The meeting room was full last night and many, many residents were able to share their views on traffic and parking associated with the proposed Northland development on Needham Street.
The city councilors, and everyone in the room, including Northland and their consultants and lawyers agreed that the traffic on Needham Street is already bad. Everyone also agreed that the development would make it worse.
The disagreement is largely over just how much worse. While Northland’s consultant cherry-picked specific intersections and glossed over the most negative impacts, the peer reviewer hired by the city (BETA) did a good job of showing that traffic at 20 of the 27 analyzed intersections would get worse. How much worse? From 10 seconds to over 2 minutes worse! Many of the intersections would also degrade into a level of service that is considered inadequate or failing.
BETA also made it clear that these delays and degradation of service would happen even with Northland’s ambitious “robust” shuttle plan, which would aim to get 30% of area residents to use the shuttle system (currently, less than 13% use public transportation). In their analysis, BETA assumed that this goal would be met, but also made it clear that they did not think the goal of more than doubling public transportation usage was achievable. Northland’s own transportation consultant (128 business council) was unable to predict the success of the shuttle (due to insufficient data) and instead has asked us to “take a leap of faith” that it will work.
Councilor Auchincloss (contact here: email@example.com) took some time to demand that Northland lower the number of parking spaces that they would build as part of the project (without suggesting a reduction in the overall size of the project!). Northland is already requesting a waiver to build fewer than the 3,400 parking spots required by Newton’s zoning (they are asking to build only 1,900 spots). This is despite the fact that Northland’s request is already below the average that would be required in surrounding communities (even if we count Boston, which as a much more urban space than Newton, requires much less parking). This is also despite the fact that, as we point out on our traffic and parking page, there will simply not be enough parking for the residents, employees, and shoppers that Northland anticipates using the development when it is built. Reducing the number of parking spaces without reducing the size of the project will either cause the project to fail (retail and office space will be left vacant due to lack of shoppers and lack of companies willing to commit to a car-free workforce and residential use that leans heavily on Uber and Lyft, which would further increase traffic) or it will cause the surrounding neighborhoods to be overwhelmed with parking related to this development.
The bottom line is that traffic on Needham Street is already bad, spilling out onto neighboring streets and causing narrow residential streets to be used as throughways; this will only get worse (much worse) if Northland’s massive proposed project is allowed to proceed. Parking, not currently an issue along the Needham Street corridor will become a scarce resource that residents and workers fight for, as is the case in much denser locales such as NYC.