ccornerjonas27Every day, 350 billion cars pass through some part of Brookline. That’s not true, but it seems true. (That last sentence is intentionally plagiarized from the movie “Sleepless in Seattle”.)

Most of Brookline’s 59,000 plus residents live in a hip, albeit densely-populated, urban environment. Rush hour traffic runs east-west and north-south. Parking is tough and traffic is worse. Cars, subway, buses, bikes, and pedestrians share the same not-quite-wide-enough streets and sidewalks. Schools, places of worship, and 5 major commercial areas are located in the densest part of our town. On top of that, Brookline is just west of Fenway Park and one of the largest medical areas in the world.

The situation is exacerbated, if that is even possible, by two questionable state and federally-funded street construction projects.

The man charged with striking the delicate balance between the near impossible and the impossible is Brookline Transportation Director, Todd Kirrane. Imagine if your job was to put a round hole in a square peg. Now imagine if your entire community, some self- proclaimed “round hole in square peg” experts, sat in judgment of your every move. Wait a second, that’s President Obama’s job. Todd’s job is harder.

How It All Works

Our town website states that the Transportation Director works with the Transportation Board to develop and implement the Town’s transportation policies, plans and regulations. The Transportation Department does this with the help of DPW, the Planning Department and the Brookline Police Department.

The Transportation Board consists of six self-proclaimed traffic, or in Brookline’s case, “round hole in square peg” junkies, appointed by the Board of Selectmen. The Board has authority over the Traffic Rules and Regulations, including handicapped parking, one-way streets, truck exclusions, parking meters, permit parking, turn restrictions, bus stops, stop and yield signs, traffic calming projects, taxi service, tow zones and general parking prohibitions. So basically, the Transportation Board rules on things that effect 99% of us at one time or another in a town that sometimes looks like Manhattan on Friday afternoons. On top of all that, the Transportation Board members are volunteers. These people want to be doing this. I know, right?

No two people from the Brookline community that agree upon every one of the difficult decisions the Transportation Board makes yearly, and there is no way the TB could attempt to make rulings on these issues without our man, Todd Kirrane. Todd, who is an employee of the town, on top of his other duties, is often the person charged with presenting the Transportation Board and the attending public with multiple solutions to that evening’s traffic riddle.

In the preliminary judgment phase, the TB allows the public to weigh in during hearings. Todd provides all in attendance with a presentation based upon his in-depth research and thoughtful analysis  that is as easy to understand as possible.

Neighborhood leaders, local activists, representatives for schools and commercial areas, and sometimes escapees from local hospitals, stand in line patiently to inform Todd he is completely and utterly wrong. The Transportation Board must then decide upon a solution that considers Todd’s presentation, public comments, sometimes a consultant who was brought in, or their own thoughts on the matter. Whatever the solution, it will be in the eyes of many, the worst possible answer to a problem in the history of the town. Of course the chances of the TB finding a solution that is 100% correct is unlikely given the ridiculous traffic scenario facing us.

One thing is for near certain, though, the first time the TB rules on anything, it is not final. Why? There is always one group effected by the decision that was not in the room or did not hear about the public hearing. This is understandable given that in order to stay on top of things in our town, one must read every meeting agenda item for every meeting held anywhere by any committee in Brookline every day of the week. Once the offended group rails loud enough, the Transportation Board must apologize to the offended group and start the process all over again. For some decisions TB rulings can be appealed to the Board of Selectmen and Town Meeting. Usually, the second time around the TB makes a different decision that is as widely unpopular as the last decision.

Though all of this insanity, the one sane constant always seems to be Todd Kirrane. Todd carefully studies each issue, works seamlessly with all the various town departments, and listens to every criticism/idea/plea with a calmness that most of us don’t have on our best days. Many leave each Transportation Board meeting thinking to themselves, despite their personal agenda, that maybe we all should have listened to Todd. I know I do.

R. Harvey Bravman, Publisher