They are often important places of gathering that connect residents to essential goods, transit options, services, and job opportunities.

Planning for Squares + Streets is one of the first steps towards what citywide zoning reform might look like. By focusing on key squares and streets across the city, our goal is to develop high-impact, short-term recommendations for areas that can be implemented through zoning.

Squares and Streets will focus on centers of activity in neighborhoods.
Squares + Streets will focus on centers of activity in neighborhoods.

What are small area plans?

Small Area Plans will zoom in on specific squares and streets throughout Boston’s neighborhoods to make detailed, action-oriented plans. They will focus on the local level and are not neighborhood wide.

Small Area Plans will support housing growth, and provide investment opportunities supported by city services in our neighborhoods.

Once completed, each Small Area Plan will outline near-term implementation actions such as:

  • Modified zoning to support housing and healthy business districts
  • Infrastructure projects to address transportation and public space needs
  • Programs and funding to promote small businesses and arts and culture

Initial Poplar Street speed humps are now IN!

Speed humps first appeared in our neighborhood with the Mount Hope-Canterbury Neighborhood Slow Streets installations a couple of years ago, and they have just been installed on the first couple of blocks of Poplar Street leading away from Roslindale Square/Washington Street toward Canterbury (we anticipate signs and more paint alerting drivers to the presence of the humps soon, as is typical). It seems this installation is both part of the Poplar Street safety improvements project for which we recently reaffirmed our support and also the Boston Transportation Department’s overall program of deploying 500 of these humble yet highly effective traffic calming devices citywide on an annual basis. It is worth noting that these are speed humps, not speed bumps – humps like these are much gentler on vehicle suspensions while still being highly effective and sized/placed to achieve the 25 mph citywide default speed limit on streets such as Poplar Street.

The folks at the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) have a useful explainer of the general concept behind speed humps here. We expect more speed humps soon in a nearby part of Roslindale with the imminent installation of the Lower South Street Neighborhood Slow Streets interventions, but we’d love to see them in many more places as quickly as they can be deployed. More of this please!

Our Recent Support Letter for Poplar Street Safety Improvements

WalkUP Roslindale recently had occasion to reiterate our support for the Boston Transportation Department’s proposed set of initial safety improvements for the set of blocks between Washington Street and Sycamore Street. We look forward to their implementation this fall. The full text of the letter is as follows:

25 September 2023

Nathaniel Fink

Sarah Davis

Boston Transportation Department 

1 City Hall Square Suite 721 

Boston, MA 02201

Dear Nathan and Sarah,

We are writing to you today to reiterate WalkUP Roslindale’s support for, and the importance of, the safety modifications proposed for Poplar St in Roslindale, including speed humps, increased pedestrian crossings, and a contraflow bicycle lane.

WalkUP Roslindale consists of Roslindale residents and business owners. We live in all areas of Roslindale, some are lucky to work in Roslindale, we all shop in Roslindale, and we all enjoy other services provided by Roslindale Village and its associated businesses.

Poplar St, from Roslindale Village through Sycamore St to Canterbury St, is a crucial passage east out of the Square, but also west – up to Sycamore St – towards the square. It provides an alternative to traveling on Cummins Highway, for both cyclists and drivers of vehicles.

Cummins Highway is a street of substantial width and includes 3 sets of stop lights (as compared to none on Poplar St until Canterbury St), as well as the large hill of Mount Hope. These combined factors encourage vehicles to travel with excessive speed, and to regularly jump through the lights. 

Traveling by bicycle on Cummins Highway into or out of the square as it is presently configured is not a safe or pleasant or easy experience: the speed of vehicles, the deteriorating state of bicycle lanes, the vehicular doors opening into bicycle lanes (especially by the post office) and the steep hill that is Mount Hope, all combine to rule out Cummins Highway as a safe or sensible place to ride a bicycle.

