A preliminary plan that could change the landscape of Needham Street was unveiled to local officials and members of the community Thursday night at City Hall.
As part of a semester-long project, a group of MIT graduate students in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning showcased their initial findings related to possible changes to the commercial road tucked between of Rte. 9 and Rte. 128.
The plan looks to transform the busy commercial area into a destination point with mixed use buildings, safer walkways and more open spaces.
"This is one of the most haphazard streets in Newton," said Travis Sheehan, a graduate student in the group. "It is sort of that funny relationship between one of its brightest future growth points and one of the sorest spots in the integrity and images of Newton."
For nearly two months, the group—lead by professor Terry Szold—researched the ways the busy corridor could be enhanced to provide a more appealing travel spot for those without automobiles.
In addition, the group looked at ways open spaces could be used to connect to the rest of Newton, how to give the area more of an attractive environment and how to draw more industrial and commercial business to the area.
They came up with suggestions such as adding bike lanes and bigger crosswalks to invite more foot traffic along the strip as well as a traffic circle at either end of the street, more landscaping and burying utility lines.
"I think they are heading in really good direction," said Candace Havens, interim chief planner for the city of Newton. "The street right now is in disrepair. It doesn't accommodate all modes of transportation and for the future the cities goals are more orientated towards balancing the options for people who want to bike, people who want to walk, drive or take the bus."
Members of community were invited to engage in an open forum to give suggestions and recommendations to the group about their research. Many audience members pointed to parking conditions and potential for more congestion with future projects.
Philip Herr, who told a story on how parking "didn't exist" when he took part in a political rally earlier in the month, said the group needs to come up with ways to place parking where it is still "a joy to walk around."
After the presentation, Herr suggested the construction of an underground parking garage or the placement of a parking lot/structure set off of the road.
The feasibility and the raw numbers of how much this plan would cost the city and its taxpayers were not made available at the intial meeting, but the group did announce that second public meeting at the beginning of December would be made to go over the logistics.
Not having the exact cost may have been the reason for the receptive crowd, Sheehan said.
However, Herr still remained a little skeptical of where the money would be coming from.
"Their research appears to be very expensive," said Herr, who added that he was excited about the idea of the new development. "I think they can achieve this without such heavy reliance on public funds. The city is not going to pay for this entirely, so they will have to (find) ways of having the private sector fund this."