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Looking toward Union Square plaza—which will extend through the slip-lane at the base of Bow Street. Photo by Ryan DiLello. Copyright 2023 Ryan DiLello.
Looking toward Union Square plaza—which will extend through the slip-lane at the base of Bow Street. Photo by Ryan DiLello. Copyright 2023 Ryan DiLello.

Focuses more on people than vehicles

(Somerville Wire) – After years of public engagement, the City of Somerville has released initial plans for its Union Square Plaza and Streetscape Project that will make one of Somerville’s fastest developing squares more pedestrian-friendly and ready for programming.

The “25% Design Ideas & Vision Plan” outlines a four-phase renovation process that could begin by the end of this year. The first phase focuses on improving access to the Green Line station with a raised crosswalk at Bennet Court and new bus lanes. 

Upon completion, Union Square will gain 1.3 acres of public space, including a newly pedestrianized section of Bow Street and an expanded Union Square Plaza, which will extend through the Bow Street slip lane. With that additional space also comes more trees and improved storm water infrastructure.

“In Somerville, our residents are passionate about public space and safe streets,” said Mayor Katjana Ballantyne. “We really showed up as a community to create a blueprint for plaza expansion and people-centered streets in Union Square. I want to thank our residents, our business community, our nonprofit organizations, our elected officials and staff who worked tirelessly on this first phase of design.

The DIV team selected 11 Somerville residents to serve on the Community Design Team, responsible for leading public engagement opportunities and communicating public input to the project planners and city staff. 

Two local businesses, Wagner Jewelers and Capone Foods, are both located on the stretch of Bow intended to be pedestrianized. Employees at Wagner Jewelers, speaking on behalf of owner Carlos Borges, said they are looking forward to the plan as long as there is adequate parking nearby. An employee at Capone Foods, who wished to remain anonymous, was unenthused. “I see fights outside this place every day,” they said. “I need parking. I drive in from New Hampshire. My customers also need parking.” 

According to the plan, there will be accessible parking at the planned dead-end of Summer Street and within the development slated for Warren Avenue. Spaces were not specified. There will be loading zones on Walnut Street, Warren Street, and Stone Avenue and a final design might include after-hour access to Bow for deliveries.

“I’m excited about pedestrianizing large parts of our streets,” said Councilor J.T. Scott. “I think the more of the public realm you can reclaim for pedestrians, the happier people are. It’s a long process and there’s going to be lots of time and attention given to businesses that operate in the area. As with many things in Somerville’s last decade, this is a big and flashy project with the potential to be transformative, but the basic routine maintenance of the city’s infrastructure is just as important. I feel like we have real challenges in terms of the operation of our existing buildings, streets, and sidewalks.” 

The bulk of the plan’s logistics are to follow. Those include conducting a traffic analysis to test the impact of the new road plans and hiring a team of engineers and designers to bring the plans across the finish line.

This article is syndicated by the Somerville Wire municipal news service—a project of the IRS 501(c)(3) tax-deductible nonprofit Somerville Media Fund.

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Ryan DiLello is the staff reporter for the Somerville Wire

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