Traffic Commission Delays Vote on One-Way for Harris and Sewall Streets

The Revere Traffic Commission held off on taking a vote on the proposal by HYM Investment Group LLC, the developer of Suffolk Downs, to make portions of Harris and Sewall Sts. one-way after hearing opposition from residents of the neighborhood, as well as from ward councillors Joanne McKenna, Ira Novoselsky, and John Powers, at its regular monthly meeting last Thursday evening in the City Councillor Joseph A. Del Grosso Council Chambers at Revere City Hall.

At its meeting last month, the commission approved a number of HYM’s proposals for road improvements in the immediate vicinity of Suffolk Downs along Bennington St. in Beachmont and along the stretch of the Revere Beach Parkway from the public safety facility to Beachmont.  

However, the commission at that time did not take up HYM’s proposed changes to Harris and Sewall Sts., which are part of HYM’s overall proposal to redesign the congested intersection at the Parkway and Winthrop Ave., because the residents of that neighborhood had not been notified of the hearing.

The specific proposal by HYM before the commission is as follows:

“A single block of Harris Street between Winthrop Avenue and Sewall Street will be converted from two-way to one-way Northbound and a single block of Sewall Street from Harris Street to Bixby Street will be converted from two-way to one-way Westbound. These changes are proposed to improve signalized intersection operations and reduce neighborhood traffic (Amend Schedule V of Title 10, One Way Streets).”

Michael Barowsky, a senior vice-president for HYM, and Ian McKinnon, an engineer with the traffic-consulting firm Howard Stein Hudson (which has been retained by HYM to conduct studies and make recommendations for roadway improvements in the vicinity of Suffolk Downs in anticipation of the increased traffic that will be generated by the massive residential-commercial-retail project), presented HYM’s proposal to chairperson Paul Argenzio, who is the Supt. of the Revere DPW, and fellow commissioners Fire Chief Chris Bright, Chief City Planner Frank Stringi, and City Engineer Nicholas Rystrom.

“The purpose of our plan is to place regional traffic onto regional roads,” said McKinnon. “These proposals will eliminate the cut-through traffic onto Harris St. by commuters from the north.”

Commuters from the north (who enter the city via the VFW and American Legion Highways) presently take Harris St. from Bell Circle to avoid the traffic jams at the intersection of the Parkway and Winthrop Ave. He said that about 1600 vehicles daily (of about 2500) will be shifted from Harris St. onto the Revere Beach Parkway if Harris is made one-way from Sewall St. to Winthrop Ave.

McKinnon said that the totality of HYM’s proposed changes, which include creating a double-left turn lane at the lights at the intersection of Rt. 16 and Winthrop Ave. (to eliminate the back-ups on Rt. 16 back to Bell Circle), will result in meaningful time-savings both for local residents and for commuters from the north. He further noted that the changes will eliminate the long queues that back up on Harris St. at Winthrop Ave. that prevent some residents from even getting out of their driveways.

However, the residents and councillors were not convinced that the proposal will eliminate the use of their neighborhood as a cut-through and suggested that cut-through traffic from the north will be shifted onto Butler St.

Ward 1 City Councilor Joanne McKenna was the first to step up to oppose the proposal.

“I believe this will not be well-received by the neighborhood. This neighborhood will still be used as a cut-through to go to Winthrop Ave. because people will be confused,” said McKenna, referring to the one-way signage that will be placed on Harris St. only after motorists have proceeded most of the way along Harris St. from the Bell Circle area.

She suggested making Sewall St. entirely one-way to “avoid having those small streets inundated with traffic,” but Argenzio pointed out that doing so essentially would make Sewall St. “a dead end.”

Ward 5 Councillor John Powers also opposed HYM’s plans. “I’m 100 percent against this. It’s insane,” said Powers.

Ed Tyrrell, a resident of 70 School St., led a cohort of area residents who voiced their opposition.

“Signs are not going to work,” he said, referring to the one-way signage that would appear at Harris and Sewall Sts. “People are ignoring the current signs on Elm and Sewall Sts. and they are not being enforced. We need enforcement and help. We need police officers right away.”

Another resident, Richard Powers of 76 Sewall St., said, “I can’t see one thing positive that this does. This is a beautiful neighborhood, a walking neighborhood, and a lot of kids go to and from the Immaculate Conception School.”

Powers also questioned HYM’s assertion that traffic in the neighborhood will be reduced. “This is a poorly-thought out idea,” he said.

