Saturday, November 22, 2014

Charles River: Mass. Pike project runs commuter rail up Grand Junction as it sits now.

Charles River: Mass. Pike project runs commuter rail up Grand Junction as it sits now.

I. Introduction.
II. Transmittal.
III. Letter of comment.
1. Introduction.
2. The Viaduct.
a. Southern Boundary.
b. Northern Boundary.
3. The main part of the proposal.
a. General.
b. Commuter rail layover yard.
c. West Station.
d. Green Line A Spur.
4. Summary.

I. Introduction.

It is amazing how these various projects interrelate.

I attended two environmental review meetings in the last week, South Station expansion and Mass. Pike rebuilding.

The South Station expansion sounds like an expansion, but it sunk in to me that the expansion is viewed as the furthest that South Station can go.  The planners figure that no further expansion of traffic to South Station is possible after this one

That, however, has a caveat.  If you cannot further expand to the south, what are the alternatives?

The alternative that impacts the Charles River is the forcing of new trains over the Charles River and the Grand Junction with all the environmental nightmares involved, as a result of the Mass. Pike reorganization subject to the limits in the South Station expansion..

And all new service would wind up going to North Station.

I have filed an ENF comment on the Mass. Pike work and reproduce it below, adding the Internet standard index.

I commend MassDOT for their handling of the rebuilding of the raised portion (viaduct) of the Mass. Pike.

The comment expands on my ideas for a Green Line A route to service North Allston.  It proposes areas to be set aside for Green Line A, and additional area for expansion of South Station layover in the future rather than the “We can’t do more” mentality.   My comment objects to the new West Station now proposed as part of the Mass. Pike rebuilding for multiple reasons, including the apparent mandatory use of the Grand Junction for all new train service west or south.

The solution to the overload problem at South Station is to expand South Station in such a way as to work to avoid overload in the future.  In this document, going over that alternative is not appropriate.

I will put out my South Station Comment in the next week.

Possible added room can be created in South Station by adding one or two tracks closer to Fort Point Channel, and rearranging a choke point at the railroad entrance to South Station.

Larger scale change is proposed by the North - South Rail folks.  To alleviate the overload problem, their proposal makes sense.

The first step, and it has to be in the South Station expansion project, is to build two levels of track as part of the expansion of South Station, the level currently existing (proposed by the expansion project) and another level below it.

Doing this now would avoid the overload currently imminent.  I would hope the lower level could be expanded in the future under existing tracks.

In order to get into the lower level, a deep bore track would have to be created in the future for access.  It would seem to have to come from from the direction of Back Bay Station.  The North  - South Connector could alleviate a need for further expansion of South Station by routing trains as possible through to North Station.

This is looking increasingly like the only responsible alternative.

The following sections are my transmittal letter and the actual comments.  Because of the greater flexibility possible on the blog, the attachments will be inserted into the document copy below.

II. Transmittal.

RE: I90 Allston Interchange Project, EEA #15278, ENF Comments

Dear Ms. Johnson:

Enclosed are three documents, in combination constituting my comments on the Environmental Notification Form on the I90 Allston Interchange Project.

Enclosed are my comments and two attachments.  One concerns a possible Green Line A spur which could be impacted by this project.  The other concerns the highways impacted by the only currently available route for commuter rail out of West Station, should the current plans for South Station persist.

I hope I got the Secretary’s name correctly.  I am afraid that I did not copy it down on Thursday evening, and the on line information has a distressing lack of information as to the identity of the Secretary.

III. Letter of comment.

November 22, 2014

Secretary Maeve Vallely Bartlett
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
Attn: Holly Johnson, EEA #15278
100 Cambridge Street, Suite 900
Boston, MA  02114

RE: I90 Allston Interchange Project

Madame Secretary:

1. Introduction.

I am writing individually and as chair of Friends of the White Geese, a Massachusett Not Profit organized in 2001 with the purpose of protecting the environment and animals of the Charles River and related matters.

I myself have two years of on the ground experience in railroad operations.  I have, as part of my railroad position, observed railroad operations first hand from Boston almost to Washington, DC, varying between freight and passenger service.  I have major experience in working on transit planning matters in the Boston / Cambridge area over nearly 40 years.

I proposed the Kenmore Crossing on the Urban Ring subway concept five years before it was officially adopted by the MBTA as a recognized alternative route in 1991.

I have major environmental experience.  In the last 15 years, this has been on Charles River and related matters.  I rather clearly have prevented a mass animal killing in that location.

In the last 40 years I have used my legal training for the benefit of the environment in Cambridge.

