City officials outlined preliminary plans to add a two-way cycle track around the Public Garden on Wednesday before a standing-room only crowd at the Mt. Vernon Street Firehouse.
The concept proposes eliminating one traffic lane each on Arlington, Beacon, Boylston and Charles streets to create dedicated space for bicyclists on the roadways adjacent to the sidewalk. Parked cars, along with bollards or planters, could serve as barriers between the tracks and moving vehicles, and improvements would be made to intersections and crosswalks officials said.
Boston Transportation Department (BTD) Commissioner Tom Tinlin set no timeframe for the project and said while seed money has been set aside, the city has yet to earmark the additional funding necessary to implement the plan.
“We’re not on a fast track here because we only get one chance to get it right,” Tinlin said. “We do have an opportunity, and if we can find the right balance, we’ll move forward.”
In both alternatives presented, expected impacts of the project include a loss of around 33 of 209 existing parking spaces around the park and an increase of approximately 30 to 90 seconds to peak-hour travel times in the area, with Boylston Street seeing the biggest change, said Chris Bosley, senior engineer for the Toole Design Group, a national planning, engineering and landscape architecture firm.
Ben Starr, a Beacon Street resident and chair of the Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA) Traffic and Parking Committee, questioned the city’s time estimates, especially around Beacon and Charles streets, where he said traffic is often gridlocked.
“I’d like to see a proposed traffic solution in conjunction with this plan,” Starr added.
Back Bay resident Elliot Laffer implored city officials to carefully consider the potential traffic impact on Clarendon Street.
“This type of thing can have unanticipated consequences,” Laffer said. “I think we need to be sure we’re not causing any negative impact there.”
Beacon Hill resident Miguel Rosales asked the city to evaluate the potential effect of the project on the park itself.
“The Public Garden is one of the most beautiful parks, and we need to preserve it,” Rosales said. “I encourage the city to use a landscape architect to make it functional but attractive, as well.”
Erica Mattison of Dorchester was one of many bicyclists who lauded the proposal. (The majority of those who spoke at the meeting were bike advocates from neighborhoods outside of Beacon Hill and the Back Bay).
“I applaud the city for making the streets complete,” Mattison said. “I think this is the direction we need to be moving in as a city.”
Nicole Freedman, director of Boston Bikes, the city’s bicycle program, said a second phase of the project would add tracks around the Boston Common.
Steve Young, chairman of the BHCA board of directors, requested that the city work with the Civic Association and Beacon Hill Business Association if tracks are extended down Charles Street between Beacon and Cambridge streets as part of any subsequent phase.
“Businesses and residents on Charles Street will be impacted,” Young said. “I just urge that it’s done gently, slowly and with full input from the community.”