As part of its ongoing, multi-phase Connect Downtown project, the city released last month “Understanding Charles Street” – a document that will help inform decisions around the planned design changes on Charles Street between Charles Circle and Beacon Street.
According to the document, the city’s initial outreach included talking directly with the majority of businesses on Charles Street over the previous eight months, as well as undertaking “a robust data collection and analysis effort.”
Additionally, the document also looks back a parking study conducted by the city in the fall of 2019 (which was also when the Connect Downtown project began).
During the summer and fall of 2022, the city visited and spoke to 77 percent of the businesses on Charles Street.
Their findings included that deliveries are frequent, with 78 percent of businesses receiving three or more deliveries each week. Business reported that “flexibility [is] key,” since many said they had “little or no control over when deliveries arrive.”
Some businesses indicated that curbside loading may be useful to them, with some merchants expressing interest in expanding loading zones and other short-term parking opportunities.
In response to “an open-ended question at the end of the survey,” some Charles Street businesses expressed concerns with the condition of the street and sidewalks, as well as with the duration of utility projects.
Another finding from the document is that pedestrians account for the majority of users on Charles Street (62 percent pedestrians versus 38 percent roadway users, including motor vehicles and bicycles, during peak hours), yet they are allotted the least amount of space.
(This was based on data collected at Charles and Revere streets on Oct. 1-2, 2019, from 8-10 a.m. and from 5-7 p.m.)
Over a 12-hour period in October of 2019, most intersections on Charles Street saw around 100,000 pedestrian crossings for an average of about 830 per hour.
Charles Street has significantly less traffic than many other nearby arterial streets, according to the document, with most drivers traveling at safe speeds (i.e. 87 percent were at or below the posted 25 m.p.h. speed limit).
Likewise, Charles Street is “an important existing route for people biking,” according to the document.
Data collected from September of 2019 through December of last year found that in the warmer months, between 600 and 750 people biked Charles Street on any given weekday, comprising 10 to 15 percent of all traffic on the street. On cooler days, bicyclists still accounted for between 5 and 10 percent of all traffic on Charles Street.
Moreover, “a small but consistent stream of people biked northbound on Charles Street,” according to the document.
The city also studied double-parking and loading activities on Charles Street in June and July of last year.
Their findings included that 78 percent of these activities were for 15 minutes or less, while almost all loading activities and double-parking lasted for 15 minutes of less. Around 64 percent of loading activity occurred while a vehicle was double-parked. Personal vehicles, as opposed to vans or trucks, were used for the majority of these activities, including for passenger pickup and drop-off, food deliveries, and personal errands.
Meanwhile, findings from the city’s study of parking on Charles Street and side streets conducted in November of 2019 tracked the number of parking spaces and curb regulations while collecting data on parking turnover. While some changes have since been made to Charles Street’s parking inventory and regulations, the city was still able to ascertain that most blocks on Charles Street have no dedicated space for loading, and that parking spaces were “well-utilized,” making it difficult to find an available space at the curb to park and make deliveries.
Looking ahead, the city’s capital budget includes funding for a “transformative design that uses materials appropriate to the historic character of the neighborhood,” according to the document. The Boston Transportation Department will share initial design options informed by data and feedback collected this spring, and meeting dates will be announced soon. Residents interested in learning more are encouraged to sign up for the email alerts available here: https://www.boston.gov/departments/transportation/connect-downtown#charles.
To view the “Understanding Charles Street” document, visit https://www.boston.gov/sites or sign up for the city’s Connect Downtown email list at boston.gov/connect-downtown.