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Last night, by a 4-1 vote, Newton’s Traffic Council made permanent their earlier trial ban on parking on Walnut Street between Beacon Street (near Whole Foods) and Forest Street (near the fountain). [UPDATE: The Presentation is here. ]While the ban was originally requested by neighbors concerned about safety (parked cars block site lines for crossing on foot or pulling out from side streets), removing parking frees up enough of the right-of-way to allow for bike lanes in both directions. At an earlier meeting, Traffic Council had removed parking on Walnut between Homer (by the library) and Beacon. This means that the stub of bike lane from Comm. Ave. to Homer will now be extended into a meaningful link between the Highlands and City Hall, through Four Corners, a stretch identified by bike advocates (and the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee) as a key corridor. At its next meeting, Traffic Council will take up parking on Walnut between Comm. Ave. and Newton North, which could extend the bike lanes even farther.

Some highlights from the meeting after the jump.

The large majority of residents along the affected portion were pleased by the results of the ban and were in favor of making it permanent.

Former alderman, one-time mayoral candidate, and abutter Ken Parker made an impassioned plea for parking as a traffic calming measure, claiming that the parking ban had significantly increased speeds. When presented with data that median and 85% speeds were the same or lower, he narrowed his claim that it was the real speeders (the top 5%) that were the problem. This is the same Ken Parker who, as a mayoral candidate, waxed eloquent about a future in which he could sit on his front step with his son and watch bicyclist ride by. (Data are pretty clear that bike lanes calm traffic.)

Bike use on Walnut Street is up over 300% over the last few years.

Alderman Jay Ciccone, the lone no vote, made a fiery speech suggesting that, if the city were to remove on-street parking on Walnut Street, it ought to remove on-street parking on every street in the city. He made the argument that, and I’m paraphrasing, the homeowners paid hundreds-of-thousands for their homes and were being denied a property right. I’ll post the audio as soon as it’s available. Jay’s is an position that is not uncommon and merits its own discussion.

Old friend and father of a high-school student Matt Brand said that his son had “poked” him to attend the meeting and described how Walnut Street and the Comm. Ave. carriage lanes were key corridors for NNHS students who want/need to get around without cars.

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