As a resident of Inman Square for the past 14 years, I feel a special responsibility to my neighborhood to make the right decision regarding the proposed redesign. This is not a vote I am taking lightly. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this issue and talking with my neighbors at community meetings where I have listened to both concerns and excitement about the redesign. I can empathize with my neighbors who are skeptical of the plan, because as a member of the Inman Square community, I too feel the frustration of being presented with design options, only to be told that any alternatives to the current plan were impossible. So I share my neighbors’ concerns that impossible “alternatives” are not alternatives at all.
But much has been made about the long process the City has undertaken to get to this final design, most of which pre-dates my time on the Council. I want to respect this, as it’s a process which has earned support for the plan from many of my neighbors. I have concerns about the current plan, but that does not mean I am in favor of the status quo. Inman Square requires improvements: first and foremost the addition of enhanced pedestrian crossings, protected bicycle infrastructure, as well as a complete revitalization of Velucci Park as an updated community space.
It is abundantly clear that we need much better infrastructure for the 600 cyclists during the peak travel hour that move through Inman Square on their way to Kendall Square and Boston. But as I have been saying on Cambridge Street, good design is imperative. We’ve seen in other parts of the City how counter-intuitive bike infrastructure is either misused or not used at all. In a simpler design, we would create protected bike infrastructure in Inman Square that would allow cyclists to move quickly and safely on the same path that they follow now, which would maximize the already efficient path straight through the intersection that they have mapped out for themselves. We could even have separate bike lights that allow cyclists to get a head start on cars to avoid conflicts, especially at the intersection of Hampshire and Inman Street.
Velucci Park has has long been neglected, but has the potential to be revived and turned into a real community meeting space. The existing mature trees provide greenspace and shade that would be greatly enhanced by tables, chairs, public art, or maybe even a water feature. While moving the plaza across the street comes with some benefits, any new trees added to the newly created plaza would need to provide the same high quality atmosphere. Although I don’t want to prioritize trees over safety, many of my neighbors who I have known and respected for years, feel a deeply personal connection to these trees after decades of caretaking, which I cannot trivialize or dismiss.
I have had detailed conversations with City Officials who are involved in the redesign, and at this point, I am wondering if there are other, less impactful, less expensive ways to create a safer intersection. I talked at last Monday night’s meeting about the fire station that’s located in Inman Square, and I want to further explain my comments. This station has become a focal point and major factor of concern in the redesign due to the large vehicles entering and exiting the station on a regular basis. But the future of firefighting is changing, and so too may the future of this station. We had multiple conversations during the budget hearings about both the need for a new firehouse in the Alewife area while at the same time, the need for massive capital investments in our current firehouses, including the one in Inman Square which was built when horses were still being used. Firefighting is evolving rapidly, becoming less about firefighting (although this is still important!) and more about responding to attacks, being prepared for climate change events, and more. To back this up, the Council recently approved smaller fire equipment, boats, and even bicycles for our firefighters, and I wonder if this station could evolve to be for smaller vehicles and tactical units that would require less of a turning radius. This would have a major impact on any Inman Square redesign outcomes, and may open up several additional, true alternatives that may have been off the table before.
If we are starting a two year, six million dollar project that will deeply impact our community, we need to be sure we are implementing the right solution. Over the next week, I am looking forward to continuing my detailed conversations with City Officials, my neighbors, and the Inman Square community about how to move forward with creating a safer, more manageable intersection. We all want a Square complete with safer pedestrian crossings, better bicycle infrastructure, and an upgraded public park that is deserving of the people who surround it.