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.
“Nobody trusts them. They think they are a bunch of bologna, but they tend to be very conservative so the traffic tends not to go over,” Magoon said.
The recent projects that have a TDM plan include the Ionics Building on Grove Street, Elan Watertown apartments at Arsenal and Irving streets, and the Residence Inn by Marriott hotel on Arsenal Street. Most prior projects did not have a requirement from the town to come up with a plan, Magoon said.
Councilor Aaron Dushku said he would like to look for ways for businesses that are not planning a major project to cut down their vehicle use.
Typically, the conditions the town put on developments for approval require a traffic count from the development a year after it is fully occupied, Magoon said, but not after that.
“It’s not fair for us to come back five years later to say, lets look at traffic,” Magoon said.
Councilor Vincent Piccirilli said there may be ways to create incentives for businesses to look at the vehicle use by their employees.
“We could go back to other projects and say we would like you to participate voluntarily,” Piccirilli said. “If it is attracted to them and easy to participate, they may participate.”
He suggested talking to the top 5-15 traffic generating employers in town and “use the power of persuasion” to have them do an employee study of who is coming in and who is coming out of their lots.
The committee looked at strategies used by other towns and cities in the area.
Some have less restrictive, such as Belmont, where only developments in designated areas are required to creating a Traffic Demand Management Plan. Newton and Brookline had TDM’s required for larger projects (between 50,000 and 60,000 sq. ft. in Brookline and on 10 acres or more in Newton).
Cambridge, on the other hand, prefers the “stick” method instead of the “carrot.” Any project in Cambridge which adds 5 or more parking spaces must meet the goal of reducing traffic by 10 percent, or else the city can close the lot or fine the business $10 per space per day.
The subcommittee voted to ask the Planning Department to prepare a report for their next meeting about creations of TDM programs, which would include:
- Threshold for requiring a TDM
- Traffic management targets
- What does the program achieve
- Monitoring the progress after implementation
- Consequences for not meeting the targets
Joint Meeting with Public Transit Task Force
The Transportation Committee will hold a round table meeting with the Watertown Public Transit Task Force to talk about transportation issues facing Watertown. It will be held on Thursday, June 16 at 6:30 p.m. at the Watertown Free Public Library.