After nearly two years of regional study, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) released a groundbreaking transportation report with several public and private partners – a report that calls for an extension of the Silver Line into Charlestown and for an emphasis on getting people onto mass transit and out of their vehicles.
The Lower Mystic Regional Working Group was born out of the permitting debates regarding the Encore Boston Harbor casino and the traffic mitigation that it required. Most of the meetings and planning sessions have taken place in Charlestown, and the Town has been central to the regional effort. As a takeaway to that process, State Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack was called on to lead a group that included leaders from Everett, Charlestown, Boston, Somerville, Encore, Federal Realty (Assembly Row), and state agencies to plan for how to address transportation for the casino and all other developments in the fast-growing region.
Now, two years later and many hours of meetings later, the final report with many key recommendations has been issued. It came during a press conference at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Charlestown on Thursday, March 14.
MAPC Director Marc Draisson led off the report by highlighting key recommendations. Those recommendations included:
•Extending the Silver Line BRT on a dedicated right-of-way from Chelsea to Everett and into Sullivan Square – where it would potentially branch off into two lines, one going to North Station, and the other going to Kendall Square.
•Reducing vehicle trips to reduce congestion: by providing improved transit services and transit-oriented parking policies, the numbers of auto trips to and from the area can be reduced.
•Making the Orange Line the backbone of the area’s mobility: the goal is to possibly achieve three minute headways in the near future (headway goals are currently around five minutes), and that would attract 24,000 new riders and reduce auto travel by 2 percent in the area.
•Improving feeder bus routes to the Orange Line and making dedicated bus lanes and faster service.
•Land use policies, such as parking, have to change: the report says when transit is paired with market-rate commuter parking rates or the reduction in residential parking requirements, it produces the most significant benefits against congestion. Using these strategies could reduce single-occupant vehicle trips by 45,000, which is a 5 percent mode share reduction.
•Making a complete walking and biking network: to be successful, the regional bike paths need to be connected and complimented by a pedestrian- and bike-friendly local street network.
Pollack said it was a great report and one that piggybacked on two other recent state reports – the Commission of the Future of Transportation and the MBTA’s Focus 40 report. Together with the Lower Mystic, the three reports hit on some of the same ideas, she said.
“It is not an accident there is so much consistency between the approach the Lower Mystic takes and the approach the Commission takes,” she said. “One of the things they both looked at was to continue to put transit at the center of our transportation planning even as we look at a future that may have autonomous vehicles or all-electrified transportation systems.
“The Lower Mystic Working Group focused on all the ways people need to get where they are going using buses and using the Orange Line and, yes, driving as well,” she continued. “I think this report really embodies the philosophy the Commission talked about in being in the business of moving people and not moving vehicles.”
Boston Transportation Department Director Gina Fiandaca (who will be leaving the BTD soon to become the next city manager of Austin, TX) said the collaboration between so many entities was the key.
“It was clear from the start of this process that we really needed to work collaboratively and we really needed to identify the transportation challenges of the Lower Mystic area and its vicinity,” she said. “We knew a casino was coming and we knew we had better be prepared for it. (This report) is the product of a two-plus year odyssey that really clarified the future growth of the Lower Mystic area. What we concluded was that in order to address the transportation challenges that we were already experiencing, and the others we knew were coming, we needed to expand public transit and supplement these services with improvement to our infrastructure and our local development policies.”
She said the report also echoes the GoBoston 2030 report that talked about improving transit and bringing in new land use policies that minimized the need for parking.
“These are policies that support a modal shift from private vehicles to public transit, walking and cycling,” she said. “We also note that regional coordination is critical. We need to develop and sustain a robust, regional and active transportation network that includes bicycle lanes, pedestrian connections and coordinated regional bus connections…For the City’s part, we are already planning for a reconstructed Rutherford Ave with a bike path and a reconfiguration of the intersections in Sullivan Square. A (dedicated) bus lane is coming to North Washington Street also.”
Also speaking during the conference was Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria and Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone.
The next step would now be to get funding over the next 20 years to implement many of the changes.
“The fact everyone signed the report shows they are a high priority to advance these with design work and looking at implementation,” said Draisson. An immediate next step identified in the plan was to begin drawing up designs for transit improvements and new BRT routes – which includes the Silver Line extension proposal.