LETTER: Questions About New Position on Traffic Commission

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By Linda Scott
Watertown Resident

Democracy?  I know you’re out there somewhere…

This is not a letter that I could even imagine having to write, but here goes.

When I looked at Tuesday night’s agenda for the City Council meeting, I noticed an unusual item. Then I started getting phone calls. Other people were curious about this item as well. So I got curious. Why would there be a sudden change to the structure of the Traffic Commission without any visible input from them?  

And why was this worded in such a way that the decision about what that change would be was already spelled out to specifically involve a member of an advocacy group in the City (Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee) who fall under the umbrella of the Department of Community Development and Planning (DCDP), and who already have a (powerful) member on the Traffic Commission, DCDP Director Steve Magoon?

The Traffic Commission is a group of people in very high and responsible positions in our community (police, fire, planning (DCDP), Department of Public Works (DPW), as well as two respected community members).  

What’s the deal here? And “deal” seems to be the operative word, (having nothing to do with the people on this Commission that I can see).

After exploring some more, here is the letter that I read last night at the City Council meeting, questioning what was happening:

I’ve read that on the agenda tonight there will be a motion to amend the Traffic Commission ordinance. One of the parts of this amendment is to change the member composition of this Commission. 

I just have a couple of process questions:

I’ve been going through past minutes and meetings of the Traffic Commission. It’s very democratic. They vote on everything, but I was unable to find a vote for exploring adding members to that commission.

If there was one, could you please give me the date of that meeting and the name of the person who proposed it?

As part of this search, I also checked the approved Bike/Ped plan and the 2023 City Comprehensive Plan. Nothing!  

This is truly a mystery how and where and by whom this was initiated!  

Mysteries don’t work so well in democracies. Any light that can be shed on this issue will be greatly appreciated!

Also, in a parallel question, wouldn’t the Traffic Commission vote to explore adding members to the Commission? Not a specific member from a specific advocacy group? It seems like all of the relevant departments are covered already. 

As I look at the roster of the Watertown Traffic Commission, there’s the Police, Fire, Planning, and the Department of Public Works, as well as two citizens, one representing the public and the other one representing Watertown businesses.

I will also be interested to learn how this Commission’s “mission” might change.

Clarification on any of this would be very helpful!

Thank you!

So, as of today, it remains a mystery how this decision was made, changing the composition of the Traffic Commission to bend to the will of a small group of influential people. 

Again, the Traffic Commission is composed of seasoned professionals, but they’re also very busy people. Should they really have to deal with this political cloud over their work?  

And should one of our City Council Committees (the Committee on Public Safety) have to spend time and energy seriously discussing something that originated in such a dubious way? 

There is nothing stopping community members and groups from attending these meetings in a non-voting capacity and bringing up issues.

As former City Councilor, Angeline Kounelis wrote in her letter that was read at the City Council meeting last night, she shared concerns about transparency (or lack thereof):  

“Where was the open, public process to review and discuss the Ordinance? As presented: there is no “draft” proposal. Only a fast track for an imminent vote.”

So, dear readers, I leave you with this to think about and discuss. And by all means, if you have questions, please reach out to our Councilors and the City Manager to let them know of your concerns.

(Letters to the editor can be sent to watertownmanews@gmail.com)

9 thoughts on “LETTER: Questions About New Position on Traffic Commission

  1. Real simple…all these proposed changes/additions at City Hall are going on Proakis’s resume. He’s building a case for his next move which will occur within the next 36 months.

    • So representation of the bike and pedestrian constituencies in Watertown on the Traffic Commission is part of a master plan to get the City Manager a better job in 3 years. Got it!

  2. Linda,
    Thank you so much for making reference to my communication that was sent to the City Council on Monday, 01/22/24 at 4:30 P.M. Notation was made to read the document during the First Public Forum of the 01/23/24 Council Meeting.
    Herein, I have included the two emails, specific to my thoughts on the proposed amended Traffic Commission Ordinance. Also to note: The same subject was previously discussed and rejected by the then named: Town Council.
    When the Public Safety Committee convenes, for the record, I will once again, forward my opinion. Thank you.

