Boulevards and Parking Spaces

I confess to having missed the last couple of council meetings and I was late tuning in last night, but when I did, I caught a portion of the debate about adding traffic and parking along Fr. Morissette Boulevard. Whenever I hear the council debating the merits of on-street parking I reminisce about Dick O’Malley. He bounced on and off the council in the 1980s and as an incumbent campaigning for re-election in 1993 advocated the removal of all parking meters from downtown. He finished 20th that year (that’s right, there once was a time when more than 18 people ran for the city council). But I digress.

Today it’s widely accepted that the demolition of mills, row houses and neighborhoods such as Little Canada were bad outcomes of 1960s Urban Renewal. Another bad result from that era was the installation of multi-lane high speed roads that quarantine downtowns from surrounding neighborhoods. Fr. Morissette Blvd is a prime example of this as is Dutton Street. America’s embrace of the car culture of the 1960s envisioned everyone living on a half acre lot in the suburbs and then zooming to work on a network of high speed approaches into central business districts. The idea that anyone would want to live in the downtown and move around on foot or by bicycle seemed so 19th century-ish.

All of that has changed. Downtown Lowell is now a neighborhood as much as it’s a central business district. The city has made great strides in developing areas that once seemed peripheral to downtown, a ring of no-man’s-land that separated residential from work neighborhoods. Here I’m thinking of the Jackson-Appleton Street development, the planned revival of the South Common, the revival of the area between Fr. Morissette Blvd and the river (think Arena, ballpark, Wannalancit Mills and all the other things going on there). Areas like this are helping downtown Lowell expand, creating a larger, more vibrant area that will benefit everyone in the city.

But roads such as Dutton/Thorndike and Fr. Morissette are significant obstacles to this growth. Urban planners of today, in my mind correctly, advocate breaching these obstacles with planning strategies that include fewer and narrower travel lanes, on-street parking, bicycle lanes, designated pedestrian lanes and trees and other plantings all of which “calm traffic” and make walking and bicycling safer and more attractive. These theories will never work if they are not implemented or worse, implemented by half measures. People have an innate aversion to change but when good change is forced upon them, they quickly realize the new way is the better way. The role of a leader is to push forward with good new ideas and help bring everyone else along. Anything that slows traffic and makes it safer and more desirable to walk or bicycle benefits the city in the long run and should be supported.

8 Responses to Boulevards and Parking Spaces

  1. kad barma says:

    I live on the island that is defined by the Pawtucket Canal, Father Morissette Boulevard and Dutton Street. Another bridge over the Pawtucket Canal between Central and the new footbridge closer to Dutton (in order to better connect to ongoing JAM neighborhood development) would certainly be useful, but, indeed, the major barriers isolating this neighborhood are the asphalt wastelands that are Morissette and Dutton. It would be a major improvement to reclaim the enormous amount of wasted real estate currently paved over by the Father Morissette, and somewhat easily done. All agreed. Dutton is more problematic, since it, unlike Father Morissette, is overburdened with vehicle traffic that would have nowhere else to go. Making these areas more people-friendly is critically important to revitalizing the neighborhood. Even if Dutton Street can’t be “fixed” so easily, better pedestrian solutions are needed to offset the huge pedestrian barrier that effectively discourages crossing foot traffic all the way from Broadway to the South Common. (The Lord Overpass is extremely dangerous on foot, and everything else in between requires climbing over railways, canals, guardrails and the like, not to mention crossing a high-speed thoroughfare around a blind corner).

  2. Joe S says:

    The City is lucky to have Adam Baacke in the Division of Planning and Development. He certainly presents a strong case based on facts. Too bad some councilors will dispute those facts based on some unfounded ideas that they have developed.

  3. Bob Forrant says:

    Agreed. Bike and walkway bridges over some of these doublewides would help – think the walkways over Storrow Drive. I was advocating that UML push hard for such a structure over the VFW by North Campus as part of the new bridge development. Students crossing there defy logic and challenge the hearts of drivers racing through before the lights change. There have been accidents and near misses there. I hope as part of figuring out what to do along FMB somebody looks at the UML North Campus intersections very carefully. Otherwise, when the fatality comes, we’ll all be saying “Gee, if we only knew.” Same examination for Mammoth Road is in order too.

  4. Christopher says:

    I’m all for making thoroughfares more conducive to walking or biking, but part ways on street parking. At least at peak hours I would like to see less street parking in order to free up potential travel lanes to keep traffic moving.

  5. Dennis says:

    We needed to keep traffic moving….Parking on the Father Morissette is not a good thing…Very soon the University Ave will be closing..What Happen lane going each dir…..parking along…..and the university dorm…gosh….leave it alone…wait…..

  6. James says:

    Seems to me a lot of people are thinking of all the high school traffic on the other part of Fr. Morrisette Blvd/French Street,before you get to the Arcand intersection. While it’s possible that dropping to one lane after the intersection may have some impact during the peak time, most of the backup is caused by students/parents and not the roads themselves. Students and parents are not crossing the street or pulling over on the other side of the Cox circle. The High School part of the blvd is only one lane anyways and when it gets to the intersection there are two left turn lanes and only one that goes straight through. HS traffic really doesn’t apply all that much to the proposal.

  7. George DeLuca says:

    If we’re talking about walkability, there’s should be a certain amount of cohesiveness. For example, I’m resistant to walking through Lucy Larcom Park or along French St. (either side of the street) while school is in session, and stay clear at peak hours in the morning and afternoon during the drop off and pickup cycles. The Cox Circle/Fr. Morissette/Arcand Drive intersection is dangerous and lights take too long. Riding a bicycle is also tricky.

    There are hazards for students and pedestrians that you can clearly see in the video. And having parking along Fr. Morissette isn’t top make the area more walkable. Reducing the number of cars traveling various routes does that.

    Obviously, kiosks can be used strategically in downtown areas, that’s not the issue. The problem is tying the “parking enterprise” program to the “Speck” report, which hasn’t been reviewed in a public forum, and the City Councilors are obviously not familiar with.

    We need to take a step back and get the cart back behind the horse. The administration is trying to set policy on the fly, which isn’t going to work. Let the City Council do their due diligence so they can give the administration direction needed to proceed.