Mayor’s Casey comments could stir up trouble

Mayor Thomas Menino came out this week in favor of an

Both the JP Patch and the JP Gazette posted headlines yesterday quoting the mayor as the latest bridge supporter, despite his administration’s tacit support of the project for the last 14 months.

“Menino said sometimes people have to think outside the box and his vision would have the overpass being rebuilt with green space underneath it,” reported the Jamaica Plain Gazette, paraphrasing the mayor. “That would connect Arnold Arboretum to the Franklin Park, creating one continuous line of green space.”

According to the mayor’s office this morning, the tenor of the mayor’s comments, including a reference to the Casey Arborway Project as the “second Big Dig” were more humorous than serious. Additionally, the office said that the mayor understands that the state has gone through a community process and that he respects that.

Nevertheless, the Boston Cyclists Union is asking local residents to join in a friendly letter campaign to remind the mayor that the at-grade solution has strong support in the neighborhoods. Divisive words at this time have the potential to do harm to the community design process now taking place, particularly when a minority in the neighborhood are rumored to be considering actions to block progress on the at-grade solution. The Mayor’s e-mail is mayor@cityofboston.gov and the phone number is 617-635-4500.

In contrast to the mayor’s comments, the Design Advisory Group (DAG) is beginning to dig into the design of the at-grade concept with verve. At the last meeting, DAG members scribbled over large paper plans of the project’s various open spaces, penciling in suggestions for picnic tables and arbors, public art and skate parks, commemorative statues and bicycle desire lines. The Boston Cyclists Union passed along an intersection design from Northeastern University Professor Peter Furth that has proven particularly popular.

It also appears unlikely that the Boston Transportation Department would pull an about-face after attending 22 separate meetings on the Casey Arborway project and never speaking against the at-grade plan.

Nevertheless neighborhood activists were initially angered by Menino’s words when they were posted on the JP Patch website. The Patch story apparently overlooked the mayor’s respect for the decision already in place as it did not appear in the story, and did not depict the mayor’s Big Dig reference as the joke the mayor’s office said it was intended to be.

“Sounds like the mayor wants to drive unimpeded from Boston to Hyde Park and doesn’t want Jamaica Plain to get in his way,” commented JP resident Kevin Handly on the JP Patch website’s story.

“Shocking words from the man who said ‘The car is no longer the king in Boston,’” wrote Liam Sullivan of JP in the same publication. “The at-grade plan *is* thinking outside the box. Rebuilding a highway overpass at Forest Hills is part of the same high-capacity/high-speed auto-centric mindset dating back to the 1950s.”

Bridge advocates also chimed in on the news website.

“As soon as cyclists and pedestrians see the reality of the state’s plan (still coming to light), there will be an erosion of support for the at-grade plan,” wrote David Hannon of JP.

(Here’s the concept so far, let us know if you support it or not. More articles on the project can be found elsewhere on this website.)

Several DAG members are concerned about the possibility of further delays. If the community design process is even slowed by a month, they reason, valuable time to give input on important design decisions will be lost. As it is participants in the DAG are following an aggressive meeting schedule to meet the deadline thanks to previous delays. And, if there is a considerable delay, the project will stall beyond the October 2016 Accelerated Bridge Program spending deadline and be left to search for new sources of funding.

The Accelerated Bridge Program (ABP) does not have a deadline to finish individual projects like the Casey or other bridge repairs. Rather, it has a set deadline when all of the funds within it must be spent, and there are many hands grabbing from the fund. There are 432 structurally deficient bridges in the Commonwealth, including behemoths like the Longfellow Bridge that could certainly run into cost overages. Only 167 bridges have been advertised for repair so far by the ABP.

It’s hard to imagine any scenario in which the near $2 billion in the ABP construction and design fund would not be spent by October 2016, regardless of whether or not the Casey Arborway’s construction has begun by that time.

A change in design would mean delays of at least a year, leaving the future bridge with “continuous greenway” underneath, or yet another design, which would mean by necessity hunting funding in an environment when even the smallest projects can take 5 to 10 years to fund and longer to complete. By that time the aging Casey Overpass could crumble.

By our count, 200 of the comment letters on the Casey delivered by the deadline after the Nov. 2011 MassDOT public meeting were for the at-grade solution, while only 69 expressed support for another bridge. The Boston Globe and Jamaica Plain Gazette both editorialized in favor of at-grade.

Out of respect to the mayor’s opinion, the Boston Cyclists Union is also offering to meet with him and his staff to discuss the details and the reasons why he may want to support it.

