Tuesday, April 10, 2007

State Conducts Urban Ring Update in Fenway

1. Introductory.
2. Charles River Crossing.
3. Harvard’s Allston Campus.
4. Summary.

1. Introductory.

Last night, April 9, the state conducted the middle of three urban ring updates in the collegiate arts building behind Fenway Park on Ipswich Street. The last update meeting will be conducted next Tuesday, April 17, 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Somerville High School Auditorium.

The Urban Ring is a massive transportation project supposedly designed to ease public transportation needs for a ring one to two miles outside Downtown Boston. The part which makes sense is rapid transit. The state is talking buses and new highways before doing anything on the rapid transit.

There were significant changes in that part of the proposal which most impacts us. As usual, key comments from the state differed significantly from Cambridge reports.

2. Charles River Crossing.

As an option, the state has proposed conversion of the Grand Junction railroad bridge under the BU Bridge to a two way highway. Contrary to the Cambridge reports, at no time has this highway been proposed to go to Harvard’s Allston campus.

This latest report has changed the point at which this new bridge would connect to Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. The DOT consultants are proposing that the traffic lanes go under the BU Bridge on an expanded Grand Junction bridge and then be elevated on a new bridge which would go over the Mass. Pike. The new state highway would connect to Commonwealth Avenue apparently above the Mass. Pike, west of the BU Bridge.

There clearly is plenty of room on Commonwealth Avenue above the Mass. Pike to make this connection. The new connection, however, would greatly complicate what is already a complicated intersection. It would have devastating environmental impacts in Cambridge.

Other alternatives suggested for crossing the Charles River as part of new highway construction include a possible bridge / tunnel to the east of the BU Bridge. I remember the discussion but do not see it on my copy of the slides. The handout differs from what was shown in several aspects.

Archie Mazmanian, a Brookline activist from the Cottage Farm neighborhood spoke against use of the Grand Junction bridge, among other things because of the environmental destruction on the Cambridge side. He tells me that the Citizen’s Advisory Committee has also been informed of a third Charles River construction option, to add two lanes to the BU Bridge.

Archie referred me to the "On Brookline" website, which can be read at www.onbrookline.com.

They clearly present his reports quite visibly. He was modest in communicating the level of visibility. I will add a link to this website for the benefit of people.

3. Harvard’s Allston Campus.

The very big change was the formal addition of proposals for bringing Harvard Allston into the scheme. At no time (contrary to Cambridge nonsense) has the state ever proposed connecting the Grand Junction to Harvard Allson.

I had to drag this information out of the presenter, frequently having to correct him on street names and to dig out exact details. The rest of the audience clearly was closely listening because I was immediately corrected at one point when I made an error in referring to Harvard Avenue / Street in Allston Village.

The straight bus option would be quite simple, just go out Comm. Ave. to Brighton Avenue, turn at Allston Village, to Cambridge Street to North Harvard, to Harvard Square, with grade separation at Harvard Stadium.

As they get fancier, the level of new construction increases dramatically.

The next level of complexity calls for turning off Commonwealth Avenue at Packard’s Corner on the street which hits the Packard's Corner intersection from the north. This would include a bridge over the Harvard owned railroad yard, a left turn, and up Cambridge Street. This proposal uses a new road Harvard is proposing on the major road which goes north from Cambridge Street between North Harvard and the river. Harvard is proposing that this road be upgraded and connect to North Harvard Street, I guess just before Harvard Stadium. This proposal includes a lot of grade separation on Harvard's upgraded street.

The extreme proposal would service Harvard Allston by a tunnel which starts at Mountfort Street. Mountfort Street is just south of the Mass. Pike connecting the BU Bridge spaghetti to Park Drive. The tunnel would start very close to St. Mary’s Street which ends at Marsh Chapel, the current core of the BU Campus. This location is the proposed location for an Urban Ring Rapid Transit stop in phase 3.

4. Summary.

The spaghetti in the BU Bridge - Harvard Medical Area is getting so massive it is silly to call the complicated options anything other than Phase III with the decision made for the worse of the two Charles River crossing options.

I spoke against the spaghetti.

Instead of connecting the Grand Junction Bridge to Commonwealth Avenue just west of BU Bridge, I suggested that area be used to connect to Harvard Allston. My proposal would put switches in the Green Line in this area and run a new street car line off Commonwealth Avenue just south of the Mass. Pike, following the Mass. Pike to the south to Harvard's railroad yards.

Such a green line spur would be far less intrusive than the Grand Junction connection. There is quite a bit of slack in this complicated intersection, and the location where the tracks would cross highway traffic can handle this added activity, particularly since the street cars would be going onto the existing tracks and not be added to the traffic pattern except to cross.