[UPDATED Tuesday, Feb. 12, 10:47 p.m. Editor's Note: In the original version of this article, the CNC member leading the meeting was misidentified as Paul Clausen. Clausen was not at the meeting; instead, it was Precinct 5 representative Richard McCarthy who led the meeting.]
When Allston Street residents raised concerns about vehicles speeding down their one-way street, the city responded with a plan to reverse the direction of two other one-way streets nearby, to help ease traffic flow between Medford and Bunker Hill streets.
But the plan comes with a new set of problems. According to Boston Transportation Department procedure, for the change to take effect, the Allston Street residents must convince more than half of their neighbors on the two other streets to sign a petition agreeing to the change.
And residents say that shouldn’t be their responsibility.
A closer look
About 25 Charlestown citizens attended a public hearing on the BTD proposal held Thursday, Feb. 7 at St. Francis de Sales Church on Bunker Hill Street. The meeting was led by Richard McCarthy, Precinct 5 representative with the Charlestown Neighborhood Council, along with Joseph Fleury, BTD junior traffic engineer, and focused on the six one-block “ladder” streets located to the east of the church—Belmont, Sackville, Cook, Pearl, Allston and Mystic streets.
“The issue was raised by the people of Allston Street, ‘Why can’t our street go the same way as all the other streets?’” McCarthy said, providing background on the issue. “The Traffic Department basically said no because we need streets coming up; we can’t have all the streets going down. But the Traffic Department then agreed to undertake a study to see what the traffic pattern is like on Allston compared with Sackville and Mystic, going in the other direction.”
The BTD conducted traffic studies on July 12 and Sept. 18, 2012 on Allston, Sackville and Mystic streets. The September study showed 948 vehicles traveling in one day down Allston—a much higher volume than the other two streets but a number Fleury said was still pretty low compared to other streets in Boston, where more than 900 cars might pass by hourly.
On the same day, Mystic Street showed a total of 294 vehicles, while Sackville Street had 274 vehicles.
But several people said Charlestown streets should not be compared to the rest of the city.
"I totally disregard the comparison to other Boston streets. You can’t," Allston Street resident Len Thomas said. "Charlestown is its own one square mile, isolated community. It has so many cars that can go through it on a normal day. You have to look at in context of Charlestown streets."
The study also looked at travel speed on those streets. The average vehicle speed on Allston was 17 miles per hour, with about 4 percent traveling at over 25 mph. The average speed on Mystic was 14 mph, while the average speed on Sackville was 12 mph, according to the report.
While the BTD did not see a problem with Allston's numbers based on the study, the city has come up with an alternative that could help spread that traffic out more equally among the streets—reversing the direction of Sackville and Mystic to match Allston so that vehicles have more options when traveling up from Medford Street to Bunker Hill Street.
But to make that change, the city requires a petition signed by more than 50 percent of the residents on each street to be changed, in favor of the plan.
Several people asked the BTU to consider altering that requirement, allowing a majority of residents on all six streets in the neighborhood to agree to the change, looking at it as an entire solution, not three individual plans.
Allston Street residents worried they would have a tough time getting their neighbors to agree to change the directions of their streets, particularly when the reason for the change was because of speeding and dangerous conditions on Allston Street.
“It is unacceptably unsafe and you’ve got to do something about it before somebody gets killed,” Allston Street resident Jen Herlihy said. “I don’t understand why our voices don’t count.”
Several felt it was the city's responsibility to follow through with the proposal.
“Why isn’t this on the Boston Transportation Department, why isn’t it their onus to present it as city plan to deal with a six-block loop, that you want to make them every other lane?” Thomas said. “It shouldn’t be up to us. This is your response to our request to change the direction [of Allston Street].”
Others were concerned that changing the direction of Mystic would encourage vehicles to speed up that street from Terminal Street and suggested other streets be looked at for the flip.
Mystic Street resident Joe Fleming said his street had been the other direction many years ago and was reversed because it had become a "runway" for vehicle traffic heading from Terminal Street up to Bunker Hill Street.
"It got changed for a reason," he said.
Fleury said he would bring citizens' concerns back to his department and report back about whether the streets could be looked at as a group.
Residents also asked Fleury to look into some short-term solutions to help make Allston Street safer, such as speed bumps or signs prohibiting commercial vehicle traffic.
CNC members asked that BTD draw up a formal document outlining their proposal and the steps required to get there, for residents to review at a second meeting—one they hoped would be more publicized, as many people said they had heard about the Feb. 7 meeting secondhand and last-minute.