Misinformation campaign begins on Beacon Street

Alarmist flyers decrying the elimination of “all parking” on one side of the street have appeared on telephone poles and car windshields along Beacon Street in Somerville–in a clear attempt to raise ire in the neighborhood against the city’s plan for a cycletrack.

The flyer calls residents to arms and to a meeting this Monday, Oct. 29–a meeting that was originally called by the city to talk to businesses about their particular concerns. Following the lead of the publicly posted flyer, the City of Somerville forwarded the invitation on the flyer to the list of people who have expressed interest in the project.

Domenic Ruccio, owner of the Beacon St. Laundromat quickly rescinded the public invite, however, when he learned the city had forwarded it to other interested parties in the neighborhood, including cyclists who attended the city’s public meeting on Oct. 15.

“As the organizer of this meeting it is unclear to me how you came to believe this meeting was open to the general public,” wrote Ruccio in a email to Somerville transportation planner Hayes Morrison. “Unfortunately the Cafe Rustica is quite small and we will give admittance priority to neighborhood residents who have not yet had an opportunity to offer input on this plan. With that caveat, we are happy to welcome anyone interested in attending to this meeting.”

“I am very uncomfortable participating in a meeting that has been advertised in the public but is not open to the public,” replied Morrison, offering to relocate the meeting to a larger space that could accommodate all interested parties. But that solution was not acceptable to Ruccio.

“What constituency do you feel would be disadvantaged by possibly not getting into the meeting room if attendance by concerned Beacon Street residents has filled it?” wrote Ruccio in a further email.

The Boston Cyclists Union is encouraging Somerville residents who feel strongly about creating a safer street for bicyclists and pedestrians to take up Ruccio’s invitation to local residents to attend. Many cyclists in this community, including members of the Somerville Bicycle Committee, are in support of a cycletrack to increase safety. Beacon Street, according to Deputy Chief Paul Upton of Somerville Police Department, is host to more bicycle crashes than any other street in the city of Somerville, and many injuries result.

Beacon Street Neighborhood Meeting
Mon., Oct. 29, 7:30 p.m.
Café Rustica
356 Beacon St.
Somerville, MA

The flyer for this meeting claims that the plan “will genuinely jeopardize the viability of businesses on Beacon Street who rely on street parking to supplement walk-by traffic.” But it neglects to mention the various ways in which the city has proposed to protect parking spaces for residents and businesses alike.

Currently, the street is often used by residents from other parts of Somerville to park and walk down to the Porter Square MBTA Station, to Lesley College, or to work at the Cambridge Health Alliance or retail stores along the strip. To stop this practice, the city has proposed to create a Beacon Street resident sticker and mandate one-hour parking for all other visitors (currently the street is two-hour parking with an exemption for all with a Somerville resident sticker).

As it stands, Beacon Street is “not South Boston,” as one resident put it, and parking can usually be found, although it might involve a bit of a walk. A parking study carried out by the city’s consultants found that the available parking on the northern half of the street is only 50 percent utilized, and the southern half near Inman Square is 63 percent utilized.

The Bike Union, with some help from Livable Streets Alliance and local Somerville residents, is also carrying out it’s own Customer Intercept Survey to determine how customers are getting to local shops, how much they spend, and which shops they spend at. The methodology of the survey is very similar to other studies carried out in San Francisco on Market Street, in Toronto on the Bloor Street Annex, and in Cambridge in Central Square. The early results of this survey will be available at the meeting this Monday, and we are still looking for volunteers to help distribute them! To volunteer, click here.

5 comments to Misinformation campaign begins on Beacon Street

  • Sam Coren

    I’m not really sure why you’re labeling this as a misinformation campaign. Beacon St. residents and businesses are being kept in the dark by the city planning commission and their design firm about a major redevelopment project that affects their daily lives. As a resident, I was completely in unaware about this entire project until Domenic organized a meeting with the city planner and our alderman to explain to the people in the neighborhood this plan. I bike regularly on Beacon and have to use my car to travel to clients for my job on a regular basis.

