About 150 people crowded into the Knights of Columbus Hall Tuesday night to hear how a plan to level the underpasses on Rutherford Avenue might play out -- and to share their opinion about it.
The Charlestown Neighborhood Council called the meeting with the Boston Transportation Department to bring residents up to speed on the “surface option” plan that the council has endorsed.
“Some people are apprehensive about what that means,” said Neighborhood Council member Paul Clausen. “Some people are confused.”
The plan involves first turning the rotary into a grid by adding and extending streets and installing more traffic lights. The proposed design would alleviate traffic jams by allowing drivers to take alternate routes, said planning consultant Mike Hall.
However, several residents, including an indignant council member Bill Galvin, said they worried that more stoplights would slow traffic, especially in and out of Charlestown.
But Hall said the lights would be timed so that people who drive at the speed limit should be able to pass through several lights at a time.
Further, setting up a grid would allow the city to install more crosswalks and allow pedestrians to stop “running for their lives,” he said.
Then, if the grid showed itself to be successful, the city would direct the contractor for the project to fill in the underpass, Hall said.
Residents question the value of the information presented to them
Tuesday’s meeting was the first time that BTD presented the public with the number of drivers who passed through Sullivan Square in making the case for the at-grade design.
Hall said that the city could do without the underpass because it accommodates only 25 percent of its capacity for cars during the morning commute and likewise in the evening.
The BTD, however, counted the number of vehicles in the spring of 2008, and several residents said that the data was outdated and inadequate because it didn’t account for the increase in traffic through the square due to recent construction on Alford Street.
“When you’re telling me figures from 2008,” said one attendee, “You’re telling me nothing.”
But Hall defended the thinking behind the design. He said he calculated that the number of vehicles traveling through Sullivan Square would increase by 5 percent in the next few decades and took that into account when drawing up the plan.
Reconfiguring traffic up and down Austin Street
Hall also presented a plan to reconfigure traffic up and down Austin Street, which has three lanes in each direction. He said that based on the 2008 data, the street only needs one northbound lane and one southbound lane.
Reducing the number of lanes, while increasing the number of left-turn lanes from the Gilmore Bridge, would allow a contractor to shorten the distance that pedestrians have to walk to cross the street and construct a bike path.
Vineet Gupta, one of the city’s coordinators for the Rutherford Avenue/Sullivan Square Design Project, said that he would post the presentation on the Boston Transportation Department’s website shortly.