By Mark Pickering
The Watertown Square study process offers a once-in-a-generation chance to begin to make the changes that we only daydream about now. If we follow a long-term plan, we can transform the square into a place we can point to in pride a magnet for recreation, entertainment and congregating.
What I have heard people saying during kitchen conversations, official presentations and workshops is that residents want the area to become more like Davis Square, Somerville. Perhaps not exactly like that bustling Somerville square, but more like that.
So, I’d like to lay out some of the ideas that I’ve gotten from listening to others at various Watertown Square meetings. Some of the challenges include that Watertown Square has a dearth of parkland, publicly owned property and transportation infrastructure.
That being said, no publicly owned properties in the square, whether land or buildings should be turned over to developers of any kind.For its part, Davis Square came to life starting in 1984 with the extension of the Red Line, the addition of more greenery, and the creation of a robust path/parkland for biking and walking. These public investments brought in new businesses and helped nurture existing ones.
To become more like Davis Square, Watertown needs:
- An extension of the Red Line, admittedly a long-term goal. However, it’s helpful to recall: Back in the 1980s, the MBTA delivered reliable service and had a vision for the future.
- For the near term, the derelict-looking Watertown car barn could be turned into a central depot for Watertown Square and take on the servicing of the electric buses that the group TransitMatters advocates for.
- To complete the consolidation of bus lines at the Watertown Yard, a pedestrian bridge could go up over the Charles River. This could be attractive and make it more convenient to get to the Newton side of the Charles River.
- The current bus turnout for the No. 71 and others would then become parkland that unites with the existing town common and the river walk.
(A possible futuristic alternative would be to acquire the properties behind the current MBTA bus turnout in Watertown Square.)
Like many New England communities, Watertown Square and its commons has been overrun by traffic. My hat’s off to city planners for taking this on. There’s no easy solution.
At Watertown Square study meetings, planners said that one-third of the traffic through Watertown Square is going to the Mass. Pike. That could be an undercount.
In recent years, the city has added hundreds and hundreds of apartments and condos. (Just to note: This has not sparked a makeover for Watertown Square.) Now one of the key attractions for the new housing, I imagine, is easy access to the Mass. Pike.
As for myself, I commuted on the Mass. Pike to get to a couple different jobs for a good chunk of the 21 st century, including to Boston’s South End. Similarly, I commuted for a number of years along the same route as the Route 70 bus down Main Street into Waltham. The bus was not an attractive option at the time.
For Watertown Square to become more like Davis Square, the incentives to drive need to change.
What the Watertown area needs is an attractive consolidated MBTA transportation hub that offers good prices and reliable service. Also, the square needs more greenery in general.
Mark Pickering is a veteran of the local news business, having worked on the business desk and the opinion pages of the Boston Herald.