By Joseph A. Curtatone
(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)
I want to talk this week about seizing opportunities.
During the past decade, Somerville has become a model city. We have no shortage of other communities asking about how we did it. They want to become healthier places to live. They want thriving local business districts. They want to deliver a higher quality of life to their residents. In short, they like what they see when they look at Somerville, and they want to imitate many of the things we do. I tell them you really need to rally your entire community behind a shared vision. I also tell them it is critical to seize your opportunities.
When we go in to rebuild a park or playground, we don’t just plant a few trees and put up a swing set. We make sure we build something that can enhance the neighborhood around it for decades to come.
The same logic applies to Assembly Square. It has become a beehive of construction activity, and will become a bustling neighborhood and business district, because when the opportunity to transform that area of the city presented itself, we seized it.
The reality with many of the projects we undertake is that they represent once-in-a-generation opportunities. It takes years of legwork, often involving multiple state and federal agencies, to get the funding for some projects. We either seize those opportunities to enhance our city, or we let them fall to another generation two or three decades from now.
Beacon Street is one of those once-in-a-generation opportunities. For over a decade, Somerville has worked to secure funding for the project, which started as a standard repaving job. But as the decade went on, the corridor changed, the city adopted its first Comprehensive Plan, SomerVision and we adjusted Beacon Street to look toward the future illustrated by SomerVision.
As everyone has heard me say on many occasions, our guiding principle is to make Somerville a world class place to live, work, play and raise a family. We want nothing less than that for Beacon Street.
Some people have reservations regarding the proposed cycle track, but let me reinforce that it is just one piece of a larger picture, and this picture is not new. It is the picture illustrated in SomerVision and emerging on East Broadway where the new streetscape project will enhance pedestrian and bicycle access, beautify the area, and emphasize that this section of our city is a destination rather than a cut through to other communities.
We are seeing significant investment in East Somerville as a result of this vision. Projects are moving faster than we ever imagined possible. Businesses are viewing East Somerville as one of the hot, up-and-coming places in the greater Boston region, and clamoring to relocate or expand here. And all of this is happening because we seized our opportunity to reinvigorate that area of our city. We’re following the same winning game plan on Beacon Street. We’re making it more accessible for all; motorists, pedestrians, cyclist and transit users. Research shows that residents of well designed, multi-modal areas spend more time in their neighborhoods and get more enjoyment from those neighborhoods. It also shows that people who walk, bike and take transit to local business districts visit more frequently and spend more money in those districts.
Cycle tracks are relatively new, but Beacon Street is unique. It is part of the busiest bicycle commuting corridor in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (extending through Cambridge and across the Longfellow Bridge). At peak times, a quarter of the traffic on Beacon Street is bicycle traffic, and that number is increasing. At the same time, vehicle traffic has decreased across the Boston region, as well as on Beacon Street (13% from 1999 to be exact). Again, this is our chance to keep to our plan, to plan today with an eye on tomorrow.
We know the cycle track will maximize safety for everyone: cyclists, pedestrians, transit users and motorists. It is also the best way of meeting the future demands of everyone who will be travelling along that road. It will create an orderly and more predictable flow of traffic.
Yes, we will lose parking spaces as a result of these changes, and whenever the prospect of fewer parking spaces comes up, people worry about the local businesses. I can assure you, no one worries about our local businesses more than I do.
We hear your concerns. We understand them. And in order to respond to those concerns, we’ve changed the design to keep more parking spaces and we’re negotiating to provide more off-street parking opportunities. We can assure you that there will be enough parking on Beacon Street when the project is completed.
With an eye toward a future that is so clearly defined in SomerVision, we will create a Beacon Street that is even more livable, an even stronger neighborhood and a more active business district. And we will continue to do this in every corner of our great city. We have become the model city we are by seizing opportunities like this, not by passing on them.
Beacon Street’s time is now.