Board of Selectmen: back to the drawing board

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, June 30, rambled into unfamiliar territory, hearing an appeal from a decision of the Brookline Transportation Board. Arguments and discussions about the case took nearly half of a 4-1/2 hour meeting.

Last May 21, the Transportation Board had approved building a giant peninsula near the corner where Clinton Rd. branches away from Buckminster Rd. west of the High School. It would bloom out the sidewalk from the northeast sides of Clinton and Buckminster Rds. at the junction, pushing edges of those streets up to 35 feet away from their current alignments.

Peninsula at intersection of Clinton and Buckminster Rds.

BuckminsterClintonProposal20150630
Source: Transportation Division of Brookline DPW

The advertised purpose was to slow cars going westbound on Buckminster Rd. and bending onto Clinton Rd. Past the intersection, Clinton Rd. goes downhill, and cars sometimes reach 40 mph or higher. With the peninsula in place, cars would have to slow at the intersection and then turn right. However, no “traffic calming” had been planned for Clinton Rd., so speeds could rise quickly once past the intersection.

Most of the giant peninsula would sit in front of a house at 79 Buckminster Rd., obliterating its streetscape. Owners Michael and Tania Gray are less than pleased. On May 31, they called on the Transportation Board to cancel or radically shrink plans for the peninsula. When that board failed to act, they circulated a petition appealing the case to the Board of Selectmen.

Arguments: Although provided for in Brookline’s state enabling law since 1974, appeals from Transportation Board decisions to the Board of Selectmen have been rare. Neil Wishinsky, chair of the latter board, remarked, “We don’t have traditions for how these things are done.” He had decided to hear from the Transportation chair, then the house owners who brought the appeal, then more than 30 residents who came.

Joshua Safer, the Transportation chair, scoffed at the appeal, saying “I’m a little surprised to be here.” Perhaps he shouldn’t have been. Lack of concern for neighborhood impacts from Transportation initiatives has been raising hackles in other parts of town, too–a pattern for at least a few years. Dr. Safer made himself seem tone deaf, saying the dispute was only about “loss of a parking space or two.”

Mr. Gray painted a different picture, contending that a supposed safety benefit would become a safety hazard in winter, “a place for plows to deposit snow.” Blocked lines of sight could turn a difficult intersection into a dangerous one. On-street parking spaces that are “currently the safest parking on the street” would be replaced by “dangerous parking spaces” along the border of the proposed peninsula.

The house at 79 Buckminster Rd. shares a driveway with its neighbor at 3 Clinton Rd., including a sharp turn and a steep slope at the back. According to Mr. Gray, “The problems are now compensated by parking in front.” Those arrangements would be disrupted by the proposed peninsula. Mr. Gray, whose family has lived in the house for over 20 years, commented, “We would not have purchased the home with the Transportation plan in place.”

Since the May 21 Transportation meeting, Mr. Gray had examined conditions and regulations said to justify the Transportation proposal. He said they did not stand scrutiny. Fewer than half the federal standard of 20 peak pedestrians per hour, justifying a new crosswalk, had been tallied. Crash records showed less than a tenth the frequency of five or more per year needed to identify a “dangerous intersection.”

Comments: Roberta Winitzer of Beacon St., a former Library trustee, described herself as an aunt of Mr. Gray and a frequent visitor at 79 Buckminster Rd., calling the Transportation proposal “overkill.” Judy Meyers, a Precinct 12 town meeting member and former School Committee member, said it was “not fair to approve a plan that has such an adverse impact on the Grays.”

In a preview of comments to come, Ms. Meyers claimed, “The Transportation Board has a strong bias in favor of [altering] streetscapes, as opposed to [using] signs and paint.” The board “should have a comprehensive plan,” she said. Their current plan would not stop Clinton Rd. from being used as “a speedway.”

Not all neighbors sounded convinced. Andrea Bleichmar of 3 Clinton Rd., whose house shares a driveway with 79 Buckminster Rd., said she had “listened to the engineers.” Conditions near the intersection were “an accident looking for a place to happen,” she claimed. George Tolis, who lives two houses away, agreed. Dr. Tolis, a heart surgeon, said he had rearranged his operating schedule to be present. “Maybe,” he asserted, Brookline “should make Clinton Rd. one-way uphill.”

Residents farther down the hill on Clinton Rd. proved less supportive. Most remarks suggested that a pause in speeds at the intersection with Buckminster Rd. would not prevent their part of Clinton Rd. from continuing to be used as “a speedway.” Even Todd Kirrane, Brookline’s transportation administrator, seemed to back those views. He estimated the average speed entering Clinton Rd. at the intersection would be reduced from 23 to 15 mph by the proposed peninsula, not much of a difference.

Beth Epstein of 111 Clinton Rd. protested faulty public notice. She described herself as a resident for 20 years, bringing up five children on the street, saying “I was kind of appalled.” A notice came on a Saturday for a hearing the next week, she said. It provided “no drawings or plans.” For occupants of the many “houses beyond this intersection,” [the proposal] “will not solve their problems.”

Review and decision: During their review, members the Board of Selectmen sounded sympathetic to concerns of the Grays. Nancy Heller said the proposed peninsula was “harmful to a family.” Nancy Daly said, “I don’t know of any place in town where we’ve stuck something like this in front of somebody’s home.” She was also “convinced that there needs to be traffic calming” downhill along Clinton Rd.

Ben Franco called for Public Works to “delay the Buckminster [repaving] project,” which had started a process leading to the peninsula proposal. Peter Ditto, the engineering director, said, “We’ll do Buckminster this year but not the intersection.” Ms. Daly turned adamant, saying, “I’m not approving a [roadwork] contract unless we know that the current proposal is not part of it.”

In the end, members of the Board of Selectmen voted to “remand” the peninsula proposal to the Transportation Board, with instructions to “examine another solution for the intersection.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, July 1, 2015


Craig Bolon, Transportation Board: tone deaf, Brookline Beacon, June 19, 2015

Craig Bolon, Transportation: good intents, cloudy results and taxi rules, Brookline Beacon, May 23. 2015

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