Alewife region traffic planning


Financial issues are front and center in the House of Representatives right
now and you can get a pretty fair overview of what is happening from the

As your state legislator, I intend to try to continue to make progress on
long term issues while, at the same time, fighting the recurring financial
battles — more state aid — on behalf of the district.  

In this note, I offer an update and a  few thoughts on regional long-term

I am working on a couple of levels to initiate regional planning processes
in the Alewife area:  I have filed legislation to create an Alewife Planning
Commission and also am also working with the Metropolitan Area Planning
Council to initiate a collaborative planning process — we may be able to
get a good process going without legislation.

Traffic is the biggest concern going into such a process for Alewife.  I’ve
spent some time over the past few weeks assessing how we are responding to
regional traffic issues and what is already well known and understood about
the constraints on planning.

Although my natural inclination is to look for “solutions” to “problems”, my
developing sense is that there is no real “solution” to the “problem” of
traffic in the Alewife area.  We may need to focus on smaller efforts
towards protecting local streets and making the area as safe and friendly as
possible for pedestrians and cyclists.

One way or another over the next few months, I will be holding some local
public hearings on these issues, but for those interested, what appears
below is some of the background that is beginning to shape my sense of how
to move forward on these issues.

Thoughts and reactions much appreciated.

Best regards,

Will B.


There are four major regional planning and study processes of interest going

1)      The Belmont/Lexington/Waltham Sub-area study, is focused on the
impact of Development on Trapelo Road.  See

2)      A study of potential alternative routes through the Alewife area
conducted by the Central Transportation Planning Staff (
<file:///\>, The objective of the study is to
better  understand what traffic is going to and through the area.
Specifically, this study should shed light on the problem of cut-through
traffic on side streets and may lay a foundation for further study of
potential solutions.

3)      Ongoing data collection by the CTPS about traffic volumes and speeds
on major roads in the Greater Boston Area.  These data suggest that the Rt.
2/Alewife Brook Parkway roadways are among the most congested in the region.

4)      The Journey 2030 Study conducted by the Metropolitan Planning
Organization (the group that allocates highway and transit funds in the
Greater Boston Area).  This is a federally required document.  It summarizes
major expansion projects in the region and is updated every four years.  The
current version of the 25 year regional plan includes no major projects in
the Arlington/Belmont/Cambridge area.

Some tentative observations about where we are:

1)      After the dramatic and costly Big Dig, there is little federal
political appetite for major projects in Massachusetts.  

2)      In part because of the Big Dig, we have under-funded maintenance of
highway and transit systems statewide.  As a result, the bulk of anticipated
scarce transportation funds are expected to be allocated to the maintenance
and operation of our existing highway and transit assets.  On the transit
side, expansion projects that are likely to go forward in the next decade
are those that are mandated by legal commitments, but not much else.

3)      On the issue of transit expansion, there is little reason to believe
that either a Red Line extension or a bus based extension would
substantially alleviate local traffic problems.

        The current capacity of the garage at Alewife is about 2500 cars.
If the state were able to site a similar huge garage on Route 128 some place
and serve it with a bus or rail extension of the Red Line, we could hardly
expect to intercept more than a few thousand vehicle trips per day.  Yet
there are approximately 40,000 vehicle trips per day in each direction on
Route 2 between 128 and Alewife.  And, of course, because much of the local
congestion in the Alewife area derives from traffic with many dispersed
origins and destinations, transit can only substitute for a small portion of
the vehicle trips causing the congestion.  

Note also that if a remote garage were served by a bus to Alewife, it is by
no means obvious that enough people would be willing to pay to park in the
garage to support the costs of the garage. Factors that would discourage use
of such a facility include the fact that people would be asked to transfer
to another vehicle only to return to the traffic congestion at Alewife to
access the Red Line.  Commuters hate to transfer vehicles.

4)      On the issue of highway expansion (which no one is proposing) there
is no way to meaningfully improve service between the Alewife Brook
Parkway/Rt. 2 signal and the Eliot Bridge without addressing the whole
string of intersections along the route.   There are no easy fixes.  Adding
capacity in this stretch of road would require a local big dig that is
financially unrealistic and would draw substantial local opposition.

5)      There is a history of strong local opposition, both to transit
expansion (Red Line to 128) and to highway expansion.  This history is well
known to state, regional, and local planners.  The fact that there are no
major projects planned for this area is in part because of the innate
complexity of the issues involved and because involved local parties have
not been able to agree on a common set of priorities.

6)      It really isn’t obvious that a big improvement in highway capacity
from Route 2 through Alewife to Boston would benefit the people of Belmont,
Arlington and Cambridge at all — it would likely draw more cars on to
streets which we currently use and are heavily loaded already.  Most
importantly, Storrow Drive is at capacity (mercifully, not too far above
capacity).  It is hard to imagine a scenario in which improving Route 2
significantly would not push Storrow further beyond capacity.

7)      It may nonetheless be worthwhile to consider transit improvements
for the convenience of people in the district.  Better service to our
communities can only be good.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.