Friday, February 22, 2013

Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Davies at MoveMass forum in Boston, MA, USA.

1. Welcome back to MoveMass.
2. Secretary Davies’ comments.
A. Overview.
B. “Brighton Landing” Station.
C. Electronic Highway Signs.
D. Beacon Park Yard.
E. Grand Junction.
F. Highway proposal on the north side of the Charles River.
G. Miscellaneous.
3. New gathering place, location for forum.

1. Welcome back to MoveMass.

MoveMass put on a series of transportation fora up to a year or so ago which were extremely valuable.

Today, they resumed the sequence with a presentation from Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Davies.

The resumption was welcome and, clearly, the choice of speaker could not have been better.

2. Secretary Davies’ comments.

A. Overview.

At the end of the forum, I immediately went to the nearest Starbucks, with the intention of putting out a prompt report, hopefully copying Secretary Davies who says he reads all his emails (see in particular point 2f, below). The Blog has an arrangement for emailing copies, if I can figure out the correct address. The WiFi at the Starbucks was not working, so my extreme promptness has been reversed.

My report is for the most part in the sequence of his comments, and not in order of importance.

He spoke in response to written questions chosen by and read to him by the chair. It was a very efficient way to get things done in a limited time period.

B. “Brighton Landing” Station.

As the discussions have progressed on Harvard’s empire building on the south side of the Charles River, the insiders keep talking about “Brighton Landing.” Except for the transportation/development insiders working on this area I have never heard “Brighton Landing” used by anyone. That is in spite of the fact that I was born in Cambridge, have lived in Allston (one of the key Boston neighborhoods), and have lived in Cambridge most of the last four decades.

“Brighton Landing” Station is a transportation proposal which has always come up in the discussion of Harvard’s empire building. Secretary Davies said that such a station is going forward and is being paid for by New Balance. My understanding is that the New Balance properties are on the far end of the area, maybe a mile or so from the Harvard expansion. This would apparently be an added Commuter Rail station on the Worcester - Framingham line, or perhaps as part of local service on that line.

If the powers that be are referring to that portion of the Allston and Brighton neighborhoods of Boston north of I90, the Massachusetts Turnpike, as “Brighton Landing”, it makes excellent sense to give that area a name of its own. Construction of I90 in the 70s bifurcated the two Boston neighborhoods, creating a separate part of the city bounded by the Massachusetts Turnpike on the south and by the Charles River on the east, north and west.

Harvard now owns most of the eastern portion of “Brighton Landing” if that is what they are calling this area. This is the rump portion of the Allston neighborhood. New Balance owns property just south of I90 across from the Brighton portion of this area. Their holdings are near Market Street which is the main north - south road in Brighton.

Clearly I will have to research this point.

C. Electronic Highway Signs.

A question claimed that electronic highway signs are illegal and asked what Davies intended to do on the matter.

In our area, that would be applicable to a monster sign built over I90 next to Market Street by WGBH, the National Public Television station of Boston.

One of the nicest things Harvard has done in its empire building has been to get rid of WGBH’s irresponsible construction over Western Avenue in Allston a few hundred feet from the Charles River. WGBH insisted on being above normal people and built part of its complex above Western Avenue. That nonsense is gone, thanks to Harvard.

Unfortunately, WGBH’s new construction makes their old building look responsible. In addition to that monster electronic sign being flaunted over I90, they put a building, not just a bridge as on Western Avenue, over a public road.

Secretary Davies does not seem to be concerned about the monster sign.

D. Beacon Park Yard.

I loved his comments on this.

This property was purchased by Harvard University within months after the local transportation authority (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) proved it is possible to build an off ramp from I90 to Cambridge through the middle of the home of the Charles River White Geese. The construction would be by way of the Grand Junction Railway bridge, widening that bridge. The Grand Junction Railway bridge, in turn, is under the BU Bridge.

Harvard’s purchase faces the Charles River east of the River Street Bridge. This is the next bridge west of the BU Bridge. The Grand Junction railroad goes over the Charles River and then under I90 / the Massachusetts Turnpike.

Harvard’s new holdings exceed in size the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston. They rather clearly are intended to hold a relocated Harvard Medical School. But it is about a mile from the New Balance holdings, which makes that apparent commuter rail station location surprising. The commuter rail line goes through Beacon Park Yard until just before the BU Bridge and then follows I90. I have anticipated that the long discussed commuter rail station would wind up near the Harvard holdings.

The land which constitutes the Harvard purchase is dominated by an exit and interchange providing access from I90 to Cambridge and Brighton, and by the Beacon Park railroad Yard. Maneuvering to make it possible that exit be moved from the Beacon Park Yard to the Grand Junction Bridge very clearly (and secretly) seems to dominate a lot of the environmental destruction going on on this portion of the Charles River.

The railroad, last I heard, was far into discussions for relocation of the railroad yard to the Worcester area. That relocation combined with moving the exit ramps could free up the Harvard purchase for a massive expansion of Harvard buildings in the purchased holdings.

But fine print in the sale which was added after responsible people became aware of the Harvard deal says that Harvard’s use comes after Massachusetts transportation needs.

The secretary mentioned Beacon Park Yard as a reasonable location for railroad maintenance facilities.

I like that.

