Northeastern’s North End Proposal

City Councilor Sal LaMattina discusses plans with group members, from left, Matthew Walsh, Matt Ford, Stephen Leeber, and Rodrigo Alonso

The closely layered streets and infrastructure of Boston’s North End were not built for cars. They were not built to hold 100 restaurants, or almost 10,000 residences. In the earliest decades of a budding nation, immigrants for Europe could not have imagined any of the hardships the commonwealth’s first neighborhood would face with the rise of new technologies in a world packed with seven billion people. Currently, the severely congested streets of the region have been caught in a heated debate over the best method to mitigate the hardships of modern life in a non-modern setting. Differing strategies have been argued, many focused around improving the heart of the North End: Hanover Street.

A school project does not seem like the obvious solution to an expansive issue, but six university students are making an attempt. Engineering seniors at Northeastern University, completing a capstone project under professor Dr. Daniel Dulaski, propose a venture to tackle four of the key problems facing Hanover street:  narrow sidewalks, double parked delivery vehicles, traffic congestion, and seasonal foot traffic increase.

“It’s probably one of the greatest street’s in America,” said city councilor Sal LaMattina, wishing the students good luck before they proposed their ideas on Wednesday’s Clean Streets Committee meeting. The councilor subtly cautions that undertaking the issue of Hanover Street is no simple task.

From making Hanover a one-way street, to creating a pedestrian mall, many ideas have been raised and discarded in an attempt to solve the decade old problem. An issue that is constantly gaining momentum as a growing residential population’s needs and safety concerns, clash with business and tourist benefit.

Matthew Walsh, the teams project manager, lead a presentation and discussion at the meeting with the intent of throwing out a, “buffet of ideas,” to work with the community. The groups proposals- still at the initiation stages- included: seasonal portable sidewalks, to increase walking room in the summer, clear color-coded pavement markings, an increase in bicycle racks, (which would hopefully encourage people to drive less) and allocated shared valet and commercial parking spaces, without decreasing resident zones.

“We are taking a safety first approach,” says team Highway Engineer, Matt Ford. Ford hopes their plan will make Hanover more accessible to elderly, handicapped, and young families. As well as clear away possible interferences for emergency vehicles.

Anne M. Pistario, North End resident and member of the Clean Streets Committee, is not certain of the improvement ideas, saying the students are,  “trying to solve a problem that can’t be solved.” As outsiders of the neighborhood, they do not account for the nuances of Hanover- such as its holiday feasts, which further congest the summertime passage. She appreciates their suggestions of seasonal changes, but is doubtful street congestion will get better in an area not built for cars. Pistario points out the difficulties of improving roads and parking in a neighborhood where there are 1200 buildings and only 1500 parking spaces. “The North End is like a balloon and if it keeps growing bigger and bigger, eventually it is going to pop,” she says.

The group believes their “outsider’s” considerations could actually benefit the project because they have no special interests. They emphasize that for change to occur residence, businesses, and tourists have to all compromise a little. However, the team realizes it is necessary to develop their plans with the communities ideas, “we understand the engineering; you [North End residence] understand the area. We want to incorporate your knowledge and expertise into our design,” said Ford.

Many locals were hopeful. The overall atmosphere in the meeting room at the question and answer session was positive, and somewhat enthusiastic. Attendees’ discussed ideas and expressed concerns, but seemed optimistic that at least some of the group’s plans could be implemented. “It was very exciting,” said ten-year resident Mary Holland. She especially liked their proposal to move streetlights onto buildings, stating that this would be a simple way to free up a fair amount of space on the sidewalks.

“We really want to get out there and help the community,” says Walsh, emphasizing that the assignment is worth more to the team than a grade. The group hopes their projected improvements will produce results, and have an impact.  Members plan to spend the rest of the semester working closely with residence to further advance their ideas.