City Considering Sept. 22 for Car-Free ‘Open Charles Street’

To dovetail with the Beacon Hill Civic Association’s Fall HillFest, city officials are exploring the idea of closing Charles Street to vehicular traffic and transforming it into a pedestrian-only walkway for the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 22, for “Open Charles Street,” according to Jacob Wessel, the city’s public realm director.

But Wessel told those in attendance at a special meeting of the BHCA Traffic and Parking Committee on July 30 at 74 Joy St. to address the matter that the city hasn’t yet committed to the event, which would be modeled after “Open Newbury Street.”

Now, in its fourth year, “Open Newbury Street” “puts the “park in parking,” as Wessel said, by temporarily converting Newbury Street, along with some side streets, into a car-free zone. It has expanded from a one-day event in 2016 to three days each summer this year, with the next taking place on Sunday, Aug. 25.

For “Open Newbury Street,” Wessel said some restaurants in the neighborhood receive one-day license extensions that allow them to temporarily transform the sidewalk outside their storefronts into outdoor patio space. No vendors from outside the Newbury Street area are allowed to participate either, he said, so only neighborhood businesses profit from the events.

State Rep. Jay Livingstone pointed to the many road closures caused by “Open Newbury Street” and suggested that the city look carefully at who will be most impacted by the event in planning “Open Charles Street.”

Ali Ringenburg, co-chair of the Joint Charles Street Committee and a Beacon Hill Business Association board member, requested that only neighborhood businesses, be allowed to participate in the event, and that no vehicles whatsoever be permitted on the street (except in case of emergency).

“The five blocks on Charles Street are very conducive to having events like this, maybe even more than Newbury Street,” Ringenburg said, “and the businesses want to support this event and have it correspond with HillFest.”

Ben Starr, chair of the Traffic and Parking Committee, suggested that if “Open Charles Street” comes to pass, the event should adhere to the same hours – noon to 4 p.m. – as the Fall HillFest, the annual block party held between on Mt. Vernon Street between Charles and Brimmer streets.

Starr said the proposal would go before the BHCA Executive Committee for a vote of opposition or non-opposition prior to the next board meeting on Sept. 9 while an informal poll of those in attendance at the Traffic and Parking Committee meeting found that 13 of 14 of those surveyed supported the idea, and one opposed it.

In another matter, Starr said the installation of a curb-cut at 28 Pinckney St. could result in the loss of two parking spaces while expressing frustration that the neighborhood didn’t have an opportunity to weigh in on the decision.

“Unlike with the [Zoning Board of Appeal] and zoning variances, there’s no process for curb-cuts; it’s just administrative approval,” Starr said. “They don’t seek neighbors’ thoughts and opinions…and to me, this is just a flaw in the system.”

Meanwhile, Starr said the installation of a new station for the Blue Bike metro bike-share program at the corner of Charles and Mt. Vernon streets would also likely result in the loss of two more parking spaces, and that a Blue Bike station now located outside Panificio Bistro and Bakery at 144 Charles St. will be relocated to the side of The Whitney Hotel.

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