Joint Charles Street Committee Proposes New Charles Street Configuration

The Joint Charles Street Committee is proposing a pilot program that would reconfigure Charles Street to allow restaurants to have more outdoor seating while reducing it from three travel lanes to two.

Ali Ringenburg, a Beacon Hill Civic Association board member, co-president of the Beacon Hill Business Association and co-chair of the Joint Charles Street Committee – a collaboration between the Civic Association and the Business Association – detailed the plan during the first virtual meeting of the Civic Association’s Traffic and Parking Committee on Thursday, June 4.

The Joint Committee is proposing a street configuration with sidewalks on both sides measuring eight feet in length; eight feet reserved for parking; and two travel lanes each extending 10 feet, she said, while the amount of additional sidewalk space that participating restaurants receive would be based in the length of their building facades.

Ringenburg said jersey barriers filled with water could be used to delineate the new sidewalk space.

“A lot of it comes down to what the city has access to,” she said.

In response to a suggestion that parking could instead be eliminated on one side of the street to gain more sidewalk space, Ringenburg replied it would be a nonstarter “because parking is essential to bringing in business.”

Ben Starr, Traffic and Parking Committee chair, said bikes and cars would share the same space while traveling southbound down Charles Street.

“We don’t see too much car traffic there so two lanes should be plenty,” Starr added.

Mark Kiefer, former Civic Association chair and a neighborhood resident, lauded the concept, adding that it was commonplace in Europe and could serve as a citywide model.

Kiefer also said the change could help improve accessibility for the disabled on the street’s brick sidewalks.

“Regardless of the details, I support the concept,” Kiefer said.

Steve Young, another former Civic Association chair and a Beacon Street resident, said since Charles Street is primarily a residential street, its restaurants’ hours of operation at night should be closely monitored.

Ringenburg said the Joint Committee’s plan comes on the heels of the city announcing it would loosen restrictions on outdoor seating during the pandemic, and that its Licensing Committee had sent a survey to restaurants citywide to gauge their interest in participating in the pilot program.

Once it gets the green light from the Civic Association’s board of directors, Starr said the Business Association would come up with a plan and bring it to the city.

“We want the best things for Charles Street because it’s been a really tough three and a half months for them,” Starr said.

In another matter, the city will soon install protected bike lanes around the Public Garden as part of its “healthy streets” initiative; this is only supposed to be a temporary measure, but Starr isn’t convinced.

“The bike lane around the Public Garden is likely to become permanent, even though it’s now called temporary,” Starr said. “I’d like to believe there would be a discussion an on anything permanent.”

The bike lane wouldn’t impact Charles or Cambridge streets, though, Starr said.

Meanwhile, the city is expected to install raised crosswalks at the intersections of Charles Street and Mt. Vernon and Walnut streets, respectively, within the next week, Starr said.

“The Walnut Street stretch is being looked at as a guinea pig,” Starr said. “If it works, they’ll talk about West Cedar Street and other places.”

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