Topics of discussion at the Nov. 9 Polish Hill Council to Go meeting

(Above:  the Finland Street entrance from Bigelow Boulevard, an item of discussion.  Image from Google Maps.)

Wednesday’s Council to Go meeting was held at the PHCA office, after over a year in residence at Lili Coffee* Shop.  The meeting was lightly attended, but the discussion was lively.  Among topics discussed were the ongoing water line replacement work on Dobson Street, the recent cuts in county funding for neighborhoods, and the vote on library funding, which was overwhelmingly approved in Tuesday’s election.

The major topic of discussion, one that is of keen interest to all Polish Hill residents, was the increasing number of vehicles using some Polish Hill streets as a cut-through, and the high speeds at which many of these drivers move through our neighborhood.  This is a particular problem on Melwood Avenue, which is only passable by one car at a time.  The ‘secret’ shortcut from Oakland through Polish Hill via Baum  Boulevard / Gold Way / Melwood is not so secret anymore.  The number of cars coming through Melwood has steadily grown, and residents are increasingly frustrated at the resulting problems.

Many residents have reported repeated damage to their vehicles, of being unable to get to their homes or park during rush hours as vehicle after vehicle comes through.  There have also been injuries due to cars speeding through — fortunately, none serious thus far.  A Melwood resident at this meeting mentioned a recent incident in which a speeding car, coming down Finland took the turn onto Melwood too quickly and struck his car as he and his girlfriend were loading the truck; she was injured.

The Finland Street entrance from Bigelow Boulevard is a major source of concern for residents in that area.  Cars coming into the neighborhood from Bigelow tend to remain at a high speed as they transition from the fast road to the narrow residential street.   The Finland street entrance off Bigelow Boulevard was studied during the recent strategic planning process; it was recommended that it be closed.  Although it would be an inconvenience to residents, there are a lot of young children living nearby, and closing the Finland Street entrance would make that area safer, which might be a worthwhile tradeoff.

It was mentioned that at one time, over 20 years ago, Melwood Avenue was closed to through traffic while the Bloomfield Bridge was being rebuilt.  After the work was done, the street, which had been little more than a narrow path, remained closed.  Polish Hill residents petitioned Senator Ferlo to open it back up, widen, and repave it so they could have easier access to the neighborhood.  At a recent meeting in Polish Hill, Senator Ferlo mentioned that he was reluctant to do this and warned residents of the possibility of exactly the problems we are now seeing.

Now, there is no reason to keep Gold Way/Melwood open to through traffic, apart from convenience to residents.  The Gold Way entrance is too narrow, winding and often obstructed to be a good approach for emergency vehicles, which could get to the area more quickly via Bigelow.  Another possibility would be a barrier that could be moved to allow emergency vehicles to pass.  It was suggested that it’s time to consider closing the Gold Way / Melwood Avenue entrance again and turning it into a bike/pedestrian-only thoroughfare.  The residents present at the meeting, and Councilman Dowd, liked this idea very much.

The issues on Melwood Avenue are addressed in the Polish Hill Strategic Plan, nearing completion; the idea of closing Melwood to through traffice also came up in public meetings for the plan.

The next Council to Go meeting will be on Wednesday, January 11, 2012.  The meeting will be at the PHCA office, and is open to all residents.