Some of you may remember some concerns about a MassDOT proposal to widen Nesmith Street, which I wrote about back in May. Though the plan comes from a well-intentioned place, hoping to make traffic flow faster and more safely, evidence suggests that widening the road would make the road less safe for pedestrians and drivers alike. There may be fewer fender-benders, but the accidents that would happen would be high-speed and dangerous.
A group of concerned citizens, myself included, has gotten together to get the word out about the issue. We’re having an informal gathering at the park on Saturday, including picnic snacks, a little music by local musician Jon Kohen, a history talk by local luminary Dick Howe, and food truck Spiceventure will stop by. Should be a fun way to get together and have some fun with our neighbors. If you’re interested, join the Facebook event and spread the word!
We’ve already heard from lots of folks passionate about this issue. Sometimes for different reasons!
“…this neighborhood is low-income. There is a disgraceful pattern of destroying beautiful environments in low-income areas. This is no coincidence. The lack of environmental justice is devastating.”
“…As a resident of the area I am familiar with the traffic problem there and widening the road would create more of a bottleneck going towards bridge street. Taking land away from the historic park will eliminate green space that the residents of the area and the city of Lowell including myself enjoy regularly.”
“Proposed plan is completely at odds with the Complete Streets program that Lowell has signed onto.”
If the community doesn’t speak up, they think we don’t care! So what can you do?
1. Show up for the MassDOT Meeting!
This will be at the library on Thursday July 28th at 7pm. This is absolutely the best way to make your voice heard and be a part of the conversation. Information about the meeting is here.
2. Call or email your state representative.
This is a state project, so our state legislature needs to know that we want a plan that works for everyone! Lowellians have Eileen Donoghue as their State Senator, and either David Nangle, Rady Mom, or Tom Golden as their State Representative. Here is their contact information:
|Senator Eileen Donoghue||Eileen.Donoghue@masenate.gov||617-722-1630|
|Representative Rady Mom||Rady.Mom@mahouse.gov||617-722-2460|
|Representative David M. Nangle||David.Nangle@mahouse.gov||617-722-2575|
|Representative Thomas A. Golden, Jr.||Thomas.Golden@mahouse.gov||617-722-2263|
3. Sign our petition
Sign the petition by clicking here. This will be sent to MassDOT and possibly also shared with other decision-makers in the community, like the City Council. Do it and make some noise on social media: Tweet, Facebook, Snapchat, and otherwise spread the word to loop in your friends and neighbors.
Why is this important?
The group discussed together why and how they thought the project should be changed. We agree with one Facebook ally who said: “It’s not about the trees, is not about the noise, it’s not about the money… It’s about making smart decisions that truly make a difference and make our roads safer.”
The major focus of the project includes widening Nesmith Street between Andover Street and East Merrimack Street from two 18’ lanes with exclusive left turn lanes at either end to four 11’ through lanes. This would require removing the existing 10’ buffer between sidewalk and park and all the trees on it. We believe the project is important, but it must be changed in these ways:
Save the Trees
At least six mature Maple trees in Kittredge Park and an additional two near East Merrimack cannot be removed. Trees slow traffic and reduce crashes by 5 to 20%, reduce asthma health impacts, and increase neighboring home value by $15-20,000, among many other effects. These trees only provide this level of benefit when planted between a sidewalk and the street.
Respect the History
Kittredge Park is the centerpiece of the Washington Square historic district, listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1831, the neighborhood was created, and Nesmith Street was a 60’ tree-lined boulevard with deeds requiring residents to plant more trees. This wasn’t just a street, but a “special place” that attracted many of Lowell’s elite. The park gained more special history when Paul Tsongas “adopted” it as one of his favorite parks, volunteering in it throughout his life. In the final weeks of his life, he requested a photo of Kittredge Park be brought to the hospital. MassDOT needs to respect it as much as he did.
Don’t Make Lanes Too Wide—It Will Make Them Dangerous
Although the intersection is dangerous now, that usually results in fender-benders and other minor accidents. Although there may be fewer accidents when cars may drive faster down the street, accidents will be much more dangerous when they do happen. This is especially true when it isn’t rush hour—the wide lanes have been proven to encourage speeding.
Don’t Make it Less Walkable
A major project at the Lord Overpass is being planned to make it more pleasant to walk along and easier to cross. The Bridge Street/VFW project simplified the intersection, helping pedestrians and cars alike. This project makes things actively worse for pedestrians. They’ll have more street width to cross and will no longer be protected by trees as they walk along Nesmith. At a moment when we’re trying to encourage people to walk from Belvidere to downtown, it’s the exact wrong approach.
Maintain Environmental Justice
Importantly, the Lower Belvidere neighborhood qualifies as an “environmental justice” neighborhood as defined by the Massachusetts Environmental Justice Policy. These families, who have small or no yards and dense housing, rely on the park and playground for outdoor activity. Widening Nesmith Street will make the park less enjoyable and harder to get to for this population, a very unjust outcome.
Overall Congestion won’t be reduced: A System-wide Approach is Needed
Although planners claim that widening Nesmith Street will remove a bottleneck, the street will remain at one lane in either direction capacity south of Andover. The bridges will also remain bottleneck areas. We have seen no evidence or analysis that easing traffic on the street won’t just push bottlenecks to elsewhere in the City. What we need is a thorough analysis of traffic in Lowell and an understanding of how much is to and from Lowell and how much is through Lowell before we can understand how we can divert auto traffic and encourage other modes to better fight congestion.
Some have suggested investigating a new bridge, others a three-lane approach. One argued that Route 133 (Andover Street) was improved by bringing it down to three lanes, but is still dangerously fast, so it seems a step backward to make Route 38 (Nesmith Street) four lanes. Making a highway-style road through a lower-income neighborhood next to a beloved park should not be the first resort to solve our traffic problem.