Wednesday, July 13, 2011

THE LITTLE BRIDGE THAT COULD — Response to Globe Editorial

By Archie Mazmanian

The Boston Globe’s lead editorial on Monday, July 11, 2011, available here: titled “MBTA should run trains from Worcester to North Station,” which includes an inset depicting the Charles River and the Grand Junction Railroad line in Cambridge, might be considered by some as a grown-up version of a children’s story involving a “little engine,” Perhaps the Grand Junction Rail Line (GJRL) trestle under the Boston University Bridge should be now known as “The Little Bridge That Could.” While the editorial focuses only on adding a few commuter trains to the currently very limited use of the GJRL, it recognizes ambitious plans over the years which have “planners daydreaming of bike paths and streetcars.” Viewers at this Blog are familiar with the Urban Ring project’s Charles River crossing proposed for bus rapid transit articulated with 60-foot BRT buses either over or under the BU Bridge, a long-studied project which remains on hold for many reasons, including the financial condition of the Commonwealth.

The Boston Globe’s proposal may be comparable to the camel getting its nose under the tent (or in this case wet at the Charles River), although it recognizes that “[m]any Cantabrigians are wary and have rightly insisted that the MBTA ensure any additional trains don’t cause endless traffic tie-ups.” There have been tie-ups in the past, even with the limited use of the GJRL in Cambridge, but the timing of such use can avoid rush hour commuter traffic. Unfortunately, the proposed commuter trains from Framingham/Worcester would be coming and returning at times of heavy commuter traffic on Cambridge’s roads in the area of the GJRL.

Although the Globe says the addition of the commuter trains should not be costly, it does not address how many persons would benefit in comparison to how many persons would be impacted by resulting traffic tie-ups somewhat less than endless. Surely a cost/benefit study is required.

The editorial does not address potential environmental issues; nor does it address the plight of the Charles River White Geese (CRWG). Perhaps the Globe is not aware of their plight. To its credit, the Globe via columnist Derrick Z. Jackson recognizes the environmental importance to the Charles River of the reintroduction of shad. But maybe the Globe should also honk out for the CRWG, whose environs would be further diminished by the Globe’s editorial proposal.

And keep in mind that the anticipated development of Harvard’s extensive Allston real estate holdings will require significant and costly transportation infrastructure, including for public transit, which might severely test “The Little Bridge That Could’ and the GJRL through Cambridge.