Although Poplar St is narrow (compared to Cummins Highway) due to vehicular parking on both sides of the street on several blocks, it is still used frequently by both vehicular and bicycle traffic. However, the lack of stop lights often encourages vehicles to move with excessive speed, despite the narrowness of the road, regardless of other road users. This makes travel along Poplar St for vehicles difficult and generally unsafe for bicycles.

It should also be noted, that not only do vehicles travel above the 25 mph limit on Poplar St, but they are also regularly observed by residents to be driving the WRONG WAY down the one-way section of Poplar St, immediately adjacent to the square.

WalkUP Roslindale therefore welcomes the changes proposed by the Boston Transportation Department for Poplar St, and encourages them to apply these changes as soon as possible and then to extend similar changes to other similar streets and other one-way systems throughout Roslindale and the City, to increase safety for all street users, and to encourage those who are able to ride their bicycles in an effort to make more efficient use of our streets and, at the same time, combat climate change.

The department’s proposals are well-proven to increase safety for all users of the street by reducing vehicular traveling speed, and the addition of a one-way contra-flow bicycle lane – while we would prefer a full two way protected contra-flow bicycle lane – is a welcome addition.

  • Reduction of vehicular travel speed on streets is directly related to increasing the safety on streets (for example see the USDOT Federal Highway Administration statements1). The addition of speed humps along Poplar St is an excellent, passive method by which to control vehicular speed and well in line with citywide efforts to install hundreds of speed humps every year starting in 2023.
  • Addition of the contra-flow bicycle lane will provide current cyclists an option to travel on Poplar St all the way to Roslindale Village without having to travel on Cummins Highway. This will eliminate the risks from the currently unsafe configuration of Cummins (vehicular speed; vehicular doors opening into bicycle lane) as well as the necessity of tackling Mount Hope. In general, providing cyclists safe options to travel around Roslindale and the City of Boston more broadly will encourage more people who are able to cycle to their nearer destinations: cycling not only actively (through exercise) and passively (through reduced tailpipe emissions) increases the overall health of residents, but also, by being a zero carbon emitting mode of transport, is an active way to participate in our ongoing battle against climate change. An excellent example of how cities, large and small, can encourage more cyclists is found in the transformation of the City of London where cycling is now the primary mode of transportation2.

We realize that street modifications to increase street safety for all street users can cause consternation for short periods as street users become accustomed to them: new street patterns; altered parking distribution; decreased speed of vehicles and increased bicycle use. 

However, we believe that the majority of residents and non-residents would agree that saving just one life by reducing vehicular speed, or by aiding future generations by providing safe bicycle infrastructure to promote overall public health and to assist in our battle against climate change, is a positive modification, for which it is worth going 50 feet further to our personal motor vehicles. 

Sincerely,

WalkUP Roslindale Board of Directors

About WalkUP Roslindale

WalkUP Roslindale, which takes its name from the international movement to foster “Walkable Urban Places,” is a collaborative group of residents and business owners dedicated to making Roslindale the most walkable neighborhood in Boston. We advocate for a dynamic, livable streetscape and we support positive changes to our public and private built environment that strengthen walkability and other forms of active mobility as means toward better personal and public health, safety, social capital, economic development, and environmental sustainability. We are led by a board of directors comprised of residents and business owners and have nearly 1,000 additional supporters. More information about WalkUP Roslindale and our initiatives can be found at www.walkuproslindale.org. We recognize that no single group of people can be said to speak for our entire neighborhood – instead, please take these comments as representing the collective support of our board members resulting from our mission and principles.

References:

  1. Speed Management is Key to Road Safety by Guan Xu, Abdul Zineddin, Randolph Atkins, and Sarah Abel https://highways.dot.gov/public-roads/winter-2022/05
  1. Report from the Environment Department of the City of London Corporation https://democracy.cityoflondon.gov.uk/documents/s182953/TMO_Review_Stage_2_End_of_Review_Committee_Report_PT_March_2023_V1.pdf