By Seth Daniel
City Manager Tom Ambrosino and consultants for the City took their message of a two-way Broadway in the business district to owners of the businesses on Thursday morning, Aug. 31, with Ambrosino saying he would stake his position on the issue.
Members of City government met with business owner from Broadway and the adjacent downtown streets Thursday morning at the Green Street Apartments community room. Kicking off the morning, Ambrosino expressed his great support for the change.
“It is incumbent on me to try to reduce the level of skepticism and outright opposition to this change,” he said emphatically. “That is what I’ll try to do in the coming months…I am 100 percent confident I can do that by doing two things – telling you about the advantages and listening to you…Whatever you think of two-way Broadway – one-way Broadway, that one-way speedway, cannot continue. It is unsafe. It is confusing to pedestrians and motorists and it is counterproductive to businesses and merchants on the corridor.”
Ambrosino stressed he believes that one change can transform the City’s downtown – particularly in terms of easing traffic patterns, eliminating unsafe double parking situations and making it easier for pedestrians to get to businesses.
Ralph DiNisco of the consulting firm Nelson Nygaard said that two-way Broadway is possible from a traffic management standpoint.
He compared it to other communities like Revere and Somerville where the lanes are just as wide and the traffic volumes are far greater.
Having studied the volumes in Chelsea and other communities, Broadway Chelsea handles only about 6,500 cars per day, where other Broadways along the Route 107 corridor handle double that.
“From a traffic operations perspective, two-way Broadway can work,” he said. “The numbers aren’t so high that it’s impossible. It can easily work with some changes. From a big picture, there’s no fatal flaw…If you look at other places, they have converted to two-way, and they are successful…Broadway now is a speedway. Nobody stops going down Broadway. They go faster than you want a car to go in a very busy downtown business corridor with people walking around.”
Police Chief Brian Kyes also spoke highly of the change, saying it would help dangerous situations for pedestrians and prevent double parking of delivery trucks – which allows criminals to shield themselves from police.
“There are a lot of young mothers pushing a carriage and when they come out with a carriage from behind a truck, it’s a very, very dangerous situation,” he said. “I’ve heard the idea for many, many years and we at the police department think it’s a very good idea.”
But business owners weren’t so convinced.
Some, like Roman Gold of Margolis Pharmacy, felt that it could increase traffic and become a cut-through for people trying to avoid Rt. 1 traffic.
“You could start to see a lot more traffic redirected by things like the Waze app from Route 1 to avoid traffic tie-ups further up the road,” he said.
Rick Gordon of Allen’s Cut-Rite said one of the biggest problems for merchants would be deliveries. Many merchants, he said, cannot afford to pay to have deliveries outside of busy times, and he said there isn’t adequate space for delivery trucks in the alley.
“Many people would have to pay $100 or $150 fees for scheduling deliveries,” he said. “I can’t really pass that fee on to my customers and it’s an undue burden on the small business. Many of us do UPS and FedEx only, but some get trailer trucks in periodically…What needs to be done is you need to start by re-striping the parking spots and doing the small things.”
Compare Supermarket owner Al Calvo said he thinks that the delivery problem – which was a great concern – could be solved.
“We’re emphatic with our vendors that there be no deliveries after noon,” he said. “I think there’s a way for us as business people to set the rules. Sometimes my deliveries show up after 2 p.m. and we don’t accept the load. We do have leverage.”
Some were also worried about whether or not the City could enforce the rules well enough, that there would be enough oversight.
Ambrosino said he guaranteed that, if approved, he would make it work.
“We have enough manpower and enough officers that want to work overtime if that’s what it takes,” he said. “I will put my reputation on the line. The City Council can fire me if it doesn’t work. I think it can be that transformative.”
The change cannot be unilaterally implemented. If it is recommended in the overall Re-Imagining Broadway study, it has to be submitted to the Traffic Commission. If approved there, it must go to the City Council for a final approval. At each step, there is plenty of room for public comment.