Wednesday, January 13, 2010

URBAN RING PHASE 1.5? Deemphasis of the Urban Ring effort.

Bob La Trémouille edits with some reporting.

1. Archie Mazmanian reports.
2. Bob Addendum.
A. Constructive Language.
B. Bus 66, Melnea Cass.
C. Partial Implementation by others?

1. Archie Mazmanian reports.

MassDOT Commissioner Jeff Mullan opened the January 11, 2010 Citizens Advisory Committee (“CAC”) meeting with enthusiasm for the future of rail in MA with the closing on the Commonwealth’s CSX purchase set for May, in combination with the potential for South Station and the South Postal rail project in the news recently. That of course is long range, perhaps long, long range, that will increase commuter radial rail lines from the suburbs into Boston, reducing motor vehicle travel on congested highways. And there should be money available for such rail projects.

But the primary purpose of this meeting was to address the situation facing Phase 2 of the Urban Ring project, with a January 15th letter of MassDOT’s intentions due to be provided to the EOEEA. (Visitors to this Blog may recall that MassDot had requested – and received – an extension of its earlier December 15, 2009 due date requirement.)

Apparently in response to comments made at the CAC meeting on December 1, 2009, regarding skipping Phase 2’s Bus Rapid Transit (“BRT”) System and going directly to Phase 3’s light/heavy rail, Mr. Mullan stated that MA will have money available for some bus improvements but not for Phase 3 rail. In effect, MassDOT plans to punt regarding its Phase 2 intentions by requesting suspension of the MEPA process as a whole to do some of the doable parts of Phase 2. At the same time, Mr. Mullan wants to keep the planning process going and to keep the Ring together, including the CAC.

CAC Chair Tom Nally made the point that “the devil is in the details,” suggesting that perhaps MassDOT might make available in advance a draft of its letter of intention to the CAC for input from its members, as perhaps the role of the CAC may change with suspension of the MEPA process. Mr. Mullan said he would promptly oblige.

Comments from CAC members were quite limited; in fact, there was mostly silence. Public comments were much more extensive, including those of an engineer who talked of “Fred’s Law” for major public projects, such as the “BIG DIG.” The “Fred” is of course Fred Salvucci. This engineer pointed out that the Urban Ring has been lacking, among other things, the leadership necessary to make the Urban Ring project successful. I would hope that this engineer might contact this Blog to provide details of “Fred’s Law.”

Bob made some comments that he will elaborate on below.

I focused upon Mr. Mullan’s statement that MA will have money for some Phase 2 bus improvements. I pointed out that Phase 1 had provided for some bus improvements; that Phase 2’s focus was upon the heralded BRT System with its 60-foot articulated BRT buses; that his concept of “bus improvements” might be considered a reversion to Phase 1; that perhaps his concept of “bus improvements” might be described as Phase 1.5; that by the time the MEPA process may be restored, the vaunted BRT System technology may become obsolete. I further commented that passengers of cross-town buses are treated like second-class citizens compared to those who use light/heavy rail for public transit.

What I failed to comment on was the apparent long range focus of MassDOT on commuter rail expansion to the suburbs that so enthused Mr. Mullan at the beginning of this meeting. This focus will benefit those in the suburbs in getting into and out of Boston. In the meantime, here in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline, Everett, Chelsea and Medford, the Urban Ring’s compact communities, we get “bus improvements,” whatever that may consist of. The problems with the MBTA radial lines into Boston’s core will not be seriously addressed, whereas MassDOT has its eyes on commuter rail improvements and extensions to the suburbs. Is this fair?

I also failed to comment on what it will mean to suspend the MEPA process? Will public participation and oversight be thwarted by such suspension? For this we shall have to await EOEEA’s response to MassDOT’s upcoming January 15th letter of its intentions regarding Phase 2 (or Phase 1.5?).

By the way, in a partial response to my comments, Ned Codd stated that the BRT System technology would not become obsolete by the time if and when Phase 2 is back on track [but of course not rail!]. I neglected to counter this with the fact that a significant aspect of the BRT System technology is dedicated busways for its 60-foot articulated buses that would be limited at the many chokepoints along the proposed Phase 2 routes on narrow streets in the compact communities competing in mixed traffic.

So for Phase 2 it’s third down and long, and it looks like MassDOT will punt.

2. Bob Addendum.

A. Constructive Language.

The Cambridge Pols and bad guys in the bureaucracy use all sorts of dirty tricks to achieve their goals.

The Cambridge Pols and their intermediaries are fighting for the BU Bridge crossing of the Charles River in the ultimate REAL rapid transit phase. This is light rail, streetcars, as opposed to heavy rail, Orange Line / Red Line which would be used for the other possible Charles River Crossing, the Kenmore Crossing.

There is no transportation argument that I am aware of to prefer the BU Bridge crossing over the Kenmore Crossing, so they do a lot of lying. One lie was put out in meeting on the topic in Cambridge. They simply lied that the Kenmore Crossing was dead. The much dirtier and more consistent lie is to refer to real rapid transit as “Light Rail” and neglect to mention or just “not understand” that the only crossing of meaningful value, the Kenmore Crossing is Heavy Rail. Thus they fool well meaning people into supporting an option which has no transportation value.

Secretary Mullan used the term “fixed rail” for the meaningful phase.

I very strongly appreciate that term.

B. Bus 66, Melnea Cass.

Mentioned a couple of times in Secretary Mullan’s presentation were improvements to Bus 66, and to Melnea Cass Boulevard in Roxbury.

Bus 66 runs from Harvard Square to Union Square, Allston to Brookline Village to Brigham Circle to Dudley Square in Roxbury.

Bus 66 goes by the Beacon Yards in Allston, which is on the north side of Cambridge Street. This site is owned by Harvard and looks like Harvard’s intended location for a relocated Harvard Medical School. The phase 2 package includes a bunch of bus proposals to service Harvard’s Allston campus.

On close questioning, the improvements would appear to be housekeeping type improvements to make the existing line work better without changing its route.

Melnea Cass Boulevard is the extension of the on ramp to/from Mass. Ave. to/from the Southeast Expressway / I93, connecting to Mass. Ave. just south of Boston Medical Center. The extension of the ramp, Melnea Cass Boulevard, starts by travelling west and then curves to the north, ending near Ruggles Station.

As part of the lesser efforts which will continue without formal Urban Ring name, the state will look into grade separated BRT buses on Melnea Cass.

C. Partial Implementation by others?

A gentlemen sitting near the CAC leadership discussed the Allston bus improvements and then asked if there would be any mechanism to prevent activities which would block parts of the Urban Ring proposal.

I responded that there is a building going in near Fenway Park which includes Yawkey Station on the Commuter Rail.

The Heavy Rail / Kenmore Crossing’s BIG advantage over the BU Bridge / Light Rail is a linking of three stations in this area. The Urban Ring Kenmore Station would be constructed under the Brookline Avenue Bridge above the Mass. Pike. It would connect to the existing Green Line Station at Kenmore and to Yawkey Station, thus providing excellent connections. It provides excellent service to Fenway Park.

The Light Rail crossing would move Yawkey Station to a location just east of St. Mary’s Street between Mountfort Street and the Mass. Pike, a block from Marsh Chapel, the heart of Boston University. This would be considerably inferior to the megastation created by the Heavy Rail / Kenmore Crossing.

That building with Yawkey Station clearly is a partial implementation of the Urban Ring Heavy Rail Kenmore Crossing. Clearly, there are a lot of ways to get around it, but the existence of that station as part of that building adds one more plus for the Urban Ring Heavy Rail Kenmore crossing.