Ordinance Requires New Developments to Cut Number of Solo Drivers

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The Town Council is working on ways to cut traffic in Watertown by requiring new developments to reduce single driver vehicles.

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The Town Council passed the Transportation Demand Management Ordinance to cut traffic in Watertown by requiring new developments to reduce single occupant vehicles.

The Town Council passed regulations that would require new developments to work on reducing the number of people making solo driving trips to and from their business or residential property. 

The new Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Ordinance (see details here) applies to new projects, and at their May 9 meeting Councilors said it puts into policy a practice it has had with developments over the past few years. Some residents worried that it would prevent them from using their car freely around town.

Creating a TDM plan is required for developments of 10,000 square feet or more or residential projects with 10 or more units, if the project requires a special permit and site plan review from the town.

It also applies to projects that projects that generate 150 average daily trips (someone driving to and from a complex would count as two trips), or more than 15 at peak hours that current previous conditions.

Plans could include steps like educating employees or residents about public transit options, providing free MBTA passes, organizing carpools and providing facilities for people bicycling to work to cleanup and dress for work. If a plan is not followed, or the goals are not met and no further steps are taken to meet the goals, the development can be fined up to $300 per violation.

There is also a community-wide goal of reducing single-occupancy-vehicle trips by 20 percent. This will be measured off the baseline data for residents and employees from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey from 2006-2010. Details on how this will be accomplished are not set in the ordinance.

There are exceptions for retail businesses, childcare facilities and properties owned or leased by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Resident Deborah Dugan said she does not understand the purpose of the ordinance.

“I can’t wrap my head around it … Are you telling me when I go get groceries I have to get on a bus?” Dugan said. “It feels like you are reaching into my life.”

Resident Burt Greenberg said he would not be getting on his bike to go to the pharmacy.

“I refuse to obey any ordinance that is going to restrict me from going to the pharmacy when I want to,” Greenberg said. “I am going to go whatever day I want.”

The ordinance would not impact residents in that way, said Director of Community Development and Planning Steve Magoon.

“The point is not to tell existing homeowners and businesses that they suddenly can’t drive to and from their places of employment,” Magoon said.

Councilor Angeline Kounelis said that it will not impact residents.

“If this in any way infringed on my ability to drive where I’d like, I would be the first one to vote against this,” Kounelis said.

Councilor Ken Woodland said the Town has entered into TDM agreements with large projects in recent years, including Athenahealth, Arsenal Yards and the new project at 330-350 Pleasant Street.

“This ordinance does not do, in my mind, anything different than what we are doing right now,” Woodland said.

As for the developments required to have a TDM, the ordinance is quite flexible, said Councilor Aaron Dushku.

“It is setting a target and monitoring them,” Dushku said. “It doesn’t tell you you must do something. They come up with a plan and if it doesn’t work out we help you come up with another way to deal with it.”

He added that the ordinance streamlines the process to create a TDM which right now must be negotiated from ground zero for each new project.

The Council voted 9-0 to adopt the Transportation Demand Management Ordinance.

9 thoughts on “Ordinance Requires New Developments to Cut Number of Solo Drivers

  1. How can the town put this into effect? People have dr’s appointments, and other personal appointments. Just wondering….

    • Hi Elaine,

      I did not mention in the article that doctors offices are considered retail, so this does not impact them. Also, it will not effect existing facilities/businesses, and residents/customers do not have to worry about whether they drive alone. This applies to owners of big office/commercial buildings and apartment buildings. They have to find a way to get residents to not use their cars, but the onus is on the owners, not the residents/employees.

  2. Until public transportation is improved, including a local shuttle that links to the Watertown Square T hub, this is bogus. I use the T to commute to my job in Kendall Square. It takes an hour, compared to less than 1/2 hour driving. And not everyone is able to ride a bike, so enough with bicycles as Watertown’s knee-jerk response to every transit challenge.

    • Ms. Schulte, I take the T every day and I agree that the service has gone from bad to worse. Several times it has taken over an hour from Bigelow Avenue to get to South Station with a missed train as the result. Last summer it once took me more than an hour and a half to get to North Station. Again, missed train.

      As the founder of the Watertown Public Transit Task Force, I can tell you that the Town Government has made diligent efforts to get the T to improve service. If you want to know where the logjam is, look toward the Governor’s office. After two years of Governor Baker having control of the T, nothing has improved. The shuttle, well the town has to answer for those delays.

      Please don’t think badly of bicycles. They do take cars off the road, especially if there are good, safe routes for them. I have taken to biking more due to the poor service on the T. I find that I can beat the T to any destination at any time of day. Most times I can also beat cars, as they get stuck in traffic.

  3. Will this ordinance apply to the new marijuana dispensary and its projected 300-400 prescription pickups per day?

  4. If you are a resident and you need to drive a car, the TDM ordinance will help you, as it aims to keep traffic from increasing. One of the biggest gripes I hear in this town is about traffic. The TDM ordinance is one of several measures aimed at improving that situation, or at least making sure that new developments don’t add to the problem. It will not take away your choice to drive.

  5. I just cannot understand how the TDM combined with some proposed changes to our major roadways to being calming roads with more bicycles, better for pedestrians, is going to help the movement of traffic. Even if we have fewer cars on the road if they are narrowed you would think that traffic would be slower. I hope that I am wrong!

  6. This is the most ridiculous idea I’ve seen in a long time. You can’t just demand that people stop using their car without providing a reasonable alternative. You also can’t pretend that adding a town shuttle is magically going to serve people who need to drive either to or from another town or are cutting through town, which is what is causing most of Watertown’s traffic woes. Adding a shuttle (much like the current MBTA bus problems) will only add another vehicle to get stuck in the current traffic. Just like the current MBTA bus service, it will never be properly funded and people won’t use it if they can’t depend on it to be on a reliable schedule. Add in the fact that Watertown barely enforces existing traffic laws such as running red lights, driving in the bike lanes, yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks, and is especially lax enforcing the current parking laws, how exactly are they going to properly enforce yet another regulation? The real problem with traffic in Watertown is being created by the huge uncontrolled growth of businesses, and the addition of huge apartment buildings along major traffic corridors combined with the shortsighted policies in both in Watertown and neighboring towns that insist that they have to lower speed limits, add traffic lights, road humps, “no right on red” signs, and the narrowing of two lane roads to one lane. You can’t add thousands of jobs and residents in town, while impeding traffic with “traffic calming” BS, and expect anything other than total gridlock. Watertown should be concentrating on improving traffic flow through town, instead of “calming” it. This will maximize the volume and efficiency of the primary routes through town, to remove traffic from residential side streets. If the town really wants to reduce solo trips, there are only 3 realistic ways to get people out of their cars. Either reduce the number of people driving in and through town (stop or reverse the current growth – don’t create un-enforceable laws), make it so painful/expensive to use their car that they won’t (for example, make parking here expensive like Boston/Cambridge – or tax businesses’ parking spaces), or make it so easy to use an alternative (real public transportation integrated with neighboring towns – which is a HUGE expense). If the town leadership can’t grow a spine and make some realistic hard decisions on how to improve traffic, and force the businesses and huge residential apartment complexes that are creating the traffic to pay for the full cost of being in town, they should stop pretending that the tax grab and uncontrolled growth is good for the town and its residents and put an immediate stop to it. Uncontrolled growth with no REAL traffic management is going to turn Watertown into another gridlocked h3ll like Boston/Allston/Brighton/Cambridge.

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