I-Team: Pedestrian Safety Questioned At Theatre District Construction Site

BOSTON (CBS) – At a busy intersection in Boston’s Theatre District, a 22-story hotel is beginning to take shape on a sliver of open land.

Bill Blumenreich, owner of the adjacent Wilbur Theater, has watched as the cramped construction site swelled into the streets. Jersey barriers and construction fencing now take space on both Tremont and Stuart streets.

Blumenreich is upset the project did not leave room for temporary pedestrian walkways. He said that absence has created a dangerous environment for people walking in the area.

theater sidewalk 7 I Team: Pedestrian Safety Questioned At Theatre District Construction Site

Woman on Theatre District sidewalk near construction (WBZ-TV)

“They should not be able to get away with this,” he expressed. “This comes down to public safety. Somebody is going to get hurt badly, or worse.”

During the day, Blumenreich watched this summer as downtown employees and tourists squeezed between Jersey barriers and moving vehicles. Some ignored detour signs to take the shortest path to their destinations. Others stood confused as cars whizzed by because they lacked familiarity with the area.

hotel construction site I Team: Pedestrian Safety Questioned At Theatre District Construction Site

Hotel construction site in Theatre District (WBZ-TV)

At night, as thousands of people spilled out of Theatre District performances, traffic grinded to a halt as crowds of people paraded around the construction barriers. Blumenreich shared a video clip captured from the roof of the Wilbur, showing the gridlock after a show earlier this summer.

“It’s extraordinarily dangerous,” he said. “It’s imperative we get some sidewalks back.”

Tracey Ganiatsos, a spokeswoman with the Boston Transportation Department (BTD), told WBZ-TV there is sufficient detour and safety signage at the intersection to redirect pedestrians. However, Ganiatsos said it became clear other measures were needed to improve the situation.

roof of wilbur 3 I Team: Pedestrian Safety Questioned At Theatre District Construction Site

Hotel construction site in Theatre District (WBZ-TV)

As a result, BTD challenged the developer to install a temporary signalized crosswalk to give pedestrians another option.

“Maintaining pedestrian safety for this well-traveled area of Tremont Street is of utmost importance to the department,” Ganiatsos said.

After some excavation and underground conduit installation, the new crosswalk recently started functioning outside the Wilbur Theater front doors.

WBZ-TV visited the intersection on Tuesday with representatives from WalkBoston, a pedestrian safety advocacy group.

“This intersection could use some help right now,” commented Wendy Landman, the organization’s executive director. “It’s certainly not as safe as it should be.”

Landman pointed to several visibility issues with the new crosswalk, especially vehicles turning left from Stuart onto Tremont. She thought a temporary sidewalk was a needed improvement.

theater sidewalk 3 I Team: Pedestrian Safety Questioned At Theatre District Construction Site

Pedestrian in wheelchair on Theatre District street (WBZ-TV)

“With the volume of pedestrians and vehicles at this location, it would certainly make sense,” Landman said.

However, the developer of the Moxy Hotel project told WBZ-TV there is simply not enough room to provide a safe sidewalk.

“Buses and trucks cannot physically make the right turn if we reduce the street any more,” said Chris Pennie, vice president of operations at Lee Kennedy Co.

Pennie added there is no space within the existing construction site for a sidewalk, either.

theater sidewalk 8 I Team: Pedestrian Safety Questioned At Theatre District Construction Site

Pedestrians trying to cross the street in the Theatre District (WBZ-TV)

“That is the only space we have to stage and later, as we go vertical, it is the only spot to put an exterior construction elevator and loading zone,” he explained.

Pennie said crews removed mesh screening from the construction fence and also moved items (like a port-a-potty) to improve visibility for pedestrians and vehicles.

Ganiatsos said BTD will keep watch at the site to maintain safety.

“Be assured that we will continue to closely monitor the location and will make any and all necessary changes quickly and efficiently,” she said.

But people like Blumenreich remain skeptical the current configuration will work during the two-year project. As performances ramp up in the fall, he believes theater patrons coming from several different directions will never access the new pedestrian crossing.

“It’s not going to solve anything,” he said.

Ryan Kath can be reached at rkath@cbs.com. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on Facebook.

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