Jim Aloisi’s column in Commonwealth mag is really a must-read — and gets right to the dreary lack of vision and egalitarian spirit that plagues our transportation authorities and political culture, from the Governor and MassDOT on down.
The proximate cause for Aloisi’s righteous rant is MassDOT’s decision not to create the West Station commuter rail stop in Allston until 2040. That is, practically speaking, “never”. No one bases their decisions on where to live based on the vaporous prospect of a train station 23 years from now. (It was supposed to begin work in 2019, and take three or four years.)
It’s one of those articles where one is tempted to just copy-and-paste the whole thing. Just go read it – “Railing against transportation madness”:
… The official proposal to defer building West Station until 2040 – a generation from now – is truly breathtaking in its profoundly negative implications. I have also written about this before. Imagine if the Silver Line in the Seaport District, or the Orange Line station at Assembly Square, weren’t built in the early stages of the development of those districts. That would have been a mistake, just like it is a mistake for MassDOT not to insist on building West Station early in the Allston Landing development cycle.
A new West Station integrated into the intercity rail network as part of a newly conceived regional rail system is an important component of the region’s mobility future. If West Station is built and connected to the Grand Junction Line, it will offer people who now drive on the Turnpike a viable alternative to get to the Kendall Square area of Cambridge, and ultimately to North Station. You can read more about that here. Despite this, and despite the clearly recognized need to abandon old and failing ways of utilizing our intercity rail assets, there are no firm commitments by the state (or Harvard or BU, who stand to benefit most from this) to an early construction of West Station.
Deferring construction of the station to 2040 may go down as one of the worst transportation policy decisions of the first half of this century.
(The other target of ire is the laughable Southie gondola plan — a fancy bauble for a private developer to blow $100 million, in order to transport too few people. Folks … you put gondolas in the mountains.)
We need sustainable, transit-oriented development now – not in 23 years. Our daily experience of living with soul-crushing Boston traffic tells us that — not to mention the persistence of Boston’s can’t-get-there-from-here transit patterns, still shaped by the Charles River. When will we start to break this down? As the cartoon says, “How about never? Does never work for you?”
And let it not be missed that transportation planning represents a community’s values — my emphasis:
The solution to unlocking the mobility challenges of the Seaport District won’t be found in privately owned systems that cannot and will not function as part of what should be an efficient, affordable, equitable transportation network.
Public transportation should be public — ie. for everyone, not just the most-favored corporate citizens. (I’ve seen orange Amazon robotics vans lurking around the neighborhood … this is not the way of the future.)
In any event, this dovetails with our riff — and that of WBUR Cognoscenti contributor Miles Howard — that Governor Baker’s popularity is predicated on him avoiding bold action on major long-term, festering challenges. But how hard would it be to push forward on West Station? This is not Mission Impossible here.
How many riders is the West station projected to serve for the cost? Allston Landing serves how many riders per day? 100? Maybe the money is better spent elsewhere.
As for the Seaport, the main issue is that it was never divided into smaller streets and it is hemmed in by natural features (the Sea).
Neighborhood development is now a game between a big government and big business. If you wanted something that worked you would have divided the land into something that could be bought by small owners. Less kickbacks that way though.
Train transit is the past. Get 1000 people and move them at one time from point A to B, even though they want to go from X to Y at all hours of the day? That’s hardly efficient.
It’s not about commuter rail. It’s about commuter rail, and bus, and connection to the B Line, and bicycle connectivity, and pedestrian connectivity. It’s about north/south routes that don’t require Park Street Station. It’s about Kendall and Kenmore and Longwood. It’s about Harvard and BU. It’s about sharing Boston’s economic prosperity with Allston and Brighton.
And, of course, robust transit allows for more housing starts with fewer parking spaces, which allows for the workforce housing necessary for Boston to avoid San Francisco’s dichotomy.
The cost isn’t what you think it is. It’s the money up front plus the ever increasing traffic on the Pike.
Your contention is that not enough people use Allston Landing now. Aloisi’s contention is that this locks the number of people who will ever use it at about that number because the ‘transit oriented’ component is deferred until 2040. Many people who are driving their cars into Kendall and North Station now would have a viable public transportation alternative if Allston Landing was ‘transit oriented’ and that would reduce traffic and parking hassles… and the number of riders a day would well exceed 100.
Trickle up says
I’m sure this exposes my naive, tender side to ridicule, but this is truly appalling.
By 2040 if we do not change our evil ways we will be spending far more money on remediation from sea-level rise and extreme storms than on prevention. Heck, we’ll probably have to relocate the Deer Island plant.
Alston Landing is prevention. Obviously ecology in one T stop is not sufficient, but it is necessary. If we can’t even do that—if we still indulge in these stupid destructive games, 2040 nudge nudge wink wink, in the face of an existential threat to many of Boston’s neighborhoods—then there is truly no hope.
Aloisi’s column is another example of why he is the most trenchant commentator on transit in MA, the worthy heir to Salvucci. Gondolas in Boston? Gimme a break. Go to Medellin if you want to see a great gondola, a system that has helped heal the formerly drug torn city and bring low-income residents down from the mountains into the city. But a privately maintained gondola for the Waterfront, so high income people can commandeer public air space for their convenience is pretty outrageous.