Newton, Metro

City Announces $3 Million Investment in Washington Street Renewal Project

The City of Newton announced its plans to invest an additional $3 million to increase accessibility and economic activity in the section of Washington Street that runs from West Newton Square to Newton Corner, according to a press release

Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller wrote in the release that the investment is the first step in a multi-year redesign of Washington Street that the Newton City Council approved in December 2019.

According to the city’s Vision Plan, the overhaul will promote safety, business opportunities, a strong arts and cultural scene, diverse housing options, and environmentally friendly urban infrastructure. 

Planning for the project began in May 2018 in collaboration with consultants from the Principle Group. Draft plans went through several rounds of public comment, gathering more than 5,000 survey responses and comments from hundreds of Newton residents.

Residents described the street’s current design as dangerous for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists due to a lack of distinct spaces for each group, according to the Vision Plan. Business owners cited in a report said that they were concerned that traffic and a lack of parking deters customers.

In response, the city plans to reconfigure the street as a boulevard with two lanes separated by a median. The project will add additional space on the roadsides for cyclists and short-term parking and spacious sidewalks along the length of the street. 

The city also hopes to clear the way for more local businesses and artists, outdoor dining, and greenery with the strategic allocation of space. It will also work with the MBTA to increase bus and rail service in villages and neighborhoods along the street.

The City of Newton has been in contact with businesses on Washington Street, including Da LaPosta Pizzeria, during the planning process, said Jim Shimko, general manager of the restaurant.

“They’ve been great,” Shimko said. “They reached out to us about taking our patio down, which they wanted down a couple weeks ago, but they were really cool and worked with us.”

Revamping the public transit system will go hand-in-hand with Newton’s proposed housing innovations. The city will invest in accessible, affordable, and diverse housing with easy access to transportation and the new commercial and community spaces.

There are several MBTA bus stops on the street, including one near a cluster of businesses near 300 Washington St. The surrounding businesses form a conducive hub for commerce, but the area is small.

Washington Street’s proximity to the Massachusetts Turnpike raises other issues. Eateries such as Max and Leo’s Pizza and The Corner Café, as well as law firms and hotels, are exposed to the air pollution, noise, and unappealing scenery from the turnpike.

One of the major goals of the redesign is to reduce the impact of the turnpike on businesses on Washington Street. Designers suggested planting trees and building a series of small storefronts on the land adjacent to the highway.

New storefronts would also help with the city’s objective of fostering new economic opportunities in Newton, according to the plan. They would be available as low-cost business and arts spaces and generate electricity through solar panels.

Shimko said that he hopes the renewal plan will make Washington Street a more active corridor. He was optimistic that the plan will help the restaurant’s area—and Washington Street as a whole—become more vibrant. 

“That would certainly get more foot traffic and definitely would be a benefit to the restaurant,” he said.

To carry out the vision, the plan suggested that the city should form an advisory board on design review or expand the role of the existing Urban Design Commission to include upholding guidelines on energy-efficient and durable construction.

“As the street design process moves ahead, Newton envisions a Washington Street where people are the priority,” the plan reads. “That priority not only inspires development centered on safety, comfort, and community culture but also development focused on creating a resilient and sustainable Newton for the future.”

October 16, 2022