I obtained a preliminary injunction on appeal, next to impossible, in a temporarily successful effort to protect one of the best parks in the middle of Cambridge, including more than 20 one hundred year old trees.

I have written more successful zoning changes in Cambridge than any other person not employed by the City of Cambridge.  I have used zoning as a tool to force environmental protection on very major parts of the City of Cambridge.  My zoning changes have required ground floor open space and more housing on about 85% of Massachusetts Avenue in the area between Harvard and Central Squares and portions of adjacent side streets.  My zoning changes allowed fairly large buildings on Mass. Ave. while maintaining environmental protections and protections for neighbors.

The building at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Harvard Street in east Harvard Square, formerly known as the Inn at Harvard was one of my big victories.  Harvard wanted that building to be 72% larger and built to the sidewalk.  The City Council disagreed. About a block away, I saved the 19th Century building at the corner of Banks and Mt. Auburn Streets from destruction by Harvard using fine print in the Cambridge Rent Control Ordinance.  Saving that building probably was key in the retention of the historical character in this, the Kerry Corner neighborhood.

The first two blocks north of Harvard Law School were also downzoned by a petition written by me.

There is a former parking lot between Alewife Station and Route 2 which is being returned to nature as a result of another zoning change I wrote.  This is the only meaningful environmental victory in the Alewife area in spite of a Cambridge related group which claims to be protecting Alewife.

2. The Viaduct.

MassDOT is to be commended in its efforts in the planning of the replacement of this structure.  There are two key factors for which it deserves praise.

a. Southern Boundary.

It is my understanding that the southern boundary of the viaduct will be rebuilt in place.  This is excellent because it retains the possibility of running a Green Line spur off Green Line B just west of the BU Bridge which could connect to Harvard Square with stops at Boston University, Harvard Medical School, North Harvard and Cambridge Street, North Harvard and Franklin Street, and at Harvard’s Business School / Stadium.  A proposed map is attached.

[ed:  As relevant, the proposal has operating commuter rail tracks to the right of the triangle with West Station vertically in the middle to the far right.  Left of these tracks is the commuter rail layover yard with the Mass. Pike to the left of the layover yard.  My proposal calls for added layover tracks to the left of the Mass. Pike and streetcar layover to the left of that.  This explanation deliberately omits other uses in the area.]

I have published photos of the area where the Green Line spur could go at .

Clearly, building a streetcar line in this area would be close to Boston University buildings, but no building need be harmed, plus Boston University would get a stop at the level of their plaza in the new residential housing behind their sports arena, and would get convenient transportation to and from Harvard Square.

On the Harvard Square end, the streetcar line could connect into the existing Harvard Station complex in a subway tunnel which remains from the days when Red Line trains were stored between Harvard Square and Memorial Drive.  Direct connection to the busway would be simple since the only separation is a not overly thick wall.

By contrast, Harvard University’s proposal is for a horribly expensive deep bore Red Line spur with one stop, the Medical School, between Harvard Square and the Longwood / Harvard Medical Area.  It is expensive and bizarre.  The Harvard proposal would require rebuilding of the existing Harvard Station.

b. Northern Boundary.

Environmentally destructive people have argued for connections to the Grand Junction railroad bridge which would be environmentally destructive on the Cambridge side of the Grand Junction bridge.  MassDOT has been wise to reject this proposal.

Of major interest is the timing of Harvard’s purchase of the forthcoming Harvard Medical School area.  Harvard’s purchase  came a few months after the MBTA proved that the Grand Junction railroad bridge could be used for an off ramp from the Mass. Pike to Cambridge.

Major environmental destruction has been achieved and is planned on the Cambridge side making room for this bridge in place of the ongoing stalking horse argued for.  Segmentation and dishonesty by people who do not show their faces.

3. The main part of the proposal.

a. General.

I was generally happy / not greatly questioning this area until I attended the environmental meeting on Tuesday evening, November 18, concerning the South Station expansion.

It became clear during that meeting that the planners are expanding to add South Coast trains ONLY.  They see no room for expansion beyond that.  The plans at South Station are thus for a total end of transit expansion to the south.

That I find shocking.  That directly impacts my thinking with regard to the main part of the Mass. Pike work.

b. Commuter rail layover yard.

The South Station planners’ position on the layover yard proposed as part of the Massachusetts Turnpike Allston facility is that they can live with it for layover of trains from the west.  The mentality here exactly fits their mentality at South Station.  They can survive with the layover yard as proposed.  It is nothing great and it leaves no room for expansion, but they can live with it.

As far as they are concerned the current expansion effort is the end of expansion of South Station service, and thus there would be no value for larger layover service.

