LETTER: Proposed Road Projects Will Hurt Neighborhoods, Small Businesses

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The DPW and Planning Department have been working on improving the traffic flow through Watertown Square, as well as making it and Mt. Auburn Street friendlier to bicyclists and pedestrians. However, as usual, they are not considering neighborhood integrity, nor the needs of small businesses. It is funny to me that they are touting “complete streets,” which simply means designing for more modes of transportation than cars. Cities in Europe have been doing this type of design for over 60 years, but we have just “discovered” it here in the U.S., and we don’t do it well yet.

Their plans call for rerouting Charles River Road under the mistaken idea that one less light in the Square will make it so much better. As if the traffic that can’t go down CRR will magically disappear. Instead, it will probably go down North Beacon (because, well, who wants to go down Arsenal?). I love bike lanes, I commute by bike sometimes myself and love to see more consideration given to bicyclists. But I don’t bicycle in the winter. Very few do. Our public transportation is not getting better soon. We can’t get a TMA off the ground because Planning has not required enough mitigation from the many developers making a mint off Watertown. So there WILL be more cars on the roads, especially considering the heavy development on the east side of the Square. The new Arsenal Mall promises thousands more cars a day alone.

So where does that leave the frustrated motorists who don’t want to get stuck in the long lines on North Beacon Street? Well, if you’ve had the pleasure of seeing some of the rude motorist behavior during rush hour at the light behind Athena, it isn’t hard to guess. They will be on the side streets, racing to cut through and get ahead any way they can. The traffic engineers, who must be trained in a vacuum in this country, have taken traffic counts at the light at Athena, Irving and the Square. They have extrapolated all their predictions from these few locations. They have not considered how the traffic will behave on North Beacon Street (or is behaving now). Except at Irving, they didn’t include North Beacon Street. They know nothing about the real consequences of any of their proposals.

The Town is obsessed with the idea of “connecting” Arsenal Street with the river. That’s their grand plan. They don’t seem to care that these “connections” are through quiet neighborhoods. With these plans, I believe that those who live on North Beacon Street, Riverside and Irving will become much more congested with traffic. The streets on the east end, where I live, will become much more prone to cut-through traffic, as well as be cut-off from the Square, since the only way for us to go west will be across the heavier traffic on N. Beacon Street. Or, I guess we can cut down Irving to the light — kind of proves my point, doesn’t it?

Now, let’s look at Common and Mt. Auburn Streets. They have completely removed the parking on the commercial blocks there. The DPW tells us that you can’t have parking in the middle of an intersection. But I guess a bus stop is OK? Really? True to the way they do planning in this town, they have not talked with the businesses there. I notified my vet at Pet Haven and they had no idea they were going to lose the parking out front. They realize that this will cause all their customers to park on the neighborhood side streets, something they don’t want.

How can a town propose such a major change and not approach those who will be most affected? But then, they are accountable to no one, because it is the unelected officials in this town who make all the decisions. Only a few on the Town Council have the gumption to ask the hard questions. Pet Haven will probably have to move. And neighborhood integrity? Yeah, right.

Get involved, especially if you live in these neighborhoods. But anyone should be concerned about the accountability of the people making decisions in this town and the transparency of those decisions.

Marcia Ciro
Bay St., Watertown

20 thoughts on “LETTER: Proposed Road Projects Will Hurt Neighborhoods, Small Businesses

  1. Removing and rerouting a little-used light from a major (currently 5-way) intersection is common sense. It’s not that the traffic will disappear, but that it will flow more smoothly.

    • I agree with Jason that simplifying the intersection in the Square from a 5-way intersection to 4 will help the traffic to move through much more efficiently. It will also certainly be easier for pedestrians to get thru the intersection.

    • Oh, it will flow alright Jason, right down our quiet side streets. That short light is not “little-used”. Over the last year, as I try to cross twice a day, I see bunches of cars coming down the road, usually 6-10 at a time during rush hour. It has doubled over the last year (I have lived here 22 years.) Those cars will go down N. Beacon Street which is already seeing heavier traffic as well. The people who live on that side of my neighborhood can hardly get our of their driveways. It is not OK to flow the traffic through the Square 10 seconds faster and ruin a neighborhood.
      Last week, going west and waiting for the light at Athena, the traffic was backed up only about 20 cars, maybe one light’s worth. I saw 2 cars hang left to get ahead into left turn lane and then try to get back in the right. At the SAME time, 2 cars hung right to pass the line on the right and get back in. I see this kind of stuff regularly. Traffic engineers never consider behavior in their inadequate calculations.
      The development on this side of town is only about 1/2 done. There will be many more cars in the mix and they will not wait quietly to get where they want to go.

      • They also do not take into account tall the cars that run both the read lights and the walk lights.
        I cross at the Athena light twice a day, sometime more than that if I go walking at lunch and drivers run the walk light each time I am there. I have had as many as 3 cars in a row run the light while I am trying to cross. North Beacon has become scary to cross as it is, adding more traffic is only going to make it worse.

  2. “How can a town propose such a major change and not approach those who will be most affected?” – this sums up my frustrations exactly! You are right on the money, Marcia. It seems as though our small town has become almost impossible to live in anymore, and we’re all clueless as to how we can fix it. Soon, Watertown will be unrecognizable, and these planners will then move on to the next town. Such a shame. Thank you for your well-put words!

