Anyone who has ever driven it during rush hour agrees that traffic flow through and around Sullivan Square could be managed better. The City of Boston has been discussing rebuilding the area in a series of public meetings dating to 2008. In 2010, the Charlestown Neighborhood voted to approve the plan (you can see what the proposal looks like here).
After reaching a consensus with Charlestown Neighborhood Council, the City of Boston Transportation Department was prepared to move forward when Congressman Michael Capuano, who represents the area and sits on the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure, interrupted the process late last year with concerns that the design would cause more traffic backups in Charlestown.
A special Neighborhood Council meeting to discuss the proposal has been scheduled for May 18th at 6 p.m. at The Knights of Columbus at 75 West School Street and the public is encouraged to attend. Capuano will be present.
But the delay over the last several weeks has given former Charlestown Neighborhood Councilman John Dillon & current CNC member Bill Galvin, both lifelong residents of Charlestown, the opportunity they were looking for.
Dillon and Galvin claim that the city misrepresented the plan to the Charlestown Neighborhood Council from the beginning and throughout the process. They claim that the City didn’t advertise the meetings properly and that they didn’t release the traffic studies until after the CNC had already approved the project.
They believe that filling in the Sullivan Square underpass portion of the project will divert excessive traffic through Charlestown worsening an already difficult rush hour commute. Dillon points out "Right now, we’ve got four lanes of free-flowing traffic going through the Sullivan Square underpass."
The plan to build an IKEA and other new stores in Assembly Square is expected to increase traffic through Sullivan Square appreciably as well.
In a press release dated May 3, 2011, the city responded, in part:
"Today, traffic congestion at Sullivan Square is due to a badly designed and dangerous rotary, not because of inadequate lanes of traffic. The new design:
- Eliminates the rotary and replaces it with conventional surface streets and signalized intersections to manage traffic-flow,
- Provides Rutherford Avenue with enough traffic lanes to continue to provide for smooth traffic-flow to Everett and to account for removing the underpass,
- Extends Spice Street to Rutherford Avenue to allow for Cambridge Street traffic to bypass the rotary area.
Today the rotary and the underpass provide a dangerous barrier between the Charlestown neighborhood, Orange Line stations and proposed housing and community facilities and are a blight on the quality of life for local residents. The new design will:
- Create safe pedestrian-scale streets and crossings connecting to Sullivan Square and Community College stations,
- Use the newly available right-of-way to provide for a linear park connecting City Square to Ryan Playground,
- Reorient the intersection of Main and Bunker Hill Streets to reduce cut-through traffic,
- Increase the amount of on-street parking for Charlestown residents,
- Create parcels for neighborhood-scale housing developments."
Galvin and Dillon want one more public hearing --properly advertised in advance and with all of the traffic studies ready for public study before proceeding any further in the process. According to them, previous meetings were not well advertised and votes were taken on the basis of incomplete information provided by the City of Boston Transportation Department.
Said Galvin, "When you protect the process, you protect the people."
They collected over 400 signatures in 6 hours one Saturday a couple of weeks back and Galvin remarked, "I’ve collected signatures for different initiatives all my adult life and I’ve never collected so many, so quickly. Many people didn’t know any of this was going on."
Dillon is particularly concerned about the fire engines and ambulances on nearby Main Street getting blocked by traffic logjams. “Not only that, but this is also going to affect the people of Everett, Malden, Somerville, and Medford.” says Dillon.
Added Galvin, "It’s not just about the people who use the underpass. What about the elderly woman who lives on Main Street? What about the single mother living in Mishawum? How will the increased traffic impact their lives?"
"Look, engineers make mistakes, but once something is built, it is very difficult to change it. Look at the El. It took us 75 years to remove that engineering improvement. That was a bad, bad mistake and I feel that filling in the underpass is a bad mistake for the people of Charlestown."
Dillon said “We don’t have an axe to grind with the people who are doing this. We just want to do it in a commonsense way and above board with full community input. I think the Charlestown Neighborhood Council is the best thing that ever happened to Charlestown, because now we have a voice in what happens here.”