In a public meeting Thursday night, staff from Boston's Transportation Department presented a proposal to reconfigure West Roxbury's Centre Street by removing one travel lane in each direction to shorten pedestrian crossings, and adding protected bike lanes and a dedicated center turn lane.
Neighbors turned out in force to hear the city's proposal Thursday evening, filling the gymnasium at the Holy Name Parish School.
In a brief presentation, Charlotte Fleetwood from the Boston Transportation Department explained how the current four-lane layout is fundamentally unsafe for pedestrians: one car might stop to let someone cross the street, but passing cars in the other lane are then less likely to see the pedestrian walking in front of the stopped vehicle.
Fleetwood also explained that Centre Street's current traffic volumes - about 16,000 vehicles per day - are well within the thresholds of what a 3-lane street with dedicated left-turn lanes could handle.
A sizable contingent of residents at Monday's meeting bristled at the idea of losing a lane for cars.
Marty Keogh, who jumped to the front of the line during the meeting's public comment period, set the tone for the opposition: "This is not a good idea," said Keogh. "I think almost everyone in this room would agree with me."
To this, the crowd responded with a loud chorus of "No!" Keogh later conceded that "Centre Street needs to have traffic slowed down. But this is too drastic and too extreme.”
In the subsequent hour of public testimony, dozens of West Roxbury neighbors spoke in favor of the city's traffic-calming proposal. Many of the speakers who spoke in support of the idea were parents of young children, and expressed their desire for a neighborhood main street that would be safe for their kids to use.
“I have a two-and-a-half-year-old and I have a 6-day-old," said neighborhood resident Evan Judd. "I really want to be able to cross the street with my child and not have to worry about getting smacked by a vehicle speeding by in the other lane.”
Another neighbor, Nancy Fitzgerald, testified that “I’m the mom to two teenagers who are reluctant to cross the street, even at the signals, and afraid to ride their bikes to Roche Brothers (the neighborhood grocery store)... I think this is a good plan."
Among the opposition, the most substantive criticism was that the road diet might encourage more drivers to use residential side-streets. But others countered that that issue could be addressed with additional traffic-calming measures throughout the neighborhood.
The most powerful testimony of the evening came from lifelong West Roxbury resident Matt Wentworth, the son of Marilyn Wentworth, who was killed by a driver on Centre Street this winter while she was crossing the street to visit her neighborhood coffee shop.
“Centre Street is part of our community, and we spend time there, and it’s not safe," said Wentworth. "We need a lane reduction, we need better crosswalks, we need better bike lanes… something needs to be done now, and we need to come together and find solutions that will work now.”