The South Station planners are of the understanding that the layover yard has to be located between the relocated Massachusetts Turnpike and the residential neighborhood.

The South Station planners have not even thought of splitting the layover yard with the proposed part between the Mass. Pike and the neighborhood and with additional layover yard space on the far side of the Mass. Pike, to allow expansion in the future.

The South Station planners apparently are aware of the plans for the primary area but do not have an understanding of its relationship to the viaduct.  The tracks from South Station come in to the primary area from under the viaduct.

Creating a switch under the viaduct so that layover trains could be directed to layover tracks on either side of the relocated ground level Mass. Pike would be simple.

Easy and effective, and in sharp contrast to a situation which I hope will be corrected at South Station, allows for future expansion, this would allow further expansion of rail service at South Station.

c. West Station.

This, along with at least one other station, is being sold as some sort of improvement to transit facilities available to the neighborhood.

This, to me, makes no sense to the neighborhood.  The neighbors have not had a meaningful explanation of the very severe limits of commuter rail.  Commuter rail service normally is almost totally rush hour service, Monday to Friday.

The hours availability and accessability limits of West Station are such that folks are very much not likely to use West Station.  They will find preferably bus transportation to rapid transit at Harvard Square, Central Square and Allston Village more convenient and ALWAYS available at least by bus.

Additionally, the planning mentality at South Station makes it unlikely that South Station will be able to receive the new traffic.  Thus the only viable route for West Station traffic would be through Cambridge.  The Cambridge route is environmentally destructive, and destructive to the existing traffic because of its blocking of multiple major roads in Cambridge.  I am enclosing a map of the conflicts.  This is a map of the Grand Junction in Cambridge prepared by MIT.  I have added arrows pointing out the major roads which would be directly impacted.

MassDOT has studied passenger service on the Cambridge route and found passenger service on this route of no value to any location except for Kendall Square.

Since there is no other apparent route which West Station traffic would use, failure to evaluate environmental impacts of trains being serviced by West Station is very clearly segmentation.

d. Green Line A Spur.

Looking at the destructive aspects of the South Station failure to allow for expansion causes me to get more concerned about the failure to allow for streetcar service.

A Green Line A spur, as described in my map, is exactly what is being promised to the neighborhood by West Station.  The major difference is that a Green Line spur will readily work to provide the service which North Allston needs.  My map is based on MassDOT’s early depiction of the proposal area.

The big problem with the Mass. Pike proposal is that it leaves no room for Green Line service in the main part of the work effort in the future.  Failure to allow for real rapid transit in the main part of the area could possibly stick North Allston with a silly West Station and Harvard’s bizarre deep bore Red Line spur with only one stop between Harvard Square and the Harvard / Longwood Medical Area.

Two things are necessary to properly support a Green Line A spur.

(a) An area set aside for layover yard of their own located adjacent to the expansion of the South Station layover yard on the Cambridge Street side of the relocated Mass. Pike.

(b) Preliminary tunnel construction under the work area, plus allowance at the West Station site, with or without West Station.

A station would be appropriate for the Harvard Medical School area.  If West Station is built, combining the Green Line A station and West Station would probably be a good idea.  Tunnels should be built as necessary under the new streets and coming buildings AS PART OF THIS PROJECT to allow construction of the Green Line A.

The West Station location for the Harvard Medical School stop would complement a station at Cambridge Street and North Harvard, so that one location is convenient for the side of the construction toward Commonwealth Avenue and the other location is convenient for North Allston.  Underground streetcar transportation would also allow a station at North Harvard and Franklin, closer to the residential neighborhood.

Future streetcar rapid transit construction is the sensible way to go.

Failure to include these minimal efforts to support a future Green Line A could kill it in favor of the bizarre Harvard proposal.

4. Summary.

The proposal is generally excellent.

The planning for the viaduct is superb.

The planning for the main area should be modified to expand the commuter rail layover yard so that it has tracks on both sides of the relocated Mass. Pike, plus a layover area for Green Line A streetcars.  The main area should  include preliminary  tunneling to allow Green Line A to be built in those tunnels later.  And the North Station concept, with or without North Station should allow for Green Line A, although a great deal of expense could be eliminated by eliminating North Station.

Thank you for your kind consideration.  In particular, I am strongly impressed with the professionalism of both MassDOT teams, here and at South Station.


Robert J. La Trémouille

1. Green Line A Spur, based on preliminary project mapping.
2. Conflicts of Passenger rail in Cambridge, based on MIT’s map of a proposal for an interim (interim not mentioned) Grand Junction small vehicle highway.