9 comments to Mayor’s late Casey comments could stir up trouble

  • Quentin Regestein

    I wrote the folloqing message to Mayor Menino:

    Dear Mayor Menino,

    Were you to advocate a green space without a bridge at the Arborway, you would support local residents’ wishes, encourage more commuters to quit cars in favor of public transportation or bicycles, thus diminishing traffic, noise and air pollution.

    Constuction contracts could be redirected towards projects to further improve Boston’s livability, making people and businesses even more eager to live here.

    Thank you for considering this,

  • I followed Pete’s suggestion on JP Patch and sent the following message the other day:

    Dear Mr. Mayor:

    I’m disappointed in your comments regarding the state’s plans to remove the Casey Overpass and revitalize the Forest Hills neighborhood. I live in Forest Hills, and like many of my neighbors believe that the permanent removal of a highway overpass through our neighborhood will offer many benefits including improved facilities for bicycling, walking, and public transit, open space that will reconnect the Emerald Necklace, and possibilities for residential and commercial development near the T station that just won’t happen in the presence of an elevated highway. You once said “The car is no longer the king in Boston,” but your comments on Forest Hills seem to reflect an autocentric mindset that prioritizes high-capacity/high-speed auto use over other forms of transportation and the needs of the neighborhood. Frankly, this mindset is rather dated and been proven detrimental to urban living. It’s disappointing to see the mayor of a great city like Boston espouse these dated and discredited views.

    A number of organizations such at the Boston Cyclists Union and The Emerald Necklace Conservancy have supported the at-grade plan as have at least 2/3’s of the residents of Jamaica Plain after exhaustive meetings on the subject. I hope you will enter into conversation with myself and other citizens who support the at-grade plan and come around to understanding why it will be such a great benefit to Forest Hills and the City of Boston. We can use your support to work with the state and other agencies to make the best future for all of us.

    Thank you for your consideration.

  • Dave

    Although I see how the Mayors comments are counter-productive, I also do see the sarcastic and dry humor in his statement. Afterall, it is preposterous to suggest a park in the shadow of an elevated roadway/bridge. Interestingly, the opposite can possibly work. An elevated platform/park above the traffic. The Brooklyn Bridge offers an example.

  • robert fine

    Now the mayor is the bad guy? Don’t forget who made the initial commitment to the bike program four years ago. Personally, I’m all right with the at grade plan if it’s truly based on accurate data but I have to give credit to Menino for getting this issue right, albeit too late. Then again, couldn’t this be a political maneuver to appease the people who disagreed with the states decision to go with the at grade option? I’m quite sure Menino doesn’t care about getting stuck in traffic going home to Hyde Park, but he is concerned about coalescing all of Boston’s neighborhoods to work as a whole functioning city. As a resident of Hyde Park, I view the Casey overpass as an intersection of Roslindale, Mattapan, Roxbury, Hyde Park and JP. It’s a transportation hub so people can get to work or play via bus, bike, car, or cab. Next time your the Longwood Medical Center getting a vital procedure, ask the nurse how he/she commutes. Better yet, ask the people at your local coffee shop or cafe how they trudged across the city to get to work at 7AM so you could sip your double latte or chicken burrito, extra salsa please. Let’s look at this area for what it clearly is most usefull as, not for what you wish it to be. Given how much greenspace JP has per captia compared to other parts of the city, why is even a legitimate concern to add more open space? Some JP people are starting to show what their true intentions were the whole time which is to cut off transportation routes so as to aggrandize their own patch of paradise. Move on to Rutherford Ave., don’t waste your time being insincere.

  • rosirat

    @robert:

    I don’t think people would have gotten all worked up if the mayor simply said that the bridge option might have been less disruptive to traffic and transit, but he didn’t. he said something ridiculous about how a new park under a bridge would be a nicer place for all the sketchy characters who currently hang out there. Have you ever waited for a bus there late at night? mostly it’s people looking tough so they don’t get accosted – but wait there 30 minutes for a bus (with not a single T personnel in sight) at 11pm and tell me you weren’t just a little bit tense. I think we’re all hoping that the at-grade solution will help turn around what is an otherwise blighted/struggling area of JP. These comments make it seem like he doesn’t understand this neighborhood at all.