    • Andrea, I totally agree with you. I had a house on the west side,which was built by my family in 1878, and I was basically forced out. The apartments around me are a disgrace. They are killing the neighborhoods. We weren’t consulted about any plans. All we were told that it would make the neighborhoods much nicer. Yeah, right! Every person I spoke to lied!! President Driscoll kept passing me off and to this day I have not been given an answer. My advice to people of “Driscollville”. MOVE OUT while you still can.

      • Thank you for mentioning the West side of Watertown. I am a home owner and our side streets are filled with delivery trucks trying to find their way to BJs, apartment complexes everywhere, etc.

  3. Finagling traffic numbers is what traffic engineers and local officials do best. As a thirty-year resident of Boston’s South End, I attended numerous meetings for the relocation of the Orange Line, for the building of Copley Place, and other development projects. Environmental Impact Statement traffic counts always seem like fantasies to everyone except traffic engineers.

    What is going on in Watertown is likely the same scenario. An example: Sometime before I moved to Archstone Square Apartments, it was decided that Aldrich Road, a narrow residential street would be two-way. This of course, allows wily motorists and commercial vehicles to avoid the traffic signals at Galen and Watertown streets, thereby giving more favorable intersection traffic counts. Why Aldrich Road residents did not squawk then or since, I do not know, except that the majority of the street’s residents are renters, and renters typically are not so invested in their neighborhood as homeowners are. What is also puzzling about Aldrich Road is that it is not even posted for tonnage, so big rigs use it. Traffic has such a degrading effect on residents’ quality of life. It is inexcusable that so-called planners and town officials do not get that.

    • Interesting observation, CA. I’m glad to hear I am not alone in thinking that these “traffic engineers” are loony. They seem to do their job one street at a time, which is ludicrous. I guess you just have to look at the streets of Boston to understand that they are useless.

  4. I totally agree with you. I have written to the Town Council to let them know of my frustration with their redesign proposal. And I am a road bike rider.

  5. If you reroute traffic onto one of the side streets, like Irving, from Charles River Road, it will be a disaster. Irving Street already gets backed up enough as it is.

    From what I understand they are also planning on eliminating parking in front of some businesses on Mr Auburn. That makes no sense are all. On the one hand people talk about the virtue of supporting small local, mom and pop, businesses over box stores and chains…. then we want to put them out of business by taking away parking ???
    So the businesses will suffer and so won’t the congestion and parking situation on the side streets near these businesses.

    We now have Bike Lanes on 3 out of the 4 streets that head East out of Watertown Square…
    Why can’t we find a way of connecting those bike lanes to the Eastern most end of Mt Auburn Street. That is more than enough access for those heading out of or into the Square on Bikes.

    Has anyone actually counted the number bikes that use the existing bike lanes to commute on a given day ? I should think that’s the place to start, before we go adding bike lines to an already traffic congested street like Mt. Auburn.

    • John, actually the bikes have the same right that you do to choose their route. According to the laws of the Commonwealth, bikes have equal right of access to unrestricted roads. You can look it up. The question is, do we make that access safer. I think that most reasonable folks would say we must.

  6. Watertown has permitted the construction of too many buildings requiring too many parking structures. The ill conceived one at Athena Health, & the one behind Watertown Mall being just two examples, there are many others. Build a future dependent on cars is a formula formula for disaster. We had a real chance to design a city based on a new vision; one based on great public transport, streets that enouraged walking and community. Instead we got a hodgepodge collection of solutions that will inevitably lead to more congestion, more pollution and suburban blight.
    What a mess we’ve made and I should acknowledge, I have myself to blame since I didn’t participate earlier.

  7. Is Watertown doing all this planning to change our main roads to make more room for bike riders? If so, I think the towns vision of the number of people who will ride a bike instead of driving is unrealistic. Then the town let’s those bikes around for rental. Laura Wiener who is the Senior Transportation planner said in the Tab that seniors would get exercise using the rental bikes. I am not sure how old she is, but seniors have mobility issues and can not ride a bike on the streets of Watertown. They either have knee or hip issues or back issues and balance issues. Also some do not have access to the apps to request a bike. Seniors will get hurt trying to ride a bike to a local store instead of taken their car. Most seniors have problems walking. Can you see them trying to ride a bike. Laura take a real look at how the seniors get around

  8. I never said anything about seniors using Lime Bike. You may want to read the Tab article again.

  9. Resume building unelected individuals seem to have sway in this town. I have been tempted to write to the Commonwealth Attorney General to suggest a investigation to the way and manner in which this town has been transfigured, and continues to be transfigured. There are lobbyists involved, and an investigation is required to figure out any wrong doing; in my opinion, there is something seriously wrong in this town, beginning with the long tenure of the current town manager. The residents of the town actually, deserve what is happening because of their non participation and/or ho hum disinterest.

    • Check out their ideas for Watertown Square. Some of the ideas for Charles River Road would result in traffic taking Riverside St.

  10. The new building regs require mixed use with businesses on the ground floor and residential above. With taking away parking places on our main streets, how do you expect businesses to want to fill the future places? We have existing spaces not being rented and I suspect parking for customers has to be an important factor. Some places only have enough parking for a few people. The new condos going in off of Mt. Auburn St. will only have 4 parking places for the 2 businesses and those spaces will probably be used by the employees. So where do the customers of those businesses and the others already there go to park? Bikes are not practical for everyone, especially with New England weather.

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