Timid transportation "proposals" at BRA meeting

More than 100 years ago a new chapter in public transportation began when a subway car from Allston descended into a Boston tunnel. It was September 1, 1897 and Boston was home to North America's first subway system.

Early in the 20th century it was possible to build bridges to connect Allston/Brighton, Cambridge, and Watertown. In 1915 the Anderson Bridge was built connecting North Harvard Street and Cambridge. In the 1920s, the Western Ave Bridge, River Street Bridge, Weeks Footbridge, BU Bridge, and Arsenal Street Bridge were built. The last bridge to be built in this area was the Eliot Bridge in 1950.

Why was it possible to build so much 80 years ago? When there is so much more development planned in our future, why is there so little new transportation infrastructure being proposed?

Harvard's "big ideas" are amazingly small - a new road (Stadium Way) that runs parallel to Windom St from Cambridge St to North Harvard St. and somehow getting shuttle buses across Soldiers Field Road and over the Weeks Footbridge.

The City and their consultants didn't offer anything at Wednesday's meeting that seems even remotely close to easing the huge traffic problems that we have today or that we will have when 20,000 additional people live or work here. Harvard and the City don't seem to think the Mass Pike ramps should be improved, a regrettable flip-flop 3 years after writing in the North Allston Strategic Framework that we should "investigate new configurations of the Turnpike access ramps".

The presentation by the City's consultants was mostly a lot of colorful, schematic arrows and broad-brush suggestions like encouraging some traffic to use Lincoln Street instead of Western Ave. "Mobility hubs" sound cool, but we have some fundamental problems (like trying to get off the Mass Pike at rush hour, to name one of many) that you aren't going to solve with an internet-enabled kiosk in Barry's Corner.

It's not clear if there is anyone at City Hall is taking a strong leadership role on this subject. Transportation Commissioner Tom Tinlin made a brief speech at the beginning of the meeting and then left. Chief City Planner Kairos Shen didn't attend.

The leadership from Harvard has been equally lacking, despite the fact that "Green is the new Crimson"and that, according to Harvard's President "We all have an obligation to be stewards of the environment, and this is especially true of a university community."
As devout stewards of the environment, Harvard should get serious about the deterioration of urban air quality caused by vehicle exhaust that occurs on Harvard property (Harvard owns all the land under the Mass Pike tolls and ramps) and the air pollution caused by people commuting to its current and future campus.
It sounds lovely when Harvard say that its Allston campus of the future will prioritize "first the pedestrian, then bicycle and transit, and only last the automobile". But after Wednesday's meeting that sounds more like an empty slogan than a serious commitment. Harvard hopes that only 40% of people will drive to the new campus, but today's reality is that 72% of Harvard's Allston employees drive to work. To get there, it is going to take a lot more than kiosks, Stadium Way, and the hope that the Urban Ring will arrive in a decade or two.

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