Sullivan Square Project Stirs Up Charlestown Residents

Lifelong Charlestown residents oppose filling in Sullivan Square with a petition. Meanwhile, the CNC schedules a long-anticipated public meeting with Rep. Capuano.

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.”

Jen Truong May 11, 2011 at 11:29 AM
Please support the Surface Option Design by visiting the aforementioned links to understand the rationale and sign the petition: http://bostoncyclistsunion.org/campaigns/petition-sullivan-square/ Despite the concerns with traffic backups with elimination of the underpass I still believe that this is the best option from a family friendliness and overall improvement in quality of life. I trust the expertise of the traffic engineers who have taken into account the current and projected traffic patterns (yes, including IKEA) -- they know that the current rotary is poorly designed and misunderstood by the majority of drivers that pass through. The traffic signals proposed will alleviate the backups as from a design point of view, it is easier to understand the traditional grid pattern. There are too many times for me to count when I have gone through the rotary and the the walk cycle for pedestrians gets skipped, cars and trucks run through a yellow or even red light causing me to miss the opportunity to walk and drivers are talking on their cell phone while waiting for a gap to "gun-it" into the rotary and neglect to see that I have the right of way to cross. This is when I am either carrying my toddler or pushing a bright orange stroller. I wear a banana yellow jacket with reflectors. People don't really care because they are usually in a hurry to get from point A to point B. If they are willing to run over a woman with a baby then be careful! Take care, -jt
Anne May 14, 2011 at 01:25 AM
Is anyone aware of a letter that was sent by the city to anyone signing a petition against the surface proposal. Would you share content of the letter and the person or group sigining same? Many thanks.
Dan May 14, 2011 at 11:38 PM
The designs offered here were not fully vetted by the community nor was the community offered the proof these designs would even work. I did not see any of these plans published in the paper or the meetings (more than one) well publicized when people would be able to attend. I was at the hearings back in '08 at that time the thoughts of keeping the rotary was strong as it was the best way to move the most traffic in rush hour. The problem was we don't have a real rotary! which causes most of the confusion. The root issue is the fear of rotaries as they are seen as ineffective. The real problem is making them correctly and not trying to make them so large (too many lanes wide) given the radius and number of spokes. In our case Sullivan is four lanes in some locations way to wide to be safe given the radius of the space. In addition the S turn leading traffic out to Main & Bunker Hill streets is ripe for accidents. To do it right I fear there might be the need for some land taking which I think is why the city is forcing this design on to us. In any case the tunnel is still needed to lighten the load of the surface streets. And we still need create a parallel street on the other side of Bunker Hill Community Collage as was first proposed back in '08. So the traffic load on Rutherford Ave to City Square can be better managed.
Mum22 May 16, 2011 at 11:18 PM
I simply don't get this last minute attempt to go against the progress made with all the meetings over the past two years. To suggest there weren't meetings, or that such meetings weren't publicized is simply absurd.
nick czech November 29, 2012 at 06:49 PM


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