North End nearing its tipping point
— A vision of a spectacular future
Definition of tipping point
- the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place.
Hanover St., Salem St., nearby North End streets, the Bulfinch, Haymarket and Boston Garden neighborhoods, are nearing the tipping point, when pedestrian and vehicular traffic come to a complete mother-of-all grid-locked halt, one massive bottleneck. Bookies in Vegas will soon be offering odds on exactly when this humongous congestion will happen.
Study the situation today, and you’ll see it’s inevitable, despite the Mayor’s changing the 60-year-old name of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, BRA, to Boston Planning and Development Agency, BPDA. City planning: another Boston joke. Like the MBTA timetable. Or bicyclists’ obeying traffic signals.
On fine weekday evenings, and all day on week-ends, try to walk down Hanover St. or Salem St. It’s like trying to get through the crowds at St. Anthony’s Feast. Or break through the Patriots’ defense. Customer lines can run from Mike’s Pastry down around Prince St.. Modern Pastry’s lines may run all the way to Richmond St.. Giacomo’s lines usually run to Fleet St. The packs outside the Daily Catch could halt Blount, Gronkowski and Edelman. Thousands of tourists walk the Freedom Trail or simply drop by to visit “Little Italy”. Groups stand in the sidewalks, trying to read their maps on smart phones which are smarter than the owners. “Siri, Where’s the Fredom Trail?” Siri politely replies, “You’re standing on it.”
Sidewalk sandwich signs, few, if any of which meet city requirements, block sidewalks. Tables and chairs and benches outside some restaurants block more space. Bicycles are tied to lamp-posts, in the way of pedestrians, but at least are not speeding down sidewalks, with riders shouting, “on your right,” which is bicyclese for “Get the hell out of my way!” Flower planters are pretty, and pretty large on sidewalks. The Big Belly solar-powered trash cans can’t compact enough trash so the city has placed old fashioned trash cans next to them. They are marked “Recycle” but are filled with everything. Another Boston joke. What’s next? Containers? Valet parking signs take up more room. Some valet-parked cars get parked on nearby side street sidewalks. Cars and trucks double park. Huge trucks make deliveries. And I’m not making this up: 18-wheelers make deliveries on Hanover St. Pedestrians walk in the streets to get out of packed sidewalks. Motorcycles parked outside Caffe Vittoria are, happily, quiet, until they turn on the straight-muffler engines. Sidewalk performers add background music while their “tip” boxes trip the unwary. And there’s the never-ending storefront remodeling, construction and staging for brick pointing, all taking up sidewalks. Prince Spaghetti couldn’t make the Anthony commercial today because Anthony could never run home through the crowded streets.
Bus-loads of tourists are dropped off on Commercial St. and on the Surface Rd. near Haymarket. Hundreds, thousands of tourists are brought in from cruise ships. Buses keep their engines running. Boston’s 5-minute idling law is enforced as strictly as the motorcycle muffler law, which means it ain’t enforced. Once upon a time, on North End streets one could smell the red sauce. Now you smell diesel fumes. Traffic moves so slowly on Surface Road and Cross St. they are now known as the Greenway parking lots. Traffic jams on Causeway and Commercial Streets and Atlantic Ave. are bad enough today, blocked in rush hours, thanks to absolutely no traffic planning as the Seaport became the so-called innovative district of glass-walled high-rises. But wait, there’s more: Commercial, Causeway and Atlantic will get worse, thanks to the brilliant new bike path boondoggle, a micro Big Dig, taking away parking places and lanes of vehicle traffic.
Haymarket, Bulfinch and TD Garden high-rise construction is bringing in thousands of new residents and commuters. Additional riders already jam into the over-packed Green Line or North Station trains. The BRA never thought that public transport be expanded to handle the huge influx of people and traffic before approving the huge condos, apartments and offices. Like Tom Leher’s classic about the Nazi rocket master: “Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That’s not my department, says Wernher von Braun.” Now, the Boston version is: “Once the buildings are up, who cares how people ride, drive, walk or play? That’s not my department, says the mayor’s BPDA.”
It’s inevitable. The North End and nearby neighborhoods are heading to the tipping point, when pedestrians, tourists, residents, cars, trucks, buses, duck boats, tour busses, fire engines, ambulances, bicyclists will be locked in a massive immovable gridlock. Travel writers and Yelp and TripAdviser critics will quote Yogi Berra: “Forget the North End, it’s so crowded nobody goes there any more.”
Oh, what fun it’s going to be at the tipping point. Of course, developers, restaurants and businesses — who never learned the moral of the fable of the goose and her golden eggs — might not find it funny.
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