Boston Kicks Off Redesign Process for West Roxbury’s Centre Street

A group photograph of West Roxbury neighbors setting out on a safety audit of Centre Street on May 11, 2019. Courtesy of West Roxbury Walks.
A group photograph of West Roxbury neighbors setting out on a safety audit of Centre Street on May 11, 2019. Courtesy of West Roxbury Walks.

In February, a driver on Centre Street in West Roxbury struck and killed Marilyn Wentworth as she was crossing the street to visit her favorite neighborhood coffee shop.

Centre Street is a dangerous contradiction: on the one hand, it looks like a classic New England main street, with shops, restaurants, schools and churches. But dividing those pleasant sidewalks are four lanes of asphalt, clearly and disastrously designed to encourage high-speed traffic.

West Roxbury Main Streets, the neighborhood business organization, has been asking the city for traffic calming improvements since 2016, when a survey identified Centre Street’s pedestrian-hostile design as a major barrier to foot traffic.

February’s death galvanized West Roxbury residents and businesses to hold the Boston Transportation Department accountable to its “Vision Zero” policy. Neighbors formed a new organization, “West Roxbury Walks,” and in May, they organized a pedestrian safety audit of the residential portion of Centre Street, located between the village and the Arnold Arboretum.

After this winter’s death, the city seems to be finally ready to discuss safety improvements. A public meeting to discuss Centre Street has been scheduled for June 20 at 6:30 p.m. in the Holy Name Parish School Gymnasium at 535 West Roxbury Parkway.

In a recent open letter to Boston Chief of Streets Chris Osgood, West Roxbury Walks and West Roxbury Main Streets co-signed a request for fewer car lanes, shorter pedestrian crossings and protected bike lanes on Centre and Spring Streets.

In an emailed statement, Tracey Ganiatsos, public affairs coordinator for the Boston Transportation Department, wrote that “at this time, our first priority is reviewing the current design of Centre Street between St. Theresa’s Church and the rotary adjacent to the Holy Name School.”

That’s the one-mile-long heart of West Roxbury’s commercial district, but it excludes the residential portion of Centre Street where West Roxbury neighbors conducted their safety audit.

Will Vincent, one of the founding members of West Roxbury Walks, is hopeful that the city will take a more holistic view.

“One of the challenges I’ve seen is how the city has lots of awesome segments of safe streets, but each one doesn’t connect well to the next,” said Vincent in a phone interview last month. “It would frustrate me a little bit to see so much work put into the business district if the other half gets no improvements. Is the residential segment just going to remain the highway that it is now, or could we make the entire street safer, all the way to the Arboretum?”


Public meeting information:

Centre Street Safety Improvements Public Meeting

When: Thursday, June 20, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Holy Name Parish School Gymnasium at 535 West Roxbury Parkway (across the rotary from the Needham Line’s Bellevue commuter rail stop)

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The pedestrianized section of Franklin Street next to the Downtown Crossing station entrance pictured on May 29, 2019.

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