Related maneuverings have included Harvard’s attempt to run a spur of the “Red Line” subway from the Harvard stop through the area of new construction to another connector in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood. This connector would in turn connect to the Harvard / Longwood Hospital area. Harvard’s heavy rail proposal would be underground, “deep bore” and horribly expensive.

I consider a reasonable alternative to be a Green Line (streetcar / light rail) spur off the Commonwealth Avenue Green Line branch. It would split off the existing tracks just west of the BU Bridge through the Harvard empire expansion to Harvard Station. Most of this route would be by an elevated route over the Harvard purchase. It would go underground just north of Cambridge Street and travel under a new road proposed by Harvard, then around Harvard Stadium and under the Charles River. It would connect to Harvard Station by a tunnel which connects Harvard Station almost to the river. That tunnel used to connect Harvard Station to a subway train yard which used to front on the Charles River across Memorial Drive. Cambridge Street is Boston’s name for the street which becomes the River Street Bridge, which, in turn, is the first bridge west of the BU Bridge.

A lot less expensive.

E. Grand Junction.

Secretary Davies glowingly commented about the state’s purchase of this railroad which runs on the top of the hill to the east of the Destroyed Nesting Area of the Charles River White Geese and which crosses the Charles River on a bridge just south of the Destroyed Nesting Area. He says that the purchase would greatly facilitate movement of railroad equipment back and forth to the Beacon Park Yards.

This is an eminently usable concept.

DOT has recently released its report against use of the Grand Junction for passenger service, assuming expansion of South Station, a cause which the Cambridge Machine attempted to fool Cambridge residents into supporting. I will try to report on that report in the near future. Things have been busy.

F. Highway proposal on the north side of the Charles River.

My question was too wordy and, possibly with misunderstanding, it was not meaningfully communicated to the Secretary.

The Secretary responded with the usual platitudes. Until this stuff got to the Secretarial level, it was handled responsibly.

Unfortunately, the Secretary overruled his subordinates and directed that plans for rebuilding the next three bridges to the west over the Charles River from the BU Bridge include allowance for a new highway for small vehicles to be constructed under them.

The DCR is pushing this outrage and the Cambridge Machine and the falsely named Charles River “Conservancy” is doing the same, lying through omission about how irresponsible the proposal is.

There would be significant harm to the Charles River by construction in it and on its banks. There would be significant harm to the resident animals, particularly the Charles River White Geese whose remaining, not fully destroyed YET, habitat would be even more bifurcated.

As part of this outrageous project, the DCR has tried to get Obama moneys for destruction of hundreds of trees between the BU Bridge and the second bridge to the east. The DCR lied that all their targeted trees were sickly. The papers they filed with Cambridge proved the lie to be a lie. Among other things, destruction would devastate a magnificent 104 tree grove on the Charles River at the Memorial Drive split, maybe half a mile east of the Destroyed Nesting Area. The DCR’s highway proposal would destroy many trees much larger than those in this excellent grove.

Environmental destruction would attack the area west of the Magazine Beach playing fields that is currently being considered by a Cambridge Machine front organization.

The DCR and their irresponsible friends are fighting for this outrage piece by piece, lying by omission (as usual) about the extremely irresponsible nature of the plans.

I got too wordy in my written question.

G. Miscellaneous.

The Secretary reaffirmed the administration’s support for South Coast Rail (to Fall River and New Bedford) and the related expansion of South Station. He deferred work on the North - South Connector, a proposal to connect North Station and South Station underground and thus to allow direct connection between areas north of downtown Boston and south of downtown Boston. He also continued the deferral of work on the Urban Ring subway proposal. This subway proposal would connect portions of East Cambridge and the Harvard / Longwood Medical Area to the various existing spokes of the subway system.

The Secretary’s presentation gave the impression that he knows the Massachusetts area as much as, if not better than, locals. It thus came as a great surprise when he pronounced the “H” in Amherst, which communicates a much less good understanding of local quirks. That is comparable to, although not as bad as, saying “Oaks Bluff” instead of Oak Bluffs when talking about Martha’s Vineyard (no mention of the Vineyard in the presentation). The Secretary did pronounce Worcester correctly.

3. New gathering place, location for forum.

Formerly this communications forum met in a large new building next to Boston’s South Station.

It has been moved to 60 State Street, another large new building. This one looms over the Fanuel Hall Marketplace, behind Boston’s City Hall.

I regretted not bring my camera. The view was spectacular. The prior view was spectacular as well. This met or exceeded the prior view.

I spent considerable time studying the East Boston waterfront trying to figure out my memories from my three days working as an extra on “Here comes the Boom.” One of their fight scenes was filmed on Boston Harbor, with the parking maybe half a mile away, both with spectacular views of downtown Boston. I could not figure out the lay of the land. I will never forget the third day of filming, which featured a very large, upside down, lawn sprinkler over our heads creating a “rainstorm.” And that was last spring, before it significantly warmed up.

The attendance was larger than before. I do not know if the room is larger, but the prior room included tables, and this was in lecture hall arrangement. In any case, they clearly fit in more people. The attendance in the past has included a broad array of people concerned with transportation in Massachusetts.

It was very nice to see the well filled room.

Congratulations folks, welcome back, and thank you.