“Best meeting ever” was the phrase used to describe the rare consensus that formed toward a new pilot plan for the Cross Street sidewalk plaza, often referred to as the gateway to the North End. The May 12th community meeting was well-attended with new and old-time residents, business owners, city and state elected officials, MassDOT and the Boston Transportation Department (BTD).
Of the three options presented by James Gillooly of the Boston Transportation Department, “Option 3” received a unanimous hand vote by meeting attendees. Option 3 would open the Cross St. sidewalk plaza area to pedestrians 24 hours/day between Hanover & Salem Streets. The plan eliminates the vehicle lane and parking on the sidewalk plaza. Short-term and resident parking will be partially replaced on the outside curb of Cross Street. Commercial vehicles will have 30 minute delivery times from 8am-noon, followed by 1 & 2 hour visitor parking from noon-6pm, turning to resident parking at 6pm through 8am in the morning. None of the options significantly change the vehicular lane or parking on the northern block of Cross St., between Salem and Endicott Streets. “Pedestrians are in their own world as they walk through there,” said Gilooly noting the public safety advantage of Option 3 by completely closing the sidewalk plaza to vehicles. It would also discontinue the use of the vehicular lane often used as a shortcut to Salem Street or to beat the traffic light. BTD officials believe the existing turn from Cross St. onto Salem St. should be sufficient for most commercial vehicles.
Daytime short-term parking is replaced on the outside curb of Cross St. along the length of road from North Street to Endicott Street. It will be a combination of 2 hour parking with commercial 30 minute limits in some areas for business deliveries in the morning hours.
All of the options provide for the bus and trolley stops to be removed from the outside Cross St. curb, near North St., in favor of short-term daytime parking. The existing taxi stand near North Street will also be re-evaluated. The initial proposal was to remove it during the day and have the cab stand start at 6pm for the dinner rush. Many attendees wanted the stand completely removed, although the hackney division is likely to insist on a space somewhere in the area.
District 1 Councilor Sal LaMattina and State Representative Aaron Michlewitz organized the meeting with the BTD. This second meeting followed an initial community meeting about 6 weeks ago. During that time, BTD worked with officials using the community feedback to create these options. Councilor-at-Large Felix Arroyo also attended the meeting.
Currently, the sidewalk plaza has a center vehicle lane and allows commercial and short-term parking during the day, turning to resident parking at 6pm. The focus has been primarily on the sidewalk plaza area between Hanover & Salem Streets because that is where the pedestrian traffic is highest and is the area traversed by the Freedom Trail walkers. Maria from Maria’s Pastry agreed with that assumption, noting that the area in front of her shop and J. Pace do not see much tourist traffic between Salem and Endicott Streets. She was satisfied with the current configuration on that side, as were most meeting attendees.
Options 1 and 2 contain partial closures of the sidewalk plaza, less than the 24 hours in Option 3. Option 1 closes the Cross St. sidewalk plaza from 11am to 6pm. At 6pm, the spaces would revert to residential parking. Option 2 keeps the sidewalk plaza closed until 11pm at which time it would also become residential parking.
Enforcing the partial closings was raised as a potential problem with Options 1 and 2. It could be operationally difficult to enforce the hours, according to BTD.
The arrangement “provides more elbow room if you take vehicles completely out of the equation,” said Gillooly. Resident Bill Lane asked if all the bollards along the newly opened pedestrian area can be removed. BTD said they cannot commit to major reconstruction, but they believe some small changes can be made such as minor bollard removal. They also noted that the removal of the driveway opens up two more spaces on the curb of Cross Street.
There was some discussion about the Freedom Trail’s meandering path to the Salem Street side of the plaza. MassDOT’s John Romano reminded the audience that the path of the Freedom Trail was determined during the Big Dig to help the Salem Street businesses. A representative of the Freedom Trail Foundation said they would support the new plaza options as long as the new sign can be seen near the corner of Hanover & Cross Streets.
State Representative Aaron Michlewitz said, “right now, we are just trying to get the concepts down of what works. Later, we can dress it up.” There was some discussion of adding furniture, flower boxes and some even joked about a new fountain. Victor Brogna thought the paving should be changed to clearly identify pedestrian areas versus vehicle access. Luigi DeMarco suggested speed bumps along any type of vehicular areas, such as north of Salem Street which will retain a lane.
When Councilor LaMattina asked for a hand vote of the various options, it was a unanimous vote in support of Option 3, for a 24 hour vehicle closing of the sidewalk plaza between Hanover and Salem Streets. Initially, the reconfiguration would be a pilot program going into effect in the next few weeks. A follow-up meeting could be scheduled after the summer season which will be used as a barometer.
Comments on the Cross St. sidewalk plaza plan can be sent to James Gillooly at email@example.com.
Councilor LaMattina also described his recent visit to a similar plaza area in Cambridge. He provided the following pictures as an example of some long-term options for the Cross Street sidewalk area. Click here to see the full gallery of plaza photos.