“There are no sidewalks on Sewall and there are a lot of children,” said Carol Smith of 87 Sewall St.  “People will be cutting through day and night. If Harris St. cannot handle traffic, Sewall St. certainly can’t. Putting more traffic on that street will be very dangerous.”

Another area resident, Cindy Evans of Butler St., voiced similar sentiments about her street.

“We’re a huge walking neighborhood,” said Evans. “There are no sidewalks. Cars come through and speed. If you have a multitude of cars, it will be more dangerous and none of us want to face it. Motorists will change their routes to take Butler and Elm Sts. if Harris and Sewall are made one-way.”

Larry Smith of 87 Sewall St. voiced his dismay with “the process. I think we have to be given a chance to work something out with HYM.”

Anthony Parziale of 51 Arcadia St. asked, “What will happen if this doesn’t happen? Will there be more traffic on these streets?”

“Delays will go up for everybody,” replied McKinnon. “The purpose of our plan is to take regional traffic off Harris St. by those who are using Waze and Google. This will benefit both those coming to this area from the north and the residents of this neighborhood.” 

Ward 2 Councillor Ira Novoselsky also opposed the plan. He suggested that the proposal for the two left-turn lanes from Rt. 16 onto the Parkway proceed as planned but, “Harris St. should be left as is.”

McKenna queried if there could be a 60-day trial, noting that when Endicott Ave. was changed to a one-way street, city officials reversed course when it did not work out.

“We need further discussion before it is passed,” said McKenna. “This should not be voted upon tonight.”

The commissioners then weighed in.

“In order for this to work, Butler St. will have to be made one-way off Harris to prevent cut-through traffic from shifting onto Butler,”  said Stringi, while Fire Chief Bright noted, “Sewall St. is a serious public safety concern because it is very narrow and there are no sidewalks.”

Rystrom suggested leaving Harris St. as is, but moving forward with the implementation of the double-left lane turn from the Parkway at Winthrop St. for traffic heading toward Suffolk Downs. 

Barowsky suggested the opposite — implementing the changes first and then analyzing the effects.

“Let’s see how it goes, and if it makes things worse in the neighborhood, then the one-way plan can be revisited,” he said. “This proposal is the result of a three-year traffic study in conjunction with MassDOT, the city of Revere, and the city of Boston, and this has been determined to be the best way to mitigate traffic congestion at this intersection.” 

Rystrom then tabled the matter — which, pursuant to the rules of parliamentary procedure, automatically removed it from consideration until the next meeting — to allow HYM to see how they might be able to ease the impact on the neighborhood. 

The commissioners took up the following three matters, all of which they approved for a public hearing for next month:

— A request by Councillor Steven Morabito to install a speed hump on Fenno Street 20 feet prior to Spring Street while Fenno Street is under construction to slow speeding prior to the elderly living facility;

— A request by Michael Kessman, Infrastructure Program Manager, and Francesca Scalese, Engineering Department Clerk, to change Lee Street to one-side parking only; and

— A request by Ward 3 Councillor Anthony Cogliandro to amend Chapter 10.34.020 Section F by removing all eight units located at 100 Waite Street from the ineligible list of resident parking and for residents to be issued resident parking permits. 

The commission also received an update from Transportation Coordinator Julie DeMauro on a number of ongoing roadway projects in the city:

— The “road diet” for Page Street and Broadway in which the city will be reducing the width of the intersection from 94 feet to 60 feet.  DeMauro noted that no parking spaces will be lost on Page St.;

— The Broadway Signalization Project Update has been completed The police will be trained in the system and the “main brains” of the system will remain  at City Hall;.

— The Bennington Street quick-build bike lane striping by MassDOT, of which about 300 feet will be in Revere; and  

— New fines under the city’s Title 10 regulations at the EV charging stations. She said the city will be looking at the presently-free public use of the charging stations and will be recommending fines for non-EV vehicles that park in the spaces, as well as for EV vehicles that stay too long.

At the beginning of the meeting, HYM’s Barowsky mentioned that pursuant to a request by the commission to review the proposal for changes to the intersection of Bennington St. and Crescent Ave. to include a traffic light, he informed the commission that MassDOT (which has jurisdiction because Bennington St. is a state roadway) will not approve a traffic light for that intersection. However, he said HYM will propose “Do Not Block the Box ” striping on Bennington St. at the Crescent Ave. intersection so that motorists from Crescent Ave. will not be backed up as they try to make either left or right turns onto Bennington St. 

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