Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Three generations of cutters-through

Tonight, Brookline held a public hearing on a proposal to close Heath Street somewhere between Heathwood and Arlington. Closing Heath Street would make Heath and Florence Streets dead ends, until and unless New England Development created a street that connected Florence to Route 9 through Chestnut Hill Square.

The problem is cut-through traffic, not traffic that would travel to Chestnut Hill Square along Florence or Heath. Chestnut Hill Square is designed so that there is access from Florence only to the apartment building on the south side of the site (a mistake for a host of reasons). Chestnut Hill Square's contribution to the -- already existing -- problem is the traffic that it will add to and back up Route 9. The more backed up Route 9 is, the more attractive the Florence/Heath cut-through is. Also, Chestnut Hill Square will introduce two new lights for traffic to contend with: in front of the development and at Hammond Pond Parkway (which one assumes will have allow right turn on red).

A fundamental cause of the cut-through problem -- existing and future -- is the design of Florence and Heath. They describe an almost perfect diagonal from the Route 9 at Florence to Heath at Hammond Pond Parkway. It's no wonder that one of the Brookline selectman described how he was a third-generation cutter-through.

Here are three alternatives to closing Heath Street:

  • Put a kink in Florence Street right in front of the apartment building. The current design has a bit of open land between the apartment building driveway and Florence Street. Use that space to reshape Florence from a smooth curve to a sharper turn or two. This is something that can be introduced and tried now.
  • Extend Louise Road into the development and provide access to the entire site from Florence. Ironically, protecting the neighborhood from the traffic in and out of the site may contribute to more traffic trying to bypass the site. A light at a Louise Street entrance into the site might discourage more cut-through traffic than it generates.
  • Focus on making Florence and Heath Streets pedestrian friendly. Sidewalks, wide shoulders, narrow travel lanes, raised crosswalks would all mitigate the effect of the traffic, may slow it, and may even . Go really crazy and lower the design speed to 20 mph with horizontal and vertical deflection.

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