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February 2009

Porter Square Neighbors Association Meeting Minutes
February 18, 2009

Agenda

  • Somerville Avenue
  • Beacon Street
  • Yet another hotel
  • Ears to the ground

Stephen P. Winslow from Somerville Strategic Planning and Community Development told us about what's happening at the intersection of Somerville Avenue with Beacon Street and on how it relates to the Massachusetts Avenue intersection.

Somerville Avenue

In its first year the Somerville Avenue project focused on underground utilities: a new drain from the bridge Union Square, gas and other utilities improvements. The second year involves resurfacing, redoing sidewalks, adding trees, and improving the streetscape. The Massachusetts Highway Department holds hearings before any construction begins, and the DPW oversees the actual construction. There will be bike lanes on Somerville Avenue to the Cambridge line, but there is a need to coordinate with Cambridge about continuing the bike lanes to Massachusetts Avenue.

Beacon Street

In a separate project, Somerville plans to redo Beacon Street on the other side of the bridge including things like moving utilities underground, improving the streetscape, and add bike lanes. The plans were at the 75% stage but is still open to discussion. There is no ongoing planning process and no project manager yet.

Discussion

We were concerned over pedestrian and bikers’ safety with the traffic over the bridge. The current plan is for two car lanes from Beacon towards Somerville Avenue, with the left lane allowing left turn only and the right lane allowing right or left turn onto Somerville Avenue. Mass. Highway did a study that showed increased efficiency of traffic flow if both lanes could allow for left turns. Bicycles would also be expected to use the right lane for left turns, as they generally do now.

Another area of great concern is the entrance to Roseland Street just south of the bridge. Turning cars (in both directions) often make the turn quickly and unexpectedly, endangering pedestrians in the crosswalk. The left lane on the bridge often backs up past Roseland, tempting left-turning cars to cut across the southbound lane in order to turn into Roseland, while there is only a short sight line for cars turning onto the bridge from Somerville Avenue. This further increases the dangerousness of the Roseland intersection for both pedestrians and drivers.

We asked who are the deciders for Somerville road projects like this. Possibilities include the Massachusetts Highway Department, Mayor Curtatone, and aldermen, with input from the Community Development office, the DPW, fire and police departments, and traffic engineers. The bridge project may be too far along for much community input; the best option would be a letter to the comissioner of the Massachusetts Highway Department.

Update from Steve Winslow

To follow-up on a question that arose at the PSNA meeting I attended regarding Somerville Avenue..

The lights at Somerville Avenue and Beacon Street will include an exclusive pedestrian phase. There are no right on red signs at Beacon Street facing the Porter Square / westbound traffic.. There's a no right turn on red sign at Mossland facing Union Square / east bound traffic.. Some cars may queue in the right turn lane between Mossland and Beacon. There's no restriction on these cars turning right on red.. There should be just a few of these in the line.....since is a short intersection..

Yet another hotel

A hotel has been proposed at junction of Oxford and Beacon Streets, on the site of the gas station. Plans envision 35 guest rooms, a 60 seat restaurant, and underground parking for 20 cars. A traffic study estimated that 50% of the guests will arrive via mass transit, 12 new vehicles might arrive in the evening and 12 in the morning. The site plan shows no place for vehicles to pull off of the street in order to drop or pick up guests.

Discussion

The hotel proposal is still under review in Somerville. Alderman Maryann Heuston is organizing a meeting at Café Rustica, 256 Beacon Street at 6 PM February 24 for citizens concerned about this proposed hotel. The Somerville zoning board will hold a hearing, open to the public, on March 18.

PSNA member Elaine Severino, who also serves on the Somerville ZBA, noted that the current plans for the hotel do not include a taxi drop-off area on the hotel site and that this would not be viewed favorably. From that comment, we inferred that project developers probably have more work to do before they would be granted a building permit.

Ears to the Ground

Walden Street bridge: will be closed the night of the 20th to remove the temporary pedestrian bridge.

Banjos (former Kentucky Fried Chicken site): Owner Bill Martin expects to open late March. This will be a 37 seat restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner serving comfort food such as roast beef sandwiches. They will not have drive-through service.

Car Wash: has been sold to Oaktree developers who intend to build condos with underground parking. We heard in January about the possibility of a larger joint project with Saint James’s Episcopal Church. The size of the proposed building and increased traffic are serious concerns expressed by neighbors.

Lesley University: Due to scheduling problems, the zoning petition submitted to the Cambridge City Council by Lesley University will expire without action. Lesley plans to refile the petition (with amendments added after working with neighbors) soon. Bill Doncaster believes this petition is stronger and addresses issues of parking and open space. This will start a new 90 review period and require another public hearing at the Planning Board.

Kaya Hotel: construction on the Kaya Hotel is now estimated to begin in June or July and will continue for 14 to 18 months. They have been meeting with abutters about plans for the park.

Shopping Center: The issue of faded, hard-to-see pedestrian walkways came up. It was suggested that that we ask Gravestar to put down thermoplastic striping, but there was also some concern that thermoplastic pedestrian walks are too slippery when wet. (PSNA officers will contact the shopping center over the faded striping.)

Pedestrian fatalities in Cambridge: Over the past year there have been three pedestrians killed: one at the intersection of Wendell and Oxford Street, one in Central Square; and and one in the Mt. Auburn Street Star Market parking lot. As an investigative reporter Karen Klinger has been unable to learn details of these accidents, feels that the city is stonewalling, and asked for PSNA support. Considerable discussion ensued. It was suggested that the city's unresponsiveness might be due to concerns over legal liability and possibly privacy issues.

Breakins: There have been some residences entered on Richdale Avenue and some purses snatched. It was pointed out that lighting could be improved, and general caution was recommended.

The next meeting is March 19.