The concept for the short term changes to the crossing, first presented at a June 6 meeting in Brookline’s Town Hall, includes new bike/pedestrian pathway segments through tiny slivers of the park on both sides of Route 9 and a signalized crosswalk over Route 9 itself, including a widened median and expanded waiting area within it that would allow waiting room for a half-dozen bicycles or more.
The crossing has long been on the top priority list for bicyclists in Jamaica Plain and points south, though due to the crossing’s location in the Town of Brookline none of those residents, nor the Boston Cyclists Union, were given any representation on the committee. As a result, the vote on the final concept was held during the same meeting wherein the public first laid eyes on it, leaving little room for thoughtful public comment. On the positive side, the current plan is still in the conceptual stage, and input will still be gathered when funding is found and the 100 percent design process begins.
Though progress on the short term plan for the crossing appeared to be universally supported, not all bicycle advocates were entirely pleased with longer term ideas expressed in the concept, which seemed to rule out two ideas that advocates had hoped would stitch together the dismembered park: A proposed closure of Netherlands Road to through traffic, and a proposed narrowing of River Road to create more parkland and a wide shared use path.
“This plan shows a lack of vision,” said Jamaica Plain’s Jeffrey Ferris, a well known advocate and bike shop owner. “I recommend voting yes on the Route 9 crossing part of the plan, but no on the rest.”
In the case of Netherlands Road’s connection to the Riverway (also known as Parkway Road on some maps), the Town of Brookline’s consultants used projections of future traffic increases to predict a need to install a new right-hand turn lane on Riverway for motorists turning onto Brookline Avenue. But the creation of this new turning lane would require taking land from the Emerald Necklace, an idea that park advocates roundly objected to.
In an attempt to question the need for a right-hand turn lane at the location, the Boston Cyclists Union submitted a letter questioning the consultant’s traffic projections and requesting a second opinion from the state’s Central Transportation Planning Staff—-a service offered free to towns and cities in the Commonwealth–but the Town of Brookline never acknowledged the letter.
On River Road, the traffic increase projections also spurred a recommendation that the street remain two-way, and maintaining parking in the plan was explained as necessary because local businesses “expressed the need” for it, though no parking study was conducted to measure its capacity or the nature of its use.
On the positive side of the ledger for cyclists, the new plan did call for eliminating the off-ramp from the Riverway onto River Road, thus lowering the chance of conflict and crashes there. Netherlands Road would also become one-way southbound under the plan.
After several advocates spoke in favor of the crossing, but disapproved of the rest of the plan, the committee unanimously voted to approve it but added the qualification that it could be revised in the future.
“This is about a study done at a certain time with a complete understanding that changes happen over time,” said Selectwoman Jesse Mermell, head of the committee.
The request for funding for the reconstruction of the Route 9 crossing will now be sent into the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) process. If funding is approved, a more detailed planning process will begin and many observers predict between three and five years before construction on the Route 9 signalization project begins.