    From: Angeline Kounelis
    Sent: Monday, January 22, 2024 8:00:30 PM
    To: Bays, Caroline
    Cc: City Councilors ; Proakis, George ; citymgr
    Subject: Re: Traffic Commission Ordinance

    Hi Caroline,

    Thank you for your followup. Always good to be challenged. Had there been an open, public process; all queries would have been discussed.

    I do not support the appointment of any member, of an advocacy Committee, to serve on a Board or Commission that impacts my quality of life and safety. Whether it be: The Traffic Commission; Board of Health; ZBA; Planning Board; etc.; etc.

    When a pedestrian steps off of a curb, they should not be placed in harms way to be severely injured by a speeding bicyclist; as almost happened to me in Cambridge. All within the new protected bike lanes that must be traversed by pedestrians to access the street; and vise versa, the sidewalk.

    Membership of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee is comprised of like- minded individuals in joint efforts to support bicyclists. I see no commitment to protect me, as an elder pedestrian, by the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee.

    You may recall that the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee lobbied the DCR for the closing of Little Greenough Blvd. to motorists. All with a total disregard for access to the parking area by the elderly and folks with disabilities who needed to drive to the site; for their own passive recreation.
    Nine members; appointed by City Manager

    The Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee works to promote non-motorized transportation in Watertown. The primary activities of the Committee are advocacy for the interests of bicyclists and pedestrians in road construction projects; sponsorship and organization of special bicycling events; advocacy for improved bicycle parking facilities; promotion of commuting alternatives; and providing relevant materials, both online and printed, for bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists.

    As a resident of this City; I reserve the right to offer opinion. Thank you.



    Angeline Maria B. Kounelis
    Retired District A, East End, City Councilor
    Landline: 617-926-2352
    Mobile: 617-538-9252

    Sent from my Smartphone – Apologies for brevity and/or typos

    On Mon, Jan 22, 2024, 5:51 PM Bays, Caroline wrote:
    Thank you for your email, Angie. I am slightly confused, though by what you mean by membership organization. The members of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee is appointed by the city manager and is an official city committee. – Caroline
    From: Angeline Kounelis
    Sent: Monday, January 22, 2024 4:30 PM
    To: Piccirilli, Vincent J
    Cc: City Councilors ; Proakis, George ; citymgr
    Subject: Traffic Commission Ordinance



    Review of Motions, Ordinances, Orders and Resolutions, for the City Council Meeting on 01/23/2024, has caused me concern. Specifically, Agenda Item: 8B Amendment to the Traffic Commission Ordinance.

    In my opinion: Giving a weighted vote to a special interest group, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, to serve on the Traffic Commission, sets precedent for all Boards and Commissions. Except for the Licensing Board, requirements for candidates to serve on regulatory Boards and Commissions have been based on their expertise; not a particular cause or policy.

    By virtue of the fact that the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee is a membership organization, their advocacy compromises the unbiased decisions of the Traffic Commission. It is already within the inherent purview of the Traffic Commission to increase public safety on roadways for everyone.

    Where was the open, public process to review and discuss the Ordinance? As presented: there is no “draft” proposal. Only a fast track for an imminent vote.

    Also to note: Currently, the Traffic Commission is comprised of seven members, as follows:
    Seven members: two citizens-at-large (one representing city industry), appointed by the City Manager and confirmed by the City Council; Chief of Police; Chief of Fire; Superintendent of DPW; City Engineer; Director Community Development and Planning

    Kindly review items F., G. and H., within the presented Ordinance. Is the Traffic Commission proposed to increase to nine members? Or, should G. and H. be bullet points under F.? Why is the Bicycle and Pedestrian member (G) not approved by the City Council? Who submitted the Ordinance without prior City Council Committee deliberation and public input?

    (F) Two residents of the City, appointed by the City Manager and approved by the City Council
    for staggered terms of two years each;
    (G) One resident of the City who is a member of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee,
    appointed by the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee and approved by the City Manager for
    a two-year term; and
    (H) One representative of City business/industry appointed by the City Manager and approved
    by the City Council for a two-year term.

