(Boston Transportation Department)
The Boston Transportation Department has nearly completed planning on a major transformation of East Boston’s Central Square and hopes to begin construction by fall.
City officials and design consultants returned to the East Boston Social Center at the square’s southern edge on Tuesday to review plans and get residents’ input on final design choices.
“I’m very excited that finally we’re going to do something in Central Square,” said City Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, a lifelong East Boston resident. “My grandchildren will benefit from the work that we’re doing today.”
The design will extend Alfred Bertulli Memorial Park to encompass adjacent traffic islands and will narrow wide streets around the park and simplify pedestrian crossings. The path of Meridian Street will be straighter, and a new traffic signal will be placed at Meridian’s intersection with Porter and Bennington streets. Another signal may be added where Meridian enters the square from the south.
The enlarged park will include new seating areas, lighting, and bicycle racks, as well as additional trees around its edges and lining a new pedestrian path on the Meridian Street side. While its edges expand, the park’s historic elliptical outline will be marked by a low wall ranging from a height of 30 inches at the southern tip to 7 inches at the northern end.
That wall was a point of some contention at a public meeting last November, where some residents opposed a designer’s suggestions that it could be decorated with historic maps, a timeline of local history, or tributes to the neighborhood’s diversity. With no clear consensus coming out of that meeting, the planners were prepared to leave the wall as plain, unmarked granite, as some had suggested.
But opposition to that plan arose on Tuesday, when Joseph J. Mason, president of the East Boston Land Use Council, said that the wall should be used to memorialize the neighborhood’s veterans killed in war.
“I think a plain wall is a waste of a beautiful structure, and I thought we were all set in honoring our veterans that gave us the right to be here,” said Mason.
Kim Foltz, director of community building and environment for Neighborhood of Affordable Housing, agreed that leaving the wall blank was a waste of the space and urged officials to continue discussing options with the community.
Vineet Gupta, director of policy and planning for the transportation department, said perhaps a small committee could be established to determine how the wall would be decorated. A City Hall official said Wednesday that the city would work with residents toward a consensus solution to the wall design.
Mason also expressed concern about maintenance and security for the park. He suggested that the park should be locked at night, but several other residents forcefully rebutted the idea when he asked for their support.
Gupta said his staff is working with the parks department to ensure that Bertulli Park will be well maintained and that the redesign was likely to stimulate neighborhood pride that would result in greater efforts by residents to keep their park clean.
Asked about plans for parking in the redesigned square and what the mix of metered, resident, free, and handicapped spaces would be, Gupta said the department would later sit down with residents to discuss their priorities and could accommodate whatever they preferred.
Gupta also said that construction in the square would be staged to cause a minimum disruption to local businesses, though some inconveniences are unavoidable. And Keri Pyke, a transportation consultant working on the project, suggested it might also be possible to schedule construction such that the seasonal farmers’ market is able to remain in the square during work.
Before the plan can be enacted, it still must have final approval from the Boston Public Improvement Commission, which owns and regulates the city's rights of way. After that, the transportation department hopes to put the construction work out to bid by this summer and begin construction in the fall, around the same time the Chelsea Street Bridge is scheduled to reopen.
The planners also expect to return to the community in the fall to update the community and discuss further details.
(Boston Transportation Department)