Sunday, December 10, 2006

Urban Ring Thoughts

Bob La Trémouille reports:

1. Marilyn Wellons to the Riverside Neighborhood Association, December 4, 2005, resubmitted December 5, 2006.
2. Your Editor to the Riverside Nighborhood Association, December 4, 2005.
3. Kathy Podgers.
4. Laura Blacklow.

The MBTA is having public meetings in Chelsea, Boston and Cambridge about its Urban Ring Bus system through an area just outside the Boston city core.

This is one of the many projects threatening animal habitat on the Charles River.

There have been some good thoughts put out concerning the Urban Ring. Here are a few sent out before the meeting:

1. Marilyn Wellons to the Riverside Neighborhood Association, December 4, 2005, resubmitted December 5, 2006.

Don't underestimate the urgency behind planning for this project or
its effect, if built, on Cambridge. It was clear from the Citizens
Advisory Committee meeting November 28 that revision of the DEIR/S is
still fast-tracked. 5 years is short-term for projects like this, and
Phase 2 is well within that. Large portions of bureaucracy, including
Cambridge's, have been paid for years to make it real. For example
the Longwood Medical Area tunnel study is a high priority project that
got $562,000 in FY06 and the Cambridgeport Roads project connecting to
it is already built.

Factors driving the urgency include Harvard's two fast-tracked 500,000 SF science buildings in Allston, and the anticipated effects of the Harvard-funded Executive Office of Transportation study of "Transportation Alternatives in Allston" (executive summary coming out this month), and the need to save Phase 2's place in line for federal funds. Washington likes rubber-wheeled public transportation and the Massachusetts congressional delegation is eager to bring home the bacon.

Our neighbor Laura Blacklow has reminded us that Phase 2 is in fact a highway between the Mass Pike and I-93, through Cambridge and Somerville-- the Inner Belt. Eighteen months after Harvard announced its secret land purchases in Allston, State Transportation Commissioner Kevin J. Sullivan told planners that canceling the Inner Belt had been a mistake and emphasized "the need for peristence in achieving long-term politically difficult projects" (January, 1999). If people want rail rather than a highway project they should say so at meetings like the one on December 9.

Phase 2 buses use compressed natural gas, CNG. CNG is billed as clean fuel but its exhaust particles are smaller than those measured by the feds, hence don't show up in their studies. Smaller, these particles go deeper into the lungs. Since CNG pollution is relatively new, there are fewer data on its long-term effects than for gasoline or diesel exhaust. The feds recently rejected a proposal to include CNG particulates in air quality measures.

Particulate pollution from Phase 2's CNG buses would directly affect people living or working within several hundred feet of the right-of-way. In Cambridge that goes along the Grand Junction rail line, Albany, Waverly, and Brookline Streets, and through East Cambridge. It would do so whether the buses stop in Cambridgeport or not.

Plans have always showed a stop in Cambridgeport near Hamilton Street. Within the larger goal of completing the I-90--I-93 highway connection, Harvard and MIT want to connect the planned Allston campus to MIT and Kendall Square, so want the stop or stops in Cambridge.

However, the benefits of a Cambridgeport stop seem minor compared to the costs of children's asthma and medium- to long-term damage to adults' hearts and lungs from CNG pollution all along the right-of-way. There will also be effects from regular traffic to and from the stops in Cambridgeport around the Urban Ring nexus.

Phase 2 planners are looking at individual rail cars, Diesel multiple units (DMUs--see Wikipedia, /wiki/Diesel_ multiple_ unit) for Phase 2 along the Grand Junction rail tracks from the Beacon yards (Harvard Allston campus) to Somerville's commuter rail line. DMUs however would mean transfers, hence increased travel times within the system, and there are other problems with them. The planners spoke of the "challenges" of DMUs that I gather may be insurmountable.

From other transportation meetings I understand DMUs would also entail public health costs from diesel exhaust. In Somerville along the I-93 corridor these costs are in the billions of dollars.

At the Urban Ring meeting our neighbor Kathy Podgers cited the No. 47 bus. It already describes the North-South route of the Urban Ring. Wait times for it are long, which discourages people from using it to get to LMA. (Night and weekend wait times discourage people from the T generally.) It's not widely used except, as someone mentioned afterwards, during rush hour. If it were more frequent and advertised as a way of connecting to LMA from the north, Kathy said, we would see what actual demand for the service could be. Demand is always cited to show need for Phase 2--yet the No. 47 is pretty empty.

A member of the audience familiar with the Silver Line supported this suggestion. One neighborhood along a proposed Silver Line route pushed for better service with existing buses, she said, and got it rather than the Silver Line. If improved service on existing routes does the job, big capital expenditures like Phase 2 aren't necessary.

This underlines the unspoken function of public works projects like Phase 2 as pork for designers and contractors. Analysis should turn to the opportunity costs associated with Phase 2--what could the money spent on it actually do if appropriated for worthwhile public transportation projects? What if the public didn't pay for Harvard's MIT connection and the Inner Belt highway?

I would add that if demand for from poorer towns to the north with Longwood Medical Area, recently billed as the growth engine for the region, is so great, it deserves Phase 3 rail.

Marilyn Wellons

2. Your Editor to the Riverside Neighborhood Association, December 4, 2005.

Marilyn I passed her comments to the Riverside group with the following introduction:


Watch the constant use by Cambridge bureacrats and the nine incuments of improperly named highway projects.

The "bikeway" proposed for the Grand Junction, for the Goose Meadow and for the Charles River falls exactly into the category of a highway by another name.

Fortunately, this outrage was defeated last time because of its lack of merit. Cambridge tried to call it part of the Somerville to North Station bikeway and that was recognized as nonsense.

When the T was pushing the off ramp on the Grand Junction railroad bridge from the Mass. Pike, the T responsibly refused to include in its budget estimates widening of the underpass under Memorial Drive to include this destructive highway project.

If we had an environmentally responsible city government serious about bikers, the bikeway proposal would be cutting from the Grand Junction to Memorial Drive by way of Vassar Street at the Vassar bend, but we do not. We have a city council running one way and doing another.

The proposal would destroy the Charles River White Geese' core habitat and destroy major trees plus build in the Charles River. Very reprehensible, business as usual from the City of Cambridge.

Then again, the fancy lightbulb groups which could care less about the destruction of the Green, but call themselves "Green" are part of the package of fooling the constituents.

They call themselves Green. They could give a damn less about destruction of the Green by nine members of the City Council. How dare anybody else stand up to nine members of the city council!

Keep an eye on the Urban Ring but remember, the renewed Inner Belt has many, many dirty tricks being used.

3. Kathy Podgers.
4. Laura Blacklow.

I will add these comments as I find them.