    Part of the reason why I love living here is that it’s a neighborhood that accessible to outsiders by foot (transit), bike, and car. Getting rid of those parking spaces makes my neighborhood substantially less accessible to people who live outside the neighborhood – especially people with mobility issues; please be sensitive to the fact that not everyone is able to bike. Many of my neighbors have mobility issues and the availability of parking for residents is a big reason why they moved here. The businesses need to supplement their foot traffic customers with customers from other parts of the city (and neighboring Cambridge) who drive in. I love being able to bike around here, and do think there are a number of ways to improve cycling safety on Beacon, but I don’t think it’s necessary to get rid of half the street parking on one side of the street. The parking study isn’t publicly published and neither is the bike count study. As someone who lives in the neighborhood, how can I have good faith that the proposed changes are justifiable when we don’t have access to the data that they’re allegedly grounded in?

    What you’re doing is trying to pit cycling enthusiasts against an entire neighborhood, which doesn’t lend itself to effective urban redevelopment. I’ve been asked to take the survey conducted by the liveable streets alliance and it’s misleading because on NO WHERE does it ask if I live in the neighborhood…only if I’m a Somerville resident or not.

    So now it’s not just the city who’s showing no regard for me and the people in my neighborhood, but it’s also the cycling union and their affiliates.

  • Mary Anne Carlson

    I agree with the above post. If it wasn’t for an email from Dominic, I wouldn’t have known anything about this proposal. I work at a business on Beacon Street that does NOT have a parking lot, so our customers depend on available parking spaces.

    There are already bike lanes on both sides of Beacon… why is it necessary to have more? And the part about safer for pedestrians? I haven’t notice much if any concerns by bicyclists about my safety when I am crossing the street on a walk light.

    And the reason for those bike crashes wouldn’t have anything to do with the riders, now would it?

  • Brian

    Seconded, thirded, whatever. The input of residents was never sought by the city. I hope you can understand why we’ve reacted so strongly. Most of us — I would hope — are sympathetic to the concerns about bikers about being doored. But getting rid of half the parking — especially based on the findings of of a deeply flawed parking study and suggestions based more on theory than fact — is no way to solve that problem. Paint the bike lane bright blue. Put signs all over the place. Widen the bike lane. Slow down traffic. Make Beacon Street a one-way street and turn the other lane into a cycle track. All of those to me are more acceptable than eliminating the parking based on what, again, was a deeply flawed parking study. If I can’t drive around, I’ll walk, bike or take the T whenever possible. But I do occasionally have to travel beyond where the T can take me — or I have to bring things that require the trunk of a car. If I can’t park here, I can’t live here.

  • Brian

    Among the flaws in the parking study, for the sake of full disclosure:

    * It was conducted on only two days, a tiny sample size that creates a significant (and yet ignored) margin for error;
    * The metered parking spots near Museum Street were included as accessible parking spots even though they’re bagged half the time — and for a resident to park at their own home during the day, they’d have to run outside with quarters every two hours;
    * An assumption was made that many of the people who park on Beacon Street during the day don’t live on Beacon Street, that they drive from elsewhere in Somerville so they can park nearer Porter or Harvard. But there was no scientific backing for that theory whatsoever — an alarming thought considering the decisions that are being made based on what’s only a hypothesis;
    * The measurement of parking spaces on Tuesday morning and Wednesday night artificially lowered the count, as we residents have to move our cars off Beacon Street for street sweeping from 12-6 a.m. on Tuesday and 12-6 a.m. on Thursday, meaning our cars by law have to be elsewhere at 6 a.m. on Tuesday and, for practical purposes, by 8 p.m. on Wednesday night;
    * No mention was made of what residents would do when street sweeping happens on the odd-numbered side of the street, which would eliminate 100 percent of the parking on Beacon Street one night a week.

  • anon

    “a cycletrack to increase safety”

    The study dicussed in the linked Atlantic Cities article does not necessarily prove that cycle tracks are the safest option.

    Local bicycle planner and former MassBike president Paul Schimek commented: “This study was based on ONLY TWO BLOCKS of (one-way, raised) cycle tracks in Vancouver, and none in Toronto. They found 2 injuries on these 2 blocks but expected 10. That is what this grand conclusion of 90% reduction is based on.”

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