Good news for long term transportation efforts today, June 26th: the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) voted to endorse the Central Transportation Planning Staff FFY 15 Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP.) Included in the FFY 15 UPWP is a study to assess current and future constraints of our transportation system in the urban core.
The Core Capacity Constraints Study has three main components: 1) it will document current conditions on our roadways and mass transit systems 2) the study will build upon the first step and look to a future year to identify possible constraints with our current infrastructure based on modeled patterns of development and 3) examine possible transit investments that could mitigate the identified current and future constraints. Identifying our shortfalls will help long term planning of our roadways and public transportation systems.
The inclusion of this study in the UPWP is the culmination of two years of efforts by Senator Brownsberger and partners in the legislature and the community.
We are looking forward to the results of this study as we continue to make the case for investments in and improvements to our existing transportation infrastructure.
Office of State Senator William N. Brownsberger
This study will lay a foundation for our continued advocacy to improve the Green Line and to expand vehicular access to Back Bay and Fenway from the Mass Pike.
It will also shed light on possible opportunities in Back Bay and Fenway to improve park lands at the expense of traffic carrying capacity (on the Bowker and Storrow).
Hello, Senator Brownsberger:
I’m sorry I couldn’t stay at the BPL on Monday evening, and in particular to hear your comments. However, Barbara Papesch, my former wife, gave me a very short summary of your comments which she interpreted to be primarily concerned with traffic convenience rather than environmental quality of the Back Bay neighborhood.
Let me respectfully ask you to reconsider your reasons for prioritizing traffic over environmental quality by pointing out 2 issues:
1. The Bowker overpass was a gross violation of the spirit of the Emerald Necklace in the mid-60s, when transportation issues trumped all other concerns. Isn’t it time to undo this mistake?
2. MA-DOT is missing a major opportunity to test traffic flow indeterminacy during its Bowker renovation project by not closing the Bowker down completely, which would be a quantifiable case study of the traffic consequences of a no-Bowker scenario.
Peter Papesch, AIA
Co-chair, BSA Sustainability Education Committee
Former (founding) chair & member of USGBC-MA EDCOM
Co-chair, Back Bay Green Initiative
Member of BSA-COTE
I completely get the idea that we need to restore the Emerald Necklace and I very much hope we can do so. As you know, I commute to work mostly by bicycle and MBTA and I have no love of automobiles as a mode of transportation.
Unfortunately, I think that the numbers that MassDOT showed us in January conclusively show that without adding new turnpike ramps — a long-term concept — we need the Bowker to keep much of our city functioning. There are a great many trips that people need to make that cannot be realistically accommodated by bike or transit means or by other routes.
I understand the appeal of a closure as an experiment and I initially favored that, but MassDOT’s numbers persuaded me otherwise. I think that a closure would likely be a disaster and actually would very likely backfire on any efforts to eliminate the Bowker over the long term.
I also know that in other cases where traffic planners have predicted disaster upon removal of a roadway they have been wrong, but in this case, I believe that they are very likely right. Each case is different.
Pleas also ask that the study address the current Red Line capacity issues, as well as exploring the possibility of a new commuter rail stop in the Concord Avenue/Alewife area of Cambridge. With thousands of new housing units currently being built, old estimates of ridership are no longer valid, and a new study could draw attention to the need to expand transit options and capacity in this new neighborhood.
Thank you for your hard work,
Well taken, Doug. Cambridge is in the study scope and the Red Line is a major fixed transit asset which would also be in scope.
There are two important things to remember going into this study:
(1) Traffic volumes have been going down regionally (and nationally) for at least 10 years. Most modeling done by traffic engineers however it still assuming growth. If you model for growth despite traffic volumes actually going down, you’re going to end up planning for a lot more space for cars than you really need to (at the expense of space for everyone else).
(2) Development doesn’t have to result in additional car traffic. Cambridge’s Kendall Square is the perfect example. From a 2012 Boston Globe article: “Despite the rapid expansion in and around Kendall Square in the last decade — the neighborhood absorbed a 40 percent increase in commercial and institutional space, adding 4.6 million square feet of development — automobile traffic actually dropped on major streets, with vehicle counts falling as much as 14 percent.” If the modeling that this core capacity study does assumes traffic growth because of new development, that will also result in planning for more space for cars than necessary. Longwood has a robust Transportation Demand Management (TDM) program, which incentivizes people to use non-car modes to travel to and from the area. The BRA’s polices also minimize the amount of off-street parking built with new development to respond to the fact that fewer people are driving and the fact that they don’t want these new developments to generate a lot of car traffic.
So while I do think it’s worthwhile to study the core capacity of private vehicles and transit in the core, it’s essential that we use the right models to try to predict the future that is likely to occur given current trends and development policies. Otherwise, we are going to hamper what kind of improvements we can make to our infrastructure for improving the quality of life for PEOPLE (for example taking down the Bowker Overpass) and making our streets and parks more pedestrian, bike, and transit friendly.
I also feel strongly that given current downward traffic trends and the money that is available right now, repairing the Bowker is a waste of time and money and will not only cause a great disruption to those who live around it. Using the repair money to start moving towards a Bowker-less future would be far more wise. I don’t believe we need to complete the core capacity study before making this decision. And even if the core capacity study does say that the Bowker is needed for traffic reasons (which I suspect it won’t), do you think that’s any more likely to convince people to spend millions more to rebuild it completely when that time comes. The vision that nearly everyone has for the Charlesgate is that of what it once was, a beautiful park that connects the Emerald Necklace to the Charles River, one that worked for everyone: people on foot, on bike, and in cars. As it is today, it’s all about the cars, and even with the new proposed path for bikes and peds, it’s still not going to be a place where people want to spend any significant amount of time.
Thank you, Charlie.
Your points are both totally well taken. Well planned development — housing near employment — can reduce traffic, and I think we are seeing some of that on Boylston Street right now. Additionally, we need to be very thoroughly critical of all assumptions.
My personal hope is that we can assemble a combination of development strategy, transit improvements and turnpike access improvements that would allow us to restore the Emerald Necklace at Charlesgate. I totally get that vision. I hope we can bring the pieces of it together!
Will, I agree with and wish to emphasize Charlie’s point about traffic projections predicting growth where none occurs. We need to be sure we’re not wasting money or quality-of-life planning for a future that isn’t actually coming.
See for example http://usa.streetsblog.org/2013/12/17/study-transpo-agencies-are-terrible-at-predicting-traffic-levels/
Got it. These cautions are very well taken!
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