Sunday, August 22, 2010

McDonald's drive-thru is a bellwether

What does Needham Street want to be when it grows up? Because, right now, it's not one thing or another.

For starters, the Needham Street corridor is one of the economic engines of the city and one of the few areas in the city with real growth potential. But, it is hobbled by some serious traffic issues, many of which stem from -- or are at least exacerbated by -- half-assed, piecemeal development. The city should tread carefully, as decisions made on a lot-by-lot basis may limit what can be accomplished if a vision is ever articulated.

Reasonable people might venture that the best use for Needham Street is to allow or encourage the kind of strip-mall, auto-centric development that exists now. There are already a number of uses that are distinctly auto-centric and pedestrian-unfriendly: drive-in oil-change shop*, a service station, a tire store, and a largish hardware store and lumber yard. Even the uses that could be part of a walkable commercial district are pedestrian-hostile, like the configuration of the New England Mobile Book Fair, International Bicycle Center, and Newbury Comics/Dunkin Donuts**. A drive-thru McDonald's is entirely consistent with the neighborhood.

On the other hand, with the addition of the Avalon apartments and the likely Northland mixed-use development at the west end, it's not just another stretch of strip malls. It's a residential neighborhood. It's now a place that could support -- and be revitalized by -- pedestrian-scaled, walkable commercial areas.

The whole length of Needham Street isn't going to turn into Newbury Street any time soon. But, the parcels nearest to Avalon should certainly be considered for the potential to support a retail streetscape. Adding a drive-thru would make such a streetscape all but impossible.

Again, it's a shame that there is not master plan for the corridor that would allow us to test the drive-thru against a shared vision for Needham Street.

* With another just around the corner on Winchester.

** One of the great missed opportunities in recent years was the failure to have Dunkin Donuts built with a shared parking lot with Newbury Comics. Instead, there are two separate, difficult to use lots with their own curb cuts.


Anonymous said...

Why would Newbury Comics want a shared parking lot with Dunks? On weekends especially the Dunks parking lot is overflowing so the business would have filled the shared lot and not leave any space for Newbury Comics customers.

Yet another stupid idea. Put down the pipe...

Sean Roche said...

Why would Newbury Comics want a shared parking lot? Because sometimes collective action makes life better for everyone.

Right now, Newbury Comics and Dunkin' Donuts are separate destinations. Maybe if they were joined by a common sidewalk (that was not crossed by a driveway entrance), people visiting Dunkin' Donuts would think about going to Newbury Comics, too. And, maybe, if one little bit of congestion were removed from Needham Street, Newbury Comics would become a more attractive destination.

Anonymous said...

Getting rid of the center turn lanes would only increase congestion on Needham Street so that idea is at odds with this plan.

And seriously, you think people don't go from one tot he other now because of a lack of a "common sidewalk". That they would drive from one parking lot to the other to visit both spots? By that logic, someone would not want to walk from the left hand side of the parking lot to the building entrance on the right since there is a driveay entrance between them.

Once again Sean, you are talking out of your a$$.