Independent of the Austin Street Project, Walnut Street is slated for an improvement project. During the Austin Street hearing process it was frequently suggested that the businesses would be better served by doing the Walnut improvements first at it would make the streetscape more attractive to customers during the construction period and that they plentiful and directly adjacent parking right off Bram Way would help offset on street parking lost during the work.
The reason for not doing it was covered in the final debate in response to questioning by (then Alderwoman) Sangiolo. It can be seen below from 209:00-212:00 in the NewTV video of the meeting:
Then Chairman Laredo stated this sequencing was a high priority of the Board as well and that it was discussed extensively in committee , but that the city had explained the improvement could not be done in near term. The commissioner of Public works was asked specifically. He explained that the Public Works department was working projects in West Newton and Aurburdale Square, and that he did not have the resources to supervise the Newtonville improvement, which require more design work. Chairman Laredo said if he could wave a magic wand of course we would want it done first, but in the end it was better to start project than delay it for years and years to come.
Now the city has put up a web page on the Austin Street project, which speaks to the sequencing:
CONSTRUCTION: Planned Newtonville street improvements will be coordinated with 28 Austin Street construction to minimize disruption.
- Summer 2016: Austin St gas, water, sewer replacements (approx. 4-6 months)
- Spr. 2017- Spr. 2018: Austin St project construction (approx. 13-15 months)
- Summer 2018: Walnut St. streetscape improvements (approx. 4-6 months)
Walnut Street streetscape improvements are an important part of the overall work plan for the revitalization of Newtonville. Questions have been raised about whether this work should be done before the 28 Austin St. project is completed. Work on Walnut St. is scheduled to begin after completion of the Austin Street project in the spring of 2018 for three important reasons two engineering and one for the economy of Newtonville’s businesses:
- Utility work on Austin Street and the Austin Street development project must be done one after the other. Both projects involve opening up the street and by doing them sequentially, we can do this once and repave once. It is quite likely once Austin St. is opened for the infrastructure and utility work that there may be some extension into Walnut St. at the intersection with Austin St. If Walnut St. were already redesigned and paved, the new street could be disrupted.
- The most advantageous design for Walnut St. to improve traffic flow, maintain parking, and improve safety and ease of movement for pedestrians and cyclists will be better informed once 28 Austin St. is built, especially the best design for the Walnut St./Austin St. intersection.
- Redoing Walnut Street will affect access to businesses. Scheduling this work after the Austin Street project increases customers in the area who can shop on foot and also adds back the municipal parking lot. We believe this will be better for businesses while Walnut St. improvements are underway.
This is inconsistent with the Board discussions and is not a strong rationale. Some observations:
- Saving the cost of repaving in the larger scheme of things (particularly risk of business losses), is not a good tradeoff.
- Determining “what will work best” once Austin Street is in place is implicitly saying the design work may be delayed until beyond 2018 when the project fully completed and occupied and norms established for traffic.
- Adding 100 potential nearby customers will not nearly offset the volume of customers put off by sparse parking after the project. This was a key objection to the project.
- The new parking lot will have less parking spaces, and on average, will be located much farther away (filling Goodwill truck area) than the current spaces proximate to Bram Way.
Why is the city representing this decision in a way that in such contrast to the Land-Use committee’s findings?