Here are a few things that you may have missed in the flurry of docket items (proposed legislation) that City Council passed in recent weeks, and my thoughts about them:
Washington Street Vision
I am glad this passed. Late amendments included exploring parking maximums, lowering heights on the westernmost edge of the study area (Webster Street).
Some of the comments both in the Chamber and in letters demonstrates conflation of vision and zoning. The vision is just the envelope for the zoning—in the zoning discussions next term, Council will tackle the difficult task of determining where exactly six stories will be allowed and under what conditions—I expect this will be by special permit only. In the original proposal for heights (remember Hello Washington started out with 20 stories?) taller heights were conditioned to specific transit improvements and improvements to the tax base (ie all commercial). I thought that was a good stipulation.
Zoning to allow more energy-efficient homes
Council also unanimously passed zoning to make it easier to insulate, add electric heat pumps for cooling and heating, creating better shading, and allowing some flexibility for solar panels. This amendment was the direct result of the Climate Action Plan which we passed in November.
Bulky Item Fee
The cost of throwing stuff “away” is going up, and many councilors would like Newton residents to think more carefully about how to dispose of unwanted bulky items. Council voted to impose a $20 fee for bulky items left on the curb for pickup and $25 for white goods (thnk-appliances). All our surrounding communities charge at least $25 per pickup, if not per item, and a very few Newton residents use this service regularly, costing all of us more.
Like having to pay a fee for each bag you get at the supermarket, this fee is intended to prompt thought, not to penalize residents—and there are many ways to dispose of most usable stuff:
or at the Newton Swap Shop
To know: If you put items out for a scheduled pick up and someone else picks them up to re-use, you still pay the fee (because it costs Waste Management, our contractor, to send a truck to you).
New Parking Meters
While we passed dynamic pricing—charging the least amount possible to ensure some availability in each block—that program can’t get started without working parking meters. Many of Newton’s analog meters are broken, and the manufacturer no longer makes parts. Council approved funding for new parking meter heads for all on-street meters, but this will take time to implement. Eventually, all of our meters will accept coins and credit cards—and of course the phone app—for customer convenience. New meters will also be remotely programmable, saving our transportation planners time and money to adjust pricing. I am thrilled that this is moving forward, albeit slowly, so that drivers in Newton can stop circling to find an in-demand spot (less traffic!) while also adding convenience and reducing city costs.
A better Walnut St. in Newtonville
We are finally out of the planning stages with the Newtonville improvements. Council unanimously approved $5.7 million to fund the construction of wider sidewalks, adding safer crossings, adding street trees and other furnishings that will beautify and enhance Newtonville from the bridge over the MassPike to Newton North High School. The contract will be awarded in July and should be complete by fall of 2021. I can’t wait to see this complete!
More green on Commonwealth
We approved the mayor’s request for $200,000 to further design and engineer the western end of Commonwealth Avenue. The preliminary design would restore the Carriageway as a primarily low-stress alternative for biking and walking this strip, and reduce the difficulty of crossing the main stem of the road, where Newton has had fatalities in the not-distant past. Once Newton has brought the design to 25%, it can be appended to a $10+ million state Department of Transportation project to fix the bridge over the river and Rt. 128. If completed, this would repair a link in the river paths from Lyons Field to Riverside and would connect our Carriageway to a proposed protected multi-use path along Rt. 30 all the way to Natick. With the increasing sales pedal-assist e-bikes, this could be the first corridor in a west – suburban Emerald Network that allows more residents to travel car-free without fear. I’m hoping to be able to bike the Carriageway all the way either to Natick or to Boston.
A more complete Nahantan Street
The Council approved $129,250 in state transportation funds (from Uber & Lyft) to design engineering for the intersection of Wells Avenue and Nahantan Street. The plan is to make this a more complete street by adding continuous sidewalks to & over the bridge over the river, make safe pedestrian crossings, add bike lanes, and to upgrade the signals. This will allow those using the Jewish Community Center or those wanting to walk in the parkland on the Wells Avenue side to get where they are going without being forced to drive, and I welcome this design.
Come talk with me and sample the coffee at Central in Newton Centre during my monthly office hours. 10-11:30 am on Sunday, January 26!
I wrote the following op-ed with Councilors John Rice and Deb Crossley after the Dec. 6, 2019 council vote on the Northland Needham Street project:
As we head in to the eating season of Thanksgiving & December….good news:
For over a year, the city has been working to create a shared vision of the Washington Street corridor from the MassPike entrance in West Newton east to Crafts Street—where Whole Foods is now.