Thursday, June 17, 2010

Making a real deal with the MBTA on Riverside

At another interesting community meeting about possible development at Riverside Station, transportation advocate Bill Aldrich had probably the best insight: why isn't there any improvement to transit included as part of a project at a T station? Why are we only concerned with cars, cars, cars? Bill specifically recommended restoring the connection between Riverside Station and the commuter rail line, a relatively small piece of work that would add options for folks in Lower Falls and Auburndale.

The larger question is how to consider the MBTA as a player in negotiations over the site. The developers are the front men for proposed development on the site, but it's the MBTA wants something from the city -- a zoning change and then special permit approval that will allow it to generate new revenue in the form of a ground lease. The city ought to extract some things from the MBTA in return. Not just concessions here or there over density, program, traffic management, &c. in the context of the development. But, commitments to make Newton's transit needs a priority.

There are four things that should be preconditions to the development:

  • Elimination or radical reduction in the required provision of