The position of Transportation Planner has been discussed for years and the town has searched for someone to fill the role, but has struggled to find someone qualified to do the job. Tuesday night the Town Council stressed to Community Development and Planning Department Director Steve Magoon that they want the position filled.
The Transportation Planner would deal with issues such as traffic, public transportation and the planned Watertown shuttle. Magoon appeared before the Council for his budget hearing. During the discussion, Councilors also worry that the Planning Department has enough resources to deal with all the development in town. Filling the Transportation Planner position has been high on Magoon’s list.
The MBTA may change to bus routes in Watertown, adding new routes and improving all routes by making changes to fare collection, but all these moves will take some time. Wednesday night representatives from the MBTA and other transportation officials spoke to the Town Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Transportation. They also went into some options that had not previously been discussed in Watertown. The focus of the meeting was on the 70/70A bus, which runs through Watertown on Main Street and Arsenal Street and goes from Waltham to Cambridge. The route is one of the longest in the MBTA system, said Melissa Dullea, director of Planning and Schedules for the MTBA.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation included a couple of projects in Watertown in its draft 2018-22 Capital Improvement Plan, which the Town Council supported in a letter to state officials. They also asked for a few more.
During the report about the Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Transportation during the March 14 Town Council meeting, Councilor Aaron Dushku said the MassDOT plan includes improvements to the Watertown Square Transportation hub and creating a multi-use path through the center of Watertown. He noted that these projects made the proposed funded list, but were not actually requested by the Town or local legislators. The Watertown Square improvements include redesigning the Watertown Delta and improving signage on Galen Street. “While it was unclear how this project (Project ID 1972) got on the list, it was agreed by most in attendance that the combination of new developments on Arsenal and Pleasant Streets plus the cut-through traffic from I-90 all warranted more investment in this bottleneck area and our letter should mention it,” Dushku said.
Athenahealth released details of how it will seek to reduce the number of people driving to work alone, and it will participate in the town’s effort to bring a shuttle to Watertown.
On Wednesday, the company that owns the Arsenal on the Charles released its Transportation Demand Management plan that was created as part of its proposal to redevelop the former U.S. Army facility on Arsenal Street. The plan calls for the company to employ a full-time, on-site Transportation Demand Management Coordinator, as would any subsequent owner of the complex. It will also join MassRides, a group that will “encourage healthy transportation options for employees.” Athenahealth’s plan said the company will participate in the Watertown Transportation Management Association, which is likely to include a shuttle. The company said it would contribute in a proportional way with other developments in the area.
Local efforts to improve transportation when Watertown officials have little influence on the MBTA can be tough, but they looked at what some neighbors are doing for inspiration. Transportation directors from Newton and Waltham, as well as a consultant who works on transportation plans, came to a forum on June 16, organized by the Watertown Pubic Transportation Task Force, the Town Council an the Department of Community Development and Planning. Both Waltham and Newton have completed extensive transportation planning efforts and are close to making recommendations a reality. Watertown will be embarking on such a transportation planning effort soon. Ralph DiNisco, principal of transportation planners Nelson Nygaard, gave some advice to Watertown. “Plan for things you want, not the things you are afraid of,” DiNisco said.
A local group wants to give residents a voice in how transportation and traffic in Watertown looks in the future, and will hold a forum to educate residents about transportation planning. Traffic and public transportation have become big issues in Watertown, and will be even more vital as developments go up on Arsenal and Pleasant streets. So, the Watertown Public Transit Task Force, the Town Council and the Watertown Community Development and Planning Department will organize a forum on Thursday, June 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the Watertown Free Public Library. The event is free and open to the all residents, employees and business owners in Watertown. The goal of the forum is to increase the shared knowledge about what modern transportation planning can do in municipalities like Watertown to improve local transportation and ease traffic congestion.
A Town Council subcommittee searched for ways to cut down on the use of vehicles in Watertown, particularly driver only trips, to reduce the traffic in Watertown as town grows. For future development projects, and some recent ones, the town will require a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) plan, but councilors on the Transportation Committee struggled with ways to encourage businesses and large residential complexes to reduce their use of vehicles at their meeting last Tuesday. A TDM can have many features, including having an on-site manager to oversee the program, discounted transit passes, car and van pools, guaranteed rides home for those using transit or carpools, flexible work hours and contributions to a shuttle bus. The TDM numbers are based on the traffic studies done by developers before the project is approved. Director of Community Development and Planning Steve Magoon said the traffic created by a project rarely exceeds the numbers in the study.
Ways to improve MBTA service in Watertown was one of the top issued discussed during the inaugural meeting of the Town Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Transportation last week.
The Council has been focused on the issue for the past few years, and it became such a thorn for regular users that a citizen group – the Watertown Public Transit Task Force – formed to advocate for improvements. Some headway was made in 2014 when MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott came to visit town to see the problems facing Watertown’s T users. A change in governors and a historically bad winter that gridlocked the MBTA meant that Scott was out and Watertown lost its connections in the state’s transportation agency. “She’s gone. A lot of people have changed.