Photo: Somerville Neighborhood News
In this update:
- Lowell Street Bridge & Corridor Safety & Traffic Calming
- Flooding, and Sewer Issues
- Follow-up on Central Street Sexual Assault
Next update, coming in mid-late December: Current & planned development projects in Ward 5
Lowell Street Bridge & Corridor Safety & Traffic Calming
On November 12th, Hayes Morrison, Somerville Director of Transportation and Infrastructure presented plans for enhancing safety and traffic calming around the Lowell Street Bridge. (Over the past year, scores of neighbors and community members have joined me in expressing concerns about safety, shared their excellent ideas for solutions to the traffic problems there, and demanded that the Administration address these issues.) There will be another community meeting in the spring 2015 to update community members and get input on plans for more improvements. Here is a summary of the key points:
The Community Path extension that was to open in November has been delayed until spring 2015 by the state Dept. of Transportation (DOT). This provides more time for the City to prepare and implement safety measures around the bridge area where the Path will come to a temporary end (pending completion to Lechmere).
- The City will petition Mass DOT to lower the speed limit on all of Lowell Street to 25 mph (from 30 mph). Right now, only the bridge itself is 25 mph. A lower speed limit, if granted, would allow placement of crosswalks on either end of the bridge, most likely at Princeton St. and between Vernon and Wilton St. Ms. Morrison assured the public that the petition is almost certain to be granted.
- The chicanes that the City painted around the bridge in June may be upgraded in 2015 to physical structures that slow traffic more effectively. (Chicanes are S-shaped curves with parking alternating on either side of the street.) Upgraded chicanes would include wider sidewalks, more trees, and bump-outs with plantings.
- The traffic speed monitors placed on both ends of the bridge in the spring indicate that speed has slowed slightly and that there are no instances of vehicles going above 35 mph on the bridge. This last point was publicly challenged by people who live and work right by the bridge.
- A suggestion for flashing yellow pedestrian crossing lights on either end of the bridge will be considered.
Flooding, and Sewer Issues
Somerville’s sewer system was mostly built over 100 years ago and it is woefully inadequate today in many parts of our city, including in some areas in Ward 5. Only in the past few years have City leaders begun to seriously address this as one of our biggest problems. Last year, an engineering firm began designing a $7 million rebuild of the sewer system on Cedar Street between Highland Avenue and Elm Street. This project is moving along nicely and there will be a presentation of the 75% design at a community meeting on Tuesday, Dec 9th, 6:30 PM at the Kennedy School.
Major sewer improvement work has also been done or is planned for the Ten Hills/Assembly Square area, Somerville Ave, and the Union Square area. Most important, the Engineering Dept. and Director of Capital Planning have begun work on a comprehensive 15-year capital plan to address flooding and sewer issues.
It is not just the sewer system that is the problem: as the cartoon character Pogo famously said, “We have seen the enemy and it is us.” There is precious little green space with permeable surfaces in Somerville. Over 70% of our 4.2 square miles are covered with buildings, concrete or asphalt. Changes in the weather due to global warming have produced unprecedented intense rains at times that lead to flash flooding that has flooded cars, basements, schools and even the Police Department garage, doing millions of dollars of damage. I have used my position as a member of both the Environment and Energy and Flood Forum Committees to call for strengthening the ordinances that prevent paving over permeable surfaces and for better enforcement of them. I have called for the City to provide incentives to property owners to de-pave their properties (as some are doing voluntarily with the assistance of the community group, Somerville Climate Action). The City government should set an example by undertaking some major, high-profile depaving projects, for example at the Healey and Winter Hill Community Schools, where large paved playgrounds are not only unnecessary, but bad for children.
Follow-up on Central Street Sexual Assault by Vinfin Group Home Resident
You may have heard about the vicious sexual and physical assault in the late afternoon of October 8th in the Temple B’nai Brith parking lot on Central Street near Broadway. The perpetrator, who was arrested immediately and is in custody, was a resident at the group home, operated by Vinfen, for people with mental health disabilities halfway down the block at 155 Central St.
The assault has generated an outpouring of anger and concern from residents of the neighborhood. Vinfen has a history of problems at its many facilities. Over the past decade there have been many problems around 155 Central Street due to the rude, disruptive and seemingly unmonitored behavior of residents of the group home. I am impressed that most of the neighbors are compassionate people, and have not demanded that the group home be closed or moved, just that the residents treat them decently and abide by the community standards of civility.
The City’s response has been strong. The Police Dept. has done a good job and elected officials have demanded that Vinfen ensure that such an attack never happens again. I have worked with the Administration and the neighbors to organize a series of public meetings involving Vinfen and the State Dept of Mental Health (the agency that monitors group homes). The third such meeting will be on Dec 2nd at 6:30 PM at the Winter Hill Community School. Neighbors have demanded changes in the operation of the group home to assure their safety and a number of improvements have been promised. I am advocating for more substantive changes and helping to organize a Community Advisory Group that would closely monitor the facility.
Ward 5 Alderman