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With residents' input, dodgy intersection could get a redesign

Posted by Roy Greene  November 10, 2010 01:15 PM

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(Rachel Weiss photo for

The intersection of Calumet and St. Alphonsus streets has been a safety concern for years.

As Mission Hill resident Patrick Loughran makes his way down Calumet Street toward St. Alphonsus Street, he ensures that his two dogs stay close.

Loughran nears the place where the two streets intersect, commonly referred to as Calumet Square by neighbors. In reality, this area is a triangle of concrete, created by Calumet veering off to the left and St. Alphonsus straight ahead.

This triangle has been a safety concern of local residents for years, as the intersection lacks traffic signs for either pedestrians or cars. This often leads to squealing breaks and near-misses, as both pedestrians and vehicles dart across the street.

“Recently, there has been a tremendous amount of traffic in the area because lots of people try to avoid going on Huntington Avenue or Tremont Street,” Loughran said. “It’s a guess as to who has the right of way at the intersection. It is not clearly defined.”

The longstanding concerns could be addressed soon, with the Department of Public Works funding a proposal to redesign the area. Improvements will include adding crosswalks, stop signs, and lighting to delineate the right of way for both pedestrians and cars.

Para Jayasinghe, city engineer, said the project is expected to cost about $225,000. Nitsch Engineering, a small engineering firm in Boston, worked with the city on the project.

“If you have been to the area, you can see why people want [improvements],” said Johanna Sena, communications director for City Council President Michael Ross. “Drivers feel as though they all have a right of way, and there is danger as pedestrians take their lives into their own hands while crossing the intersection.”

The redesign was the idea of Steven Nutter, a former resident of the area who recently moved to Somerville. His intent was not just to address safety concerns, but also to reduce the amount of asphalt and add green space.

“The square has always been this way,” Nutter said. “We want to turn it into a simple key-shaped intersection, with the addition of some sort of green area.” A proposed design was revealed at a well-attended community meeting in early October.

Under the plan, the triangle will be turned into a T-intersection, forcing cars coming from Calumet Street to make a sharp left turn in order to continue on Calumet. The idea is that a sharp left will force cars to take the turn more slowly.

To create the T-intersection, the roads converging at the triangle must be made smaller – a plan that would entail creating a green space in the southwest corner of the intersection, to help to demarcate the three distinct roads.

Nutter enlisted the help of Barbara Quartier, a Mission Hill resident and landscape designer. Quartier said she wants to see the intersection improved for both safety and aesthetic reasons.

“There have been many almost-accidents there because both pedestrians and vehicles do what they want. It is nonsensical,” Quartier said. The redesign “is about beautification, as well as traffic improvement.”

Nutter originally pitched his idea to the Community Alliance of Mission Hill. Over the past three years, he rallied support at numerous community meetings, until he eventually garnered the support of Councilor Ross.

“Mike was able to take the project to the next step,” Nutter said. “Last September, he got the Department of Public Works and the Department of Transportation out to the square, and we walked around for an hour and showed some designs.”

Sena said that because of the safety concerns raised by residents, the project “is something we have been trying to push through Public Works quickly.”

Nutter is now hoping to form a community group that can help to fund the project and later assist in maintaining the green area. He also would like to see a university or other institution become involved in the project.

Although residents who attended the October meeting expressed support for the safety improvements, there were mixed opinions about what the green space should entail.

“The community wants something pleasing, but with not too much activity,” Sena said. “It has to appear nice, but not too appealing as a congregation space.”

This article is being published under an arrangement between The Boston Globe and Northeastern University's journalism program.

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