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Newton restores parking spaces after negative response to bike lane

The City of Newton painted a bike lane over parking spaces on Washington Street from West Newton to Newtonville, but turned it back to parking spaces six days after public complaints.
The City of Newton painted a bike lane over parking spaces on Washington Street from West Newton to Newtonville, but turned it back to parking spaces six days after public complaints.JULIA MALAKIE

The Newton Department of Public Works reinstated parking spaces along Washington Street — six days after they had been replaced with a bike lane — following complaints from city councilors, local businesses and community members.

On Oct. 7, the city converted about 200 unmetered parking spaces into a one-way, painted bike lane on the Mass. Pike side of Washington Street, between Kempton Place in West Newton and Lowell Avenue in Newtonville. Councilor Alicia Bowman said some customers and business owners immediately complained.

Bowman, who said she is a bike advocate, said many people support bike lanes because they would increase safety and give people an alternative to driving. Plus, she said, many parking spots on Washington Street go unused because it is often necessary to cross a high-traffic, four-lane road without crosswalks.

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Putting bike lanes on Washington Street is not a new idea, and it was advertised in the city’s 2018 “Hello Washington Street” initiative, which polled community members about how to improve the corridor.

But customers and business owners said they had no warning the city would be going forward with painting bike lanes over the parking spaces. Some said it showed a lack of transparency.

Councilor Andrea Kelley said “the lack of proper process” caused backlash. Kelley said “it’s still unclear who wants to take responsibility” for approving the bike lane, and business owners and customers were not aware of the repainting until it was being done.

“Typically someone or some group of people will docket an item to go before the city’s Traffic Council,” Kelley said.

Newton-Needham Chamber of Commerce President Greg Reibman said he supports bike lanes, but he was not pleased with how the project “happened without any notice” to community members.

“The problem was with the decision-making process and not to inform people or have a conversation about it,” Reibman said.

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Newton Director of Community Communications Ellen Ishkanian said in an email the city was “considering a temporary pilot plan to add a bike lane to Washington Street to provide an east-bound bike travel lane leading to Lowell Avenue (for students biking to Newton North High School).” Newton North High School students are learning remotely for the foreseeable future.

Local business owners said they were worried the bike lane could hurt them even more during what is already a hard time, as they use these spaces for employee and customer parking, as well as access to nearby public transportation via MBTA buses or the Commuter Rail.

Architect Mark Kalin of Kalin Associates said the only place his employees can park is on Washington Street, so the bike lane posed a real problem.

“It meant I might have to move my business,” Kalin said.

Newton resident and business owner Curt Lamb said people need a place to park on Washington Street, especially as it expands to include new businesses. Without these spaces, he said, he does not know where business owners and workers would park.

“It’s just life or death,” he said.

The Department of Public Works scheduled a community meeting via Zoom for Oct. 15 for residents and businesses to discuss the bike lane, but it was canceled after Commissioner of Public Works James McGonagle published a press release saying the bike lane would be removed and the spaces restored. He said the department had been “closely monitoring” the parking spaces for the past few months.

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“The south side of Washington Street was not utilized for parking during this time of light travel, which was why the trial was implemented,” McGonagle said.

Ishkanian said in an email the trial “did not happen,” and this was “planned to be a short-term trial.”

“Any long-term trial or change would have included a full public process,” she wrote. “Signs and a police enforcement plan would have had to be done before a trial could be implemented.”

Lamb said these continued conversations could lead to bike lanes, crosswalks and landscaping down the entire street, but he hopes everyone can be involved in the process.

“Washington Street is wide enough for all of us,” Lamb said.

Sydney Brown can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.