Group says ‘Surface Option’ Best for Sullivan Square

By Seth Daniel

A coalition of die-hard involved residents concerned about the Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square corridor said this week that they’ve been through years of ups and downs with the project, and in anticipation of the May 18 Boston Transportation Department (BTD) meeting, they still believe that their long-touted ‘surface option’ for the Square should be the plan to rise to the top.

The Rutherford Corridor Improvement Coalition (RCIC) endorsed the surface option plan once again, and hopes that the City will agree with them when the “preferred option” is presented to the community by the BTD at the May 18 meeting.

Bill Lamb and Liz Levin, both heavily involved in the process for years and also planners by profession, said the new hybrid plan unveiled by the City and its consultants last February is too confusing. They also have long opposed any tunnel or underpass, and they believe that traffic will move much better with surface roads rather than underpasses or overpasses.

“The surface option is a very simple, complete plan,” said Lamb. “It’s survived for years…It’s been challenged many times and we’ve defended it. It’s met muster every time we’ve had to defend it…Why do we have to throw out all the work we did? (The past efforts) were done with a lot of community input and high-quality consultants that looked at economics and design. Now the City is preparing to throw that all out and there’s no justification to do that.”

The surface option has long done battle with the tunnel option. The surface option features a traditional layout of “complete” streets with no tunnel and with pedestrian, bicycle and public transportation stressed, along with generous buildable and open space sites in Sullivan Square. The hybrid plan came out in February and is a compromise of the underpass system, with a smaller tunnel going under Sullivan Square, which is partially decked over to accommodate a similar street layout – though with less open space and buildable space.

The RCIC said it has taken a great deal of time to look over the hybrid plan, and were open to it, but now find it “absurd.”

“Here, with the surface option, you know where you’re at,” said Levin. “You can figure out where you want to go because it’s a traditional layout. It’s a distributive system that’s predictable. It’s a simple, traditional street layout that has shown resiliency though the years.”

Levin said one main problem she sees is that the hybrid plan doesn’t make the pedestrian-friendly connection to Sullivan Station. She said that station is highly-underutilized by residents because no one can get there, and she believes that will not change with the hybrid plan.

“We could make that a cornerstone for the redevelopment and the surface option is a much better way to make sure it has the access to make people comfortable,” she said.

Some of the traffic layouts are also questionable, Lamb said, pointing to a strange ’S-curve’ that funnels traffic from I-93 and Somerville through to Everett.

And of course, the tunnel is still an issue.

“At what point do you say a tunnel may speed things up a bit, but at what cost to the neighborhood?” he asked. “We realize it has some regional traffic needs. They should be met to the extent they can be. The Orange Line should be expanded to pick up a lot of regional traffic. However, I think we can accommodate that and still have a plan. I don’t think they are mutually exclusive.”

Added Levin, “This is a multi-modal solution. The majority might be in a car, but this means they would be going slower and that’s better for the neighborhood…Our road we believe is a road that unites and not a road that divides and it’s one that really realizes the potential of the area.”

To their point, they say perfect examples can be found in Jamaica Plain, where the Casey Overpass was taken down at the Forest Hills Station to accommodate a surface street layout. That is still under construction, but they say it is the way the surface option could work in Sullivan Square.

Other examples include McGrath Highway in Somerville, Mass Ave in Cambridge, Memorial Drive in Cambridge and Fresh Pond Parkway in Cambridge.

For more information on the surface option and the positions of the RCIC, go to their website at

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