    Residents of Watertown should not be thrust by the wayside. Where is the transparency? We do pay attention. Thank you.



    Angeline Maria B. Kounelis
    Retired District A, East End, City Councilor
    Landline: 617-926-2352
    Mobile: 617-538-9252

    Sent from my Smartphone – Apologies for brevity and/or typos
    When writing or responding, please remember that any email sent or received by an employee of the City of Watertown is subject to the Massachusetts Public Records Law (M.G.L. c. 66).
    When writing or responding, please remember that any email sent or received by an employee of the City of Watertown is subject to the Massachusetts Public Records Law (M.G.L. c. 66).

    • Thank you Angie, for your clear eyed, professional evaluation of this situation. Although I have never lived in your district, I always appreciated the hard work that you did for this City. Now, when you’re “retired,” it seems like you’re still working for us.

  3. While I may agree with Linda on process, I heartily support putting a representative of the bicycle/pedestrian constituency on the Traffic Commission. There should also be a member that is highly knowledgable about public transit.

    As someone who does drive but is far more often a cyclist or pedestrian, I feel that representation on the Commission is ultimately a democratic enhancement. I have often felt that the lack of such representation erodes my personal safety.

    In Coolidge Square, it can be worth your life to try to cross the street, even with the pedestrian signal. This results, in part, from uneven enforcement of traffic laws.

    As a cyclist, there are many roads in town where I feel my safety is threatened by increasing and increasingly aggressive and lawless vehicle traffic.

    Finally, alternative means (transit, bicycle, walking) are critical to meeting the City’s traffic reduction goals, which would be a win for all.

    For all these reasons, I support the inclusion of a representative of the bicycle/pedestrian community on the Traffic Commission. Let’s follow up with a representative of our many transit riding neighbors.

    • Hi Joe,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Yes, this letter was more about having a legitimate process. That’s why the first word in it was “Democracy.” I think considering all people using the roads is the goal.

    • Got their guy already Joe, Zeke Mermell, took over for Laura a little while back. Your points are very valued, contact him, he’s part of the DCDP.

  4. Transparency is so needed in government today, whether it be on the city, state or national level. So many things are done without public input or notice and that only creates an atmosphere of distrust. Questions are raised as to who requested something and for what reason or why were decisions made and why last minute.

    The Comprehensive Plan goals state that by 2050 personal vehicular travel miles are to be reduced by 50% and that 100% of all vehicles in Watertown are electric. If people can’t ride a bike or physically step up on bus steps, I guess they’ll have to take an Uber if they can afford one. Walking a distance is often not an answer for many.

    For those who want to bicycle everywhere, more power to them, but even they are getting lazy by using e-bikes to speed by us. However, as a member of the aging group in our city, riding a bicycle is not something I could consider doing safely. Some people lose their balancing abilities as they age, some have physical limitations due to joint and other health issues, and our weather is not conducive to this activity many months of the year.

    My generation for the most part needs cars to do errands and get to numerous appointments. We need Watertown to concentrate as hard on what we need as they seem to be doing for bicyclists.

    If the bike riders can see themselves in the future and into their later years, do you think you can bring your children and their gear here and there on a bike or take an elderly family member or friend to an appointment? Are family outings and vacations going to happen via bikes? Can each family member get to jobs far from our city and mass transit?

    Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars, but remember to keep your feet on the ground.”

    I hope that one of the members of this Commission is someone concerned about the elderly and their safety. We see bicycle riders break the rules of the road and go through stop signs and red lights and that puts elders and others at risk if they can’t brake fast enough to avoid an accident. There have been incidents on the river paths where bicyclists whiz passed walkers of many ages.

    What is the reason to add more members to this committee other than giving more representation to a group that is pushing their agenda more and more?

    Not seeing many bike riders in our many bike lanes on a regular basis, are we devoting a lot of money and effort to a small portion of our society to the detriment of many others? Let’s be fair and balanced in our approach to our city decisions.

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