  • Charles A. O'Hara

    As a bike rider and motorist who uses the Casey overpass on occasion, the few times when I’ve encountered the closing of the overpass for repairs, etc. the back up at Forest Hills intersection was tremendous. I find it difficult to imagine how an at – grade plan could handle the number of cars that pass through this intersection.
    An overpass with a pedestrian – bike path would seem to satisfy the needs of most bikers and would seem to be as safe as having to deal with the at-grade traffic lights.
    Any solution to the Casey problem should take into consideration the concerns of all who use this busy intersection.

  • AWilliams

    I’m not sold on the at-grade solution, because I don’t think they’ve done enough research on traffic patterns from Hyde Park Ave, Washington, Mattapan, and the Jway. I regularly walk this route from Hyde Park Ave, with my daughter to get to Center Street and the parkway. This space should not just be considered an area for people to “pass through to go around the city” which is what it is considered now. It should be a gateway area to JP proper, the bike path, as well as a conduit for the cars. I am not looking forward to crossing 6 lanes of traffic with my daughter, particularly when you consider that most traffic light systems are not timed appropriately for pedestrians in spaces like this. You can call me a skeptic, but people don’t even go the speed limit NOW on the Jamaica Way or coming from Mattapan or Roslindale. Where are they re-routing the school bus dropoffs to Forest Hills (I haven’t seen plans for that yet)? People run the red light coming down Hyde Park Ave near Forest Hills station all the time. In the 5 years I’ve lived at Forest Hills, I’ve witnessed several accidents between vehicles and almost-accidents with pedestrians and speeding cars (including with children) on Hyde Park Ave and near South Street. Add to that the new construction going in on Washington and traffic is going to increase. I don’t believe the at-grade solution is going to work without creating a safe passage for pedestrians to JP Center and the bike path. Cars are still going to be king in that area…with either existing plan. They are going to need to design traffic calming mechanisms on all of the roads converging on that site for it to work and I haven’t seen any plans that address the outer ring of the area coming from Roslindale and Mattapan. I don’t think they hired a real (or qualified) urban designer for this plan and I don’t think they’ve done effective traffic analysis for either plan.

  • Allan Ihrer

    As a member of the Casey Arborway DAG, the Boston Cyclists Union does a great disservice to its members, to the citizens of Boston, and to the neighbors of Forest Hills when it advocates for less information, less discussion, and less questioning of MassDOT and its subcontracted engineers regarding the Casey Arborway.

    If you look at the Casey Arborway traffic model data that the Freedom Of Information Act request recently liberated, then you will see there are numerous problems in the functioning of the roadway. In addition to needlessly congesting traffic, there are problems that will cycling and walking slower and more dangerous than necessary. Frequently where there are problems solutions can be found, but only if you look and think. Yes it involves some work, but the issues and data at hand are generally simple and are not beyond the understanding of most of the DAG participants.

    I encourage the BCU to engage and lobby for this beneficial work to be done now rather, than continuing to work to prevent it. 9 months have already been frittered away, but it’s not too late if we work together and in good faith. The Casey Arborway will be there for many generations, we should be willing to spend a month or two working to make it as good as possible for all its users?

  • Pete Stidman (Union Director)

    Dear Mr. Ihrer,

    With respect, as a participant in just about every DAG meeting and one who has gotten to know the consultants and state engineers working on this project well, I was not surprised at all by the news that other versions of the traffic projections existed. Why? Because this would be standard operating procedure in any project of this size. Traffic engineers often play out several scenarios when analyzing future traffic. It is not a perfect art, and they are motivated to cover their butts no matter what the future brings. I find it encouraging that they played around with the possibilties—-it would only make their conclusions stronger.

    What would anyone guess is the worst nightmare for a traffic engineer, career wise? If you guessed presiding over a project that turned out to cause congestion, then you guessed correctly. The state’s brightest both within and without MassDOT are looking at this and agreeing it works at-grade. If they are wrong, they know very well their careers will suffer for it. With all due respect Mr. Ihrer, what qualifications of yours would override the decision of this brain trust?

    I take personal umbrage at the idea you propose that the Union advocates for “less information.” Quite the contrary. The Union has put out reams of information to a much wider audience than would have heard of the project, while other DAG members seemed to take the meaning of “representation” to mean representing their own opinion. The Union has also hosted a number of discussions as well as a speaking panel, handed out hundreds of informational flyers, and organized other events that bring residents together. We even did a video on Youtube. And of course, the Union has asked hundreds of questions about this project by now. What I believe is bothering you, old friend, is that we do not agree with your assessment. From every measure I can surmise, I am reading that the majority of the neighborhood desires to move forward, not backward as you suggest. A $58 million investment in the neighborhood is nothing to dither with, and slowing down the process would jeopardize it.

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