Commentary by Frank Schroth
Last week the Master Plan committee asked for community input on “Which transportation improvements do you feel are most important to make?” It was the third in a series of questions they’re asking of residents as they conclude the information gathering phase of drafting a new master plan. But to know what improvements are most important assumes one knows what improvements are available, are there any?
Traffic and a corollary issue, parking, are significant and problematic. There is too much of one and not enough of the other. And it is unclear what can be done about it. Chief Wells, chair of the traffic commission, often uses the water analogy when discussing traffic. When you close off a pipe (road) the water (traffic) flows elsewhere. You can’t diminish the volume you can only influence it’s direction.
The chief has identified several factors that have contributed to traffic congestion. First, there are simply more cars. Many homes in Milton were built with 1 or 2 car garages yet many residents now have 2, 3 or more cars in their driveway. A more recent development has been the advent of GPS devices which take folks off clogged expressways and direct them through neighborhood street in an attempt to get wherever they are going more quickly. Wherever it is they are going it is more likely than not here in Milton; but through Milton to somewhere else. Folks who work in town and live south of Boston come through Milton – twice a day.
To return to the chief’s analogy – there are two methods of relief: less volume or larger pipes. It is difficult to believe that Canton Avenue or Brush Hill Road will ever become a four lane thoroughfare. Our roads are what they are. Larger pipes are not an option. Here are some two thoughts:
- Work with elected state official to improve state funding (Chapter 90 etc) allocated to towns based on the traffic volumes on town roads and advocate for infrastructure improvements that will relieve pressure being placed on town streets (e.g. Brantree split)
- Get out of your car. Don’t drive. Instead, walk, bike, or take the T. The congestion issues created when elementary school gets out could be greatly relieved if more student walked or biked to school. Getting people out of their cars requires a significant cultural change. We all get in cars all the time to go anywhere. But one can ride a bike from Brook and Central and be in East Milton in 15 minutes or less. I used to commute to town with longtime resident Richard Ring. It took us ~45mins. Time is not the issue, safety is the issue. My children could walk to Glover in half the time it took to take the bus or drive; but sending off two children aged 6 and 8 to cross Central Ave during rush hour was not and still isn’t a good idea. But it might be soon. The redevelopment of Central Ave will provide safe crosswalks over to Turners. These small steps that ensure safety can promote walking and biking. Other measures include more bike racks especially at the Pierce, cleared sidewalks in winter, and better pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure (defined and maintained bike lanes, traffic lights that respond to bicycles as well as cars, and positioning of crosswalks that convenience pedestrians).
Walking and biking locally improves health, saves money, and is environmentally responsible. So to answer the question regarding transportation improvements: anything that will promote residents to opt for alternatives to car transportation.
As for parking, what problem? The issue comes up whenever there is any development of any kind. Some of the merchants in East Milton have been clamoring about parking for years. And they are going to get some relief. There will be a meeting tomorrow night to discuss plans for a long standing effort to reconfigure the East Milton deck to provide parking. But the study done by Howard Stein Hudson determined that the issue in East MIlton is not insufficient parking as much as it is location of parking. The parking is available, it simply isn’t where merchants want it (ie at their front door). One of those merchants Fitness Unlimited will now get parking at no cost to them that is convenient to them. Further it should be noted that Fitness Unlimited did not have to provide any parking when they opened but new businesses such as Mr Chan who wants to expand and offer a sit down restaurant do. This all has to do with one business being grandfathered in and others not for reasons that can be explained but will never appear fair.
Whether this additional parking which may or may not be truly needed will improve commercial development of the square is an open question. One would hope so. If it abets more retail or helps the new restaurant the Falconi’s hope to put into the old theater — great. But we agree with others such as Planning Board member Bryan Furze and Master Plan Committee member Cheryl Tougias who question whether a parking lot is the “highest best use” for that parcel. It was not successful as a park that anyone would visit or stroll through and it’s value as a parking lot is debatable.
That said, thriving commercial destinations require parking. This is the issue blooming at Central and Eliot. At a recent hearing before the Board of Appeals several residents raised concerns about parking. However, it should be noted that any parking issue is not solely an issue for the new proposed 40B at 131 Eliot; but a sum of result of 36 Central Ave, Steel & Rye, and the new apartment building going in further up the street. It hardly seems fair to put the aggregate challenge created by these 4 developments at the feet of one developer. As with East Milton we are not convinced that the parking is as serious or immediate an issue as the traffic.
Regardless, this issue (ie traffic and parking impacts of these proposed developments) was raised a long time ago by concerned neighbors. No one can say we did not see this coming. But we can say that in hindsight we may not have properly planned for it. This brings us full circle. The Master Plan effort is one that requires thought, support, and input. Share your ideas, thoughts and opinions. You can also find boards with info displayed at town hall and the library. Other ideas have been suggested such as bus shuttle services. With regard to walking to school there is concept of the walking school bus. This concept can also be used for biking. Here is a post on the most recent question which includes previous questions and an email link to respond. Some related articles with focus on cycling: