There’s still time to reimagine Broadway.
Or at least a few stretches of the $5 million traffic project city officials have been working on for close to two years.
Monday night, the City Council delivered a split decision on the Reimagining Broadway downtown traffic proposal following a presentation by Alexander Train, the city’s assistant director of planning and director.
The most controversial aspect of the project, converting the section of Broadway from Bellingham Square to Chelsea Square from a one-way street to a two-way street with increased smart traffic signalization at several intersections, was sent back to the Traffic and Parking Commission for revision.
Councillors also opposed, by a narrow margin, the plans for the improvement of the Bellingham Square portion of the project. However, the Council did give its okay to two portions of the proposal tied to Fay and Chelsea Squares themselves.
The debate over Reimagining Broadway included several short recesses as Councillors debated in smaller groups the legality of how the vote was proceeding, and what a split vote would mean for the overall project. City officials kicked off Reimagining Broadway in the beginning of 2017 as a way to improve the downtown streets for motorists, pedestrians, and public transit.
During one of the breaks, a call was made to the City’s legal counsel to make sure the Council could legally split the vote on Reimagining Broadway into four sections, according to District 5 Councillor Judith Garcia. However, legal counsel drew the line at, and the majority of the councillors agreed, that amendments to the four sections beyond what was presented to the Council were not legally in order.
By the end of the evening, there was still some concern as to what the Council had accomplished.
“I just want to be clear on what the Council voted on,” said District 8 Councillor Calvin Brown as Council President Damali Vidot gaveled the two-hour meeting to a close.
“I’m not diminishing the hard work of the City staff, but I am asking that they go back to the drawing board and come back with options A, B, and C,” said Vidot, who voted ‘no’ on each section of the proposal.
Vidot also said she was uncomfortable passing the Reimagining Broadway plan through piecemeal without knowing what that would mean for the project as a whole.
“I don’t know what it means to approve one part and deny another,” she said.
Going back to the drawing board would provide a better opportunity to reach out to Chelsea’s citizens, Vidot said.
“Let’s reach out and do a better job,” she said. “We can do better, let’s go back to the drawing board.”
But Garcia said the time has come to put the plans in motion, especially when it comes to the safety of her constituents.
“I am excited to bring change to Broadway and hopeful of the possibilities it can create in the downtown,” said Garcia. “But one of the key messages we keep forgetting is safety.”
Garcia pointed to the addition of a traffic signal in front of a senior and handicapped housing building at 272 Broadway as one of the safety benefits of the project.
“That is a dangerous intersection,” she said. “When I ran for election in 2015, I promised to try to make is safer for them. Today, what we are being presented with is a concept. What we are voting on today is not set in stone.”
During his presentation, Train stressed that the Council was only giving its okay on conceptual plans.
“There will be more engineering and design details in preparation for construction,” he said. That process would also include more opportunity for public input, as well as plans on how the project would be phased over time to minimize construction impacts for local businesses and residents.
ONE WAY OR TWO?
The most heated debate on the nuts and bolts of Reimagining Broadway itself was easily the proposal to convert Broadway from a one-way to a two-way street from Bellingham Square to Chelsea Square.
Train presented two versions of the plan.
The one recommended to the Council called for 11-½ foot travel lanes in each direction with sidewalks and parking on each side of the street. The second proposal included just a single travel lane with the sidewalks and parking along with a dedicated bicycle lane.
Several councillors, including Vidot, said they were concerned that converting to a two-way street would make Broadway more, not less, dangerous for pedestrians and motorists.
There was also a difference of opinion among councillors, and long-time Chelsea residents, Leo Robinson and Giovanni Recupero, who couldn’t even come to a consensus on whether the road was safe when it was a two-way street in the 1960s.
Robinson, who supported the two-way proposal, said he grew up on Broadway and there was a good flow of traffic on the street at that time.
But Recupero said going back to the past would only make a bad situation worse.
“My constituents do not want it and say it is crazy with traffic already,” he said. “It didn’t work then and I don’t think it will work now.”
Some of the legal wrangling during the evening centered on Councillor-at-Large Roy Avellaneda attempting to strike out some of the language in the proposal, essentially keeping Broadway one-way, but including the traffic lights and other improvements for the road as presented by Train.
“I do not want to support a two-way Broadway, but the residents need and deserve the traffic lights,” said Avellaneda.
But after the call to the city solicitor, the Council voted that Avellaneda’s move to strike language from the initial proposal was the same as an amendment to the proposal.
The two sections of Reimagining Broadway will now go back to the Traffic and Parking Commission for revision before being brought back to the City Council.