By Suzanne Besser
The owners of the largest redevelopment project ever proposed for Beacon Hill reached out to their Temple Street and Ridgeway Lane neighbors last week, this time under the auspices of the Beacon Hill Civic Association traffic and parking committee.
The project is welcomed by many neighbors who look forward to sharing their street with new residents and less students. The developers, responding to the community’s desire to attract more young families by offering a wider range of housing options, plan to incorporate three bedroom units in 32 of the 72 planned for the upscale 174,759 square foot property. Many neighbors also applaud the architectural design proposed for the former academic buildings, which they say will greatly improve the streetscape at the top of Temple Street.
But such a large influx of new residents will inevitably bring traffic and parking problems for what has been called Beacon Hill’s most walkable shared street – one that has no separation between pedestrians and cars, no parking and a low traffic volume.
“There are two major areas of sensitivity with this project – the increased traffic on Temple Street, and the proposed 60 car parking garage and the manner in which it will operate,” said Ben Starr, who chairs the traffic and parking committee. “Both will have a significant impact on a very unique Beacon Hill street. We will need to be respectful of the nature of Temple Street and be sensitive to any precedent setting change.”
The neighbors felt that the traffic would be far greater than was estimated in a traffic study report presented by Guy Busa, Jr., a transportation planner working with the project’s owners. The volume of vehicles entering and exiting the garage as well as daily deliveries and pickups by commercial trucks were underestimated, they believe, because the report failed to take into consideration the demographics of future condominium owners.
It did not take into account, for example, frequent trips made by parents taking their children to private schools during peak commuter hours and to other activities throughout the day. Busa said his figures were based on national data collected years ago because no current data was available.
“I am concerned about still relying on what seems to be a 1993 study of downtown truck deliveries for planning in 2016,” said committee member Jeannette Herrmann, addressing Busa’s estimate that there would be just one commercial delivery each day. “In 1993 there was no Amazon and Peapod was a small Chicago start-up. Such shopping and delivery innovations—truly a paradigm shift—have a significant impact on urban traffic planning, not just on Beacon Hill.”
Many residents asked that the garage be designed so that loading and unloading takes place inside the garage rather than on the sidewalk not only to avoid inclement weather but also to prevent adding more vehicles to the lineup of those waiting for valet service at the Temple Street entrance to the building.
One young mother said it takes parents up to 15 minutes to get their children in and out of their car seats, during which time the road would be blocked, traffic would back up and delayed drivers would be very angry.
Ania Camargo, co-chair of a committee of neighbors working with the developers, suggested reducing the number of parking spaces inside the garage to allow room for loading and unloading. Another neighbor suggested freeing up space by installing a two-elevator system of moving cars instead of the proposed steep ramp that would block a frequently used pathway between Temple Street and Ridgeway Lane.
A neighbor’s suggestion to reduce the lineup of parked vehicles by having delivery trucks, taxis and Uber cars use the Archer Building entrance on Derne Street quickly caught fire in the room. Making that entry accessible would most likely required changes to the building’s exterior and consequently approval by the Beacon Hill Architectural Commission.
Because of an arrangement with the Boston Transportation Department, Suffolk University has for years minimized rush hour traffic on Temple Street by barricading it during rush hours. “Temple Street is now a walking street,” said Steve Turner. “I worry about the change that will come when Suffolk leaves and the barrier is removed. Temple Street could turn into a Bowdoin Street with cars all stacked up.”
Residents will have more opportunities to comment on the project. Because of its size, it is subject to a Large Project Review by the Boston Redevelopment Authority under Article 80 of the Boston Zoning Code. A citizen task force will be formed to work with the BRA and builders throughout the process. David Rafferty, a partner of JDMD Owner LLC who owns the property, said he expects the project notification form will be submitted shortly, after which the public will have 35 days to comment.
Rafferty did not answer requests for comments after the meeting.