A proposal to take away travel lanes and parking spaces on Centre Street in West Roxbury and replace them with bicycle paths has sparked a furious backlash from some residents and business owners.
More than 3,000 people have signed petitions circulating in the neighborhood and online to oppose the so-called “road diet” plan first unveiled in June by city transportation officials to improve traffic and pedestrian safety on the busy roadway.
Hundreds attended a recent meeting hosted by the West Roxbury Safety Association, a citizens group opposed to the plan that would reduce Centre Street from four lanes to two, one in each direction.
New bicycle lanes protected by flexible posts would be added in each direction, taking away about 16 of 221 parking spaces in various places along the street, Transportation Commissioner Gregory T. Rooney said.
But some business owners believe the proposal is too drastic for Centre Street, the commercial heart of the neighborhood. About 16,200 vehicles travel the street each day, city officials estimate.
“No one is against bicyclists,” said Jim Hennigan, owner of Hennigan Insurance Agency, who attended the Nov. 12 community meeting. “But we feel to make a permanent change on Centre Street will negatively impact businesses and side neighborhoods.”
Albert Meranda, owner of Atlas True Value Hardware, fears the loss of parking could doom his business.
“Would I want to tell my two sons and six employees to find new jobs at this point in their life?” Meranda said after the meeting held at the Irish Social Club, located just off Centre Street. “I’m afraid for their jobs.”
Sokol Bardhi, owner of West Napoli Cafe, Ria Ice Cream Cafe, and Crystal Cleaners, said he will be “very disappointed if the city does whatever they want.”
He fears the “road diet” would make it harder for people to reach the variety of shops, restaurants, and organizations on Centre Street.
“I’m not just here for my business,” Bardhi said after the meeting. “We’ve got seven nursing homes, four funeral homes, a YMCA, churches, police, firefighters, EMS. Where are they gonna go?”
But Andrew Padilla, a bicyclist who attended the meeting, said the proposal could make everyone feel safer.
“I’m a dad. I’m a husband. I’m a son,” Padilla, who has lived in West Roxbury for three years, said during the meeting. “I am not just a biker.”
In a statement, the city’s transportation department acknowledged the proposal has “sparked extensive neighborhood conversation and feedback, both in support of it and against it.”
But officials said they will consider people’s varying viewpoints before finalizing a plan.
The city “is now reviewing specific safety concerns and needs that have been raised, before any final design decision is made,” the statement said.
The debate over the bike lanes is being closely watched by the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, a statewide advocacy group.
“We have people who have lived in West Roxbury their whole lives that don’t want to see change,” said Galen Mook, the coalition’s executive director. “People are dying in the roads; we need to do something about it.”
Centre Street recently has been the scene of three crashes, including one in February that killed a local resident in a crosswalk. From 2015 to 2018, there were 10 pedestrians and four cyclists struck on the street, according to statistics that accompanied the city’s plan.
City Councilor Matt O’ Malley, who represents West Roxbury, said he supports changes to Centre Street, “including the road diet.”
But he also is hopeful that officials will make changes “. . . to the current plan to reflect some of the concerns of businesses and residents,” O’Malley said in an e-mail.
Several residents recently stated their support for the plan in an op-ed published in local media.
“This proposal has always been about pedestrian safety,” said Michael Loconto, the chairman of the Boston School Committee and a father of three, who co-wrote an op-ed. “In my view, the bike paths are a red herring.”
“I think the whole agrument has gotten lost by people screaming about bike lanes,” said Elizabeth Hoenscheid, owner of Top It Off accessories, who signed the op-ed. “One traffic lane seems to be what most progressive cities are doing to be safer for pedestrians.”