redlightYou don’t.  Not unless you’re walking or in a car with a good sound system and you’ve packed a snack for the trip.  You’re better off spending the 15 minutes it will take to get a parking spot and parking your butt at Matt Murphy’s until you can’t hear the cars honking any longer on Harvard.  If you’re going the other way, you can forget that too. Better to grab a sandwich at the Pita Pit or shop for bagels at Krupels, because unless you’re walking, you’re better off staying on whatever side of Coolidge Corner you’re at and making the best of it.

It’s not that there is a lack of way cool things to do on the trip;  that is if you can find a parking spot.  According to Todd Kirrane, Transportation Director for the Town of Brookline, the parking spots on Harvard Street along this route are currently operating at close to 100% capacity.  That means you may be able to see a place to shop or dine, but good luck finding parking.  For me, driving in Brookline traffic is more daunting than my mortgage payments.

What causes Harvard and Beacon Street rush hour traffic to resemble midtown Manhattan?  You name it, we got it.  After just a few minutes I came up with this list of probable causes to Brookline’s daily parking nightmare.

  1. Beacon Street is a major thoroughfare for commuter traffic to and from Boston.
  2. The Green Line through Coolidge Corner is one of the busiest on the T.
  3. The Route 66 Bus traveling on Harvard from Dudley Station to Harvard Square is one of the most heavily used bus routes in the Boston area.
  4. Commuters park in Brookline to use the T.
  5. There either aren’t enough parking spots, they are not well utilized, people don’t know where they exist or most likely all three.
  6. There are many multi-unit dwellings in Brookline; a lot of people live here.
  7. Five large commercial areas thrive within a short distance of each other, Coolidge Corner, Brookline Village, Washington Square, JFK Crossing, and St. Mary’s Station
  8. Auto commuters, would-be parkers, pedestrians, a major bus route, a major above ground commuter train route, two schools, a church, a temple, a movie theater, a supermarket and bike paths must co-exist on the same small stretch of roads.
  9. The Beacon and Harvard Street intersection is so wide with four lanes of traffic and the T, that it’s almost impossible for motorists not to “block to the box”, or for pedestrians to cross without taking their lives in their hands.
  10. While all of the above situations existed for years, two government funded construction projects – one narrowed sections of Harvard Street and one  changed the traffic light timing and turnarounds on Beacon Street – actually exacerbated matters.

So, am I trying to make a case that you should stay away from the Coolidge Corner area?  No, I’m suggesting just the opposite.  You know where you can go to avoid traffic? The middle of nowhere, that’s where.  Shopping malls in the middle of Oklahoma are easy to get to and from, if that’s where you want your home to be. There is nothing wrong with living in rural settings, but if you want to live in a hip urban setting, there is a price to pay because you are not alone.  What about the suburbs?  Trying getting to one of those towns between 3 and 7pm.  Ever been to Legacy Place in Dedham?  Legacy Place is to Coolidge Corner what the Epcot Center is to the real world.  It’s an imitation, conveniently located on two highways disguised as parking lots, routes 1 and 128.  You can always get to the Chestnut Hill Mall, route 9 being so pleasant to drive on and all.

If you like to be where the action is, where people from different religions and national origins coexist, where you can go to a movie theater not owned by a corporate empire, or you can shop for clothes at Mint Julep or from the Epstein sisters at The Studio, buy a puzzle from David Leschinsky of Eureka, who is as obsessed with puzzles as anyone on the planet, bread from the Faber’s of Clear Flour, who actually treat their donations to non-profits with the same care they treat local non-profits, fair trade products from Crossroads, or go to coffee shops full of people from all walks of life, come to Brookline.  The traffic in Coolidge Corner is slow because Coolidge Corner is the place to be.

So, do we just let things stay the way they are because we live in a great place that just happens to also have gridlock every day?  No, and that’s not what’s happening.

People who live in great locations do what they have to do to improve those places for themselves and their families.  In the last five years, I’ve been to too many local board and committee meetings to count, all addressing some aspect of our local traffic perfect storm.  People coming from seemingly every perspective imaginable have lined up to say their peace.  Some want more parking.  Some want parking to be substituted for green space or traffic lanes.  Some want to change how the traffic and pedestrian crossings operate.  Many are concerned about how the traffic situation affects the safety of their children.  People here care.

We have a hard-working Transportation Director in Todd Kirrane, who works with an open mind and the patience of Job.  Recently Todd announced the town’s plan to update signage for the first time in twenty years, directing motorists to available parking.  This plan to upgrade signage was originally proposed to the Board of Selectman by the Coolidge Corner Merchants Association in 2006 and again by the Parking Committee last year.

Transportation Board co-chair Michael Sandman, fellow co-chair Bill Schwartz, Selectman Jesse Mermell, Chamber of Commerce President Lea Cohen, Kara Brewton, the town’s Economic Development Director, Commercial Areas Coordinator, Marge Amster, Brookline Police Captain Michael Gropman, Marty Rosenthal of Brookline PAX, and many area residents and local officials have dedicated countless hours to making our traffic situation more tolerable.

In upcoming articles, we’ll examine all the proposals addressing these issues, introduce you to the local players and invite them to share their thoughts in their own words.  We have something good here.  Now, we have to make it just a little bit better.

R. Harvey Bravman