For years folks in Mattapan, Milton and thereabouts have been working on extending the Neponset Greenway from Dorchester’s Central Avenue through to Mattapan Square, where it would connect to a path along Truman Parkway and on into Hyde Park. Last year the two communities concluded a sixteen-month public planning process with the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and selected a preferred plan for the path, but a week ago it became clear that that preferred plan was not completely kosher with the MBTA.
At issue is an at-grade crossing of the Ashmont-Mattapan High Speed Line. The High Speed Line’s name is vestigial from the days when it was state of the art, but today it is a bit of a working antique tacked on to the end of the Red Line. It runs the older ultra-reliable PCC trolley cars that were generally built between 1936 and 1952.
Despite the fact that the line already has six at-grade crossings along it’s 2.6 mile route, MBTA general manager Rich Davey told the Dorchester Reporter that “it’s the T’s preference to work with DCR and the community to find other alternatives and there certainly have to be other alternatives other than an at-grade crossing.”
While noting that the T has not made a final decision yet, Davey cited safety concerns. He said there have been five crashes of some kind along the Mattapan line in the past 16 months, and 32 crashes of some kind along the Green Line in the same time period. The union is currently making inquiries with the MBTA to discover the nature of these crashes, and any others that may have occurred over the last three years, in order to shed some light on the issue.
For cyclists and pedestrians, at least one of the “other options” available appears more dangerous than an at-grade crossing of a slow-moving trolley line. It includes ending the trail at River Street, which would require riders to brave traffic down that street and through Mattapan Square, a vast stretch of pavement where the car is still king. A sign facing Milton from the entrance of the square still bears the legend “No Bicycles Allowed.”
A second option is indeed more tranquil, but less viable politically, less beautiful and includes much less of Mattapan. It would be to run the path along the MBTA tracks through Milton and past Capen Street, where several neighbors are opposed to the idea. This route would not follow the Neponset River that many in Mattapan and Milton would like access to, and would not have easy access for Mattapan residents.
“We’re really upset about it,” Vivien Morris of the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition (a union partner) told the Reporter. “This is an issue that’s been going on where Mattapan in particular has been given the short end of the stick for 20 years. We felt that we were finally somewhat close to positive developments, and then to have it dismissed out of hand is worse than heartbreaking; it’s completely unfair.”
Advocates in Mattapan, including Morris and her colleagues, have begun raising awareness about the plan and asking the MBTA to reconsider its position. The Boston Cyclists Union is working with these local groups the Boston Natural Areas Network, and Bike Milton, and plans to organize Mattapan cyclists in support of the path. If you live nearby, would use the path, and would like to get active on this campaign, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.