Commemorating lives lost due to COVID, the College Avenue Mobility Improvements Project, and an Illuminations Bike Tour
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COVID-19 Remembrance Event
Mayor Joe Curtatone invites the public to come together for a COVID-19 Remembrance Event that will honor lives lost due to the pandemic and to recognize other losses the community has experienced because of the virus. There will be a simple ceremony held at Symphony Park, on 46 Pearl Street, on Dec. 11, from 1-2 p.m.
“It is heartbreaking that we have lost community members, loved ones, and so many others nationally and globally to COVID, and that we have had so little opportunity to come together to observe and grieve,” said Curtatone, in a press release. “We will gather as a community to reflect and remember those we have lost and to acknowledge the many other losses our community has faced—from jobs and income, to missed opportunities and life events, to social contacts, to impacts on physical and mental health. We will also pay tribute to those who have done so much to keep our community safe during this pandemic. By coming together as we close out this year, we hope to play a small role in the healing process and show solidarity and love.”
All those attending will have the opportunity to make a flag of remembrance, drawing “a simple image and writing words, thoughts, or poems.” The flags will be hung from a pergola, forming a temporary memorial. Participants may also bring objects or messages that mean something to them, to be hung with the flags or placed by the bottom of the pergola. Starting Dec. 3, blank flags will be available for pickup at the reception desks of City Hall (93 Highland Ave.) and the City Hall Annex (50 Evergreen Ave.). Blank flags will also be available at the ceremony. There will be live music form musician Ken Field, who will perform on a saxophone with looping electronics. In the aftermath of the event, a recorded music installation will remain at the site for a few weeks.
“We chose this small, out-of-the-way neighborhood park to observe our losses not just because it is a peaceful space. Each of us has borne so much of the pandemic alone in our homes in our neighborhoods—just as this park sits nestled in one of our neighborhoods,” said Curtatone. “But it is our coming together to slow this virus and support one another that is getting us through this challenging time. So we will gather as a community in this quiet neighborhood park as a symbol of our unity, our shared loss, and our shared determination. It is a reminder that we are not alone.”
Public Hearing on College Avenue Mobility Improvements Project
The City of Somerville Traffic Board held a virtual public hearing on Dec. 1, concerning the Somerville Traffic Commission July 15 actions making regulatory changes for the College Avenue Mobility Improvements Project. At the beginning of the hearing, Justin Schreiber, transportation planner for the City of Somerville, gave a presentation that explained how “the existing street design does not reflect the multimodal nature of travel on College Avenue.” The project aims to address stressful and unsafe crosswalks, concerns about reduced curbside parking, and a lack of dedicated spaces for people biking. The design involves proposals for adjusted bus and bike lanes, protected bike lanes, and new crosswalks. The plan would result in 35 parking spaces being removed and four added.
During the public testimony portion of the hearing, Somerville community members presented a range of views, some in support of the project and others strongly opposed. Residents like Jon Sillari referenced a parking study that the City is coming out with this upcoming June and asked that this project be delayed until then.
“I am asking that you wait to make a decision about the removal of parking along College Avenue until the City’s parking study is complete, this coming June, and proper notice is given to the surrounding community,” said Sillari. “I am deeply disturbed that it is necessary to have this meeting at all. This is the direct result of the City’s failure of its most basic obligation, notifying property owners and stakeholders of a plan that would directly harm their businesses and livelihoods.”
Fernanda M., who works at Apartment Rental Experts, said that she believes removing parking will not improve the safety of the area.
“We sit here all day long. I work every single day of the week—Monday, Sunday, every single day. We have windows for walls. I literally stare out at the traffic all day long,” said Fernanda. “Taking away parking won’t make the streets safer. The driving will still continue to be the driving that it is currently. We can’t stop people from driving recklessly, other than adding cops or adding speedbumps.” She added, “There are other ways to solve this issue, other than taking away parking from businesses that need it.”
Stephanie Galaitsi is a commissioner for the Somerville Commission for Women and a member of the Somerville Alliance for Safe Streets. A resident of Morrison Ave., she said that she is extremely concerned about safety, mentioning how Leah Zallman of Somerville was hit and killed while crossing a crosswalk on Kidder Avenue, a year ago.
“The changes on College Avenue are necessary to improve safety in this corridor,” said Galaitsi. “I think they are the result of a huge amount of work that the Mobility Department has put in … After Leah Zallman died, I started an email list for my neighborhood … to talk about the safety and dangers in our neighborhood from cars. In the end, roads need to serve everybody in our community, and devoting so much space to parking is counter to the needs of the neighbors who would like to be able to walk around this neighborhood without fearing for their lives, in crosswalks.”
Residents like Seth Hurwitz responded to the issue of safety and enforcement, an issue that was brought up during the comment session.
“When it comes to making sure that motorists drive at a safe speed and follow the rules, police does not inherently mean safety. Police presence does not mean that motorists will obey the laws, and it does not mean that there will not be car crashes,” said Hurwitz. “Instead, building the infrastructures … will help enhance safety features in the area. Making it so that cars cannot drive as fast and dedicating spaces to cyclists and buses and pedestrians, that will enhance safety, not necessarily police presence.”
Conway Ribbon Cutting
The public is invited to join Mayor Joe Curtatone and Councilor J.T. Scott for a ribbon cutting at Conway Park Athletic Field, on Dec. 9, at 1 p.m. The project has reached several important milestones: according to a press release, “the retaining wall has been repaired, contaminants have been removed (with the help of the US Environmental Protection Agency), and the athletic field, which features a plant-based infill, has been installed and surrounded with new trees.” The field will be available for use in the spring of 2022, also when playground construction is expected to be completed.
Illuminations Bike Tour
The Somerville Arts Council and the Somerville Bicycle Committee, as part of Illuminations 2021, invite the public to the Illuminations Bike Tour. The tour will be “a wintry night ride among warmly lit homes,” according to SAC. It will last for 90 minutes and will follow a tour of festively decorated houses. It will be held on Dec. 18. All participants are welcome to meet and gather in front of the City Hall Main Entrance at 5:45 p.m. and to depart for the tour at 6 p.m. Holiday lights and costumes are encouraged, and bike lights are required. Remember to dress warmly, and bring holiday cheer!
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Shira Laucharoen is assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and assistant editor and staff reporter of the Somerville Wire.