The Fate of Somerville’s Powderhouse Boulevard

By Judy Locchi Jacobs

Tensions flared at this past Wednesday night’s meeting to discuss a redesign of Powderhouse Boulevard. The plan may include 1 to 2 bike lanes, a number of additional calming traffic measures and whether, 200+ residential parking spaces will be saved or removed.

Upon arrival, I noticed not one bicycle parked at the doorway. Honestly, I envisioned hundreds littered everywhere at the entrance, similar to what can be seen at MBTA stations across our region.

A number of concerned local residents were not granted sufficient time or opportunity to address anticipated issues a proposed redesign will have on their neighborhood. They attempted to ask legitimate questions to the moderators who dismissed them, citing lack of time as the reason. Overall, it was clear residents seemed uneasy at the prospect of detrimental changes to their neighborhood.

It soon became evident, exploitative cyclists were disappointed to be met by a strong local united front, determined to protect their long time neighborhood. However, as equally relentless are cyclists advocating for more bike lanes, Powderhouse Boulevard appears to be their next target.

Not too long ago, did we learn of the fierce battle among residents of Beacon Street – cyclists and motorists at odds, claiming their preferred mode of transportation. In the end, Beacon Street lost its parking and its trees – let’s hope the same is not planned for residents of Powderhouse Boulevard.

During the meeting, presenters were met with a variety of questions from selected group of residents. Locals held their own—as a passionately proud group to be admired. For once, in a very long time, I felt at home and no longer a stranger in my own town.

It was difficult to tell which among attendees the cyclists were. But groups of three or four would brood when a local resident protested the bike lane – they were tense and surprisingly silent as a sheepish 5 year old boy on his first day of school. Contrary to the manner in which they generally behave at city hall public meetings–entitled, mean-spirited and deceptive.

Unlike those who arrive in full spandex and head gear, prepared for a heated exchange of words—there were no clues. They came incognito, looking like average 25-30 somethings, just out for a meeting of the minds.

Last week, while I attended a Ward 2– Resistat meeting, held at the Somerville Police Department, I was met by a confrontational cyclist decorated in Darth Vader black with matching helmet, who described himself as, “a member of the bike committee”, while he shouted, “bikes need lanes, too” !

I took the opportunity to ask the mayor, who moderated part of the meeting, if he would be joining us to discuss Powderhouse Boulevard, and the future of Doherty’s Funeral Home. He hedged on answering directly, (McGrath Highway meeting was same evening), but added, that he’s working it out with Doherty’s owners.

As soon as the May 22nd meeting was announced, to discuss the details of the boulevard’s redesign, the entitled, dogged militant cyclists took to saturating Facebook with disrespectful comments aimed to insult local residents who quite frankly, have been left in the dark, while entitled cyclists hold private meetings to discuss strategies to take our streets by storm.

Police presence had arrived early, three uniformed officers were assigned due to the size of the crowd and in the event a heated argument would arise. Well sure enough, one combative pro-cyclist attendee who positioned himself next to the moderators in front of the 120+ resident crowded cafeteria, couldn’t restrain himself. With pointed finger aimed at a local resident simply asking his question be answered, the rude interrupter furiously demanded the resident, “SHUT UP, SHUT UP”, until an officer walked over to tell him to refrain from his interruptions.

This occurred, only because one local resident was trying to get some answers about his tenants’ lack of parking if the parking spaces will be taken and replaced by bike lanes.

We sat in a cramped overcrowded room for 2 ½ hours listening to planner lingo about data and options on a slide presentation, while being told there would be limited questions accepted by those attended.

One moderator made a fatal error of stating to the crowd, “I know how hard it is to keep it all bottled up”. Bottled up? It sounded more like they were running an auction than a public hearing. Most of the time, we were lost in their planner language only planners understand. Of course it was frustrating. The very least they could do is allow for a 2 minute podium statement by resident, as they provide at city hall public hearings.

Well, as you can imagine, running a one sided meeting like this without sufficient input by concerned residents who have truly been given the run-around, what do we expect? I think they have all been too patient long enough.

Growing up in Somerville, Powderhouse Boulevard has been one of my favorite roads in the city. Well known for its next door neighbor, Tufts University, it’s been a road well traveled, yet tranquil and preserved for decades.

More importantly, it’s one of the few neighborhoods that still holds a glimmer of country road past. Evident by its tall arching trees, generous sidewalks and wide road, walking there in the evening, you can almost feel the busy city drift away. I have taken my dog walking there many evenings just to admire the beauty of this boulevard and envied their solace to our hurried streets across Ward 7, which borders Cambridge.

Powderhouse Boulevard is a true gem in the rough of redevelopment. Please pledge your support in helping the residents preserve their neighborhood as I have. Say no to bike lanes on this roadway and also on Route 16, Alewife which is planned to dovetail bike lanes on the boulevard, if approved. And to stand by Doherty’s Funeral Home who has supported our residents for many decades. Both should remain untouched for decades to come.

One thought on “The Fate of Somerville’s Powderhouse Boulevard”

  1. Of course people are upset. They see now how it has ruined other streets and don’t want it to happen to them. The math does not add up. You keep adding more cars because you are adding more people and you have a problem. Not everyone can bike or walk. I can’t bike anymore myself and my vehicle is a necessity, not even for pleasure. And so are most of the other older people here who have no choice. Okay, so I am wasting my time as common sense is no longer applied to our city problems. You can only push so far and it will backfire. Beacon Street certainly shows how a city can be ruined.

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