Sunday, April 15, 2007

Urban Ring Phase 2 Policy Order before the Cambridge City Council Monday, April 23, 2007

Marilyn Wellons sent the following e-mail to two neighborhood associations in Cambridge about three transportation meetings she attended in the week ending April 13, 2007.

Presentations at those meetings bear on a Policy Order about the Urban Ring Phase 2 tabled at the Cambridge City Council session on April 9. On April 23, 2007, the Council will again consider the Order. Although the Order identifies compelling reasons that justify rejection of Phase 2, it nevertheless asks the Council to endorse the project.

In addition to the Order's self-contradiction, Wellons gives other reasons to reject both the Order and the Urban Ring Phase 2.


Dear Neighbors,

The recent transportation meetings I've attended have focused on the costs to
the region of poor transportation planning in the past. Just this morning [April 13, 2007] Secretary Bernard Cohen recited a litany of items in the region's "declining [transportation]infrastructure" that must be addressed. Last night we heard a projected increase of Storrow use in the next 23 years of 3%, which is close to nothing. On Wednesday the RTAC heard a presentation on "How Massachusetts's Neighbors are Responding to 21st Century Transportation Challenges," and the message was, Much Better Than Here.

In New England we're at the end of every supply line, and the costs of living
reflect that. Even so, the state has done little to improve efficiency and reduce
transportation costs. Short-sighted decisions, lack of strategic thinking, and
lack of investment in this sector have contributed to the loss of population and
businesses. They now place us at a tremendous disadvantage relative to other regions.

To take only the example of the Urban Ring Phase 2: while other cities--New York,
San Francisco among them--are building rail for rapid transit, Metro Boston is going
for buses. Phase 2 buses, grade-separated or not, are a false economy that will
only confirm the region's stagnation. Councillor Kelley's proposed Order
itself, while paradoxically endorsing the bus highway, indicates some of Phase 2's
costs: air pollution, asthma, heart and lung disease, diversion of resources from
better projects. And there are additional costs not mentioned in that order, i.e.,
damage to freight capacity at the Beacon freight yards in Allston, corresponding
damage to roads and highways from the resulting increased truck traffic, loss of
public parkland, damage to our neighborhoods.

While other regions--NY-NJ-CT and VA-WVA-OH--are actually building (not just thinking
about or studying) multi-modal freight infrastructure to create jobs at the ports
and from the ports throughout the transportation corridors, Massachusetts is not.
These other states' investments in multi-modal freight reduce the money costs
of fuel, air pollution, and damage to roads and highways, and corresponding costs
to quality of life. They're investments that make things better.

In Massachusetts we have the Turnpike Authority selling the Beacon yards to Harvard
for a pittance. In this deal, all the lawyers for Harvard and the Pike somehow
missed the need for an easement for the freight yards--the closest to the Port of
Boston--and for the Pike itself. Only the intervention of the Attorney General,
at the very last minute, at the Registry of Deeds, prevented the obliteration of
this public interest in the property.

It is simply not true that the universities, bio-tech, and the medical industry
or the like will keep everything ok, or at least ok for those now relatively well-off.
In the past, medical interns and residents competed for who would stay in Boston.
Now they leave, knowing they can't afford to live here. Fidelity is moving
out as quickly as possible, taking thousands of jobs to North Carolina, for example,
where the company's costs are less and their employees will live better for
much less. Here, with the continuing loss of population and businesses, tax revenues
will fall. There will be even less money for ordinary maintenance of public assets,
let alone the improvements necessary for the region's competitiveness.

Officials and attendees at the transportation meetings mentioned are well aware
of these very real problems.

In this context, building another bus route, grade-separated or not, would continue
the errors of the past. It would also squander whatever funds might be available
for real public transportation.

As voters and members of the attentive public, we also bear some responsibility
for our planners' and elected officials' short-sightedness in the past.
The Urban Ring bus highway, grade-separated or not, is planning consistent with
what has brought us to a difficult spot. I believe we and our elected officials
should reject it.

Yours sincerely,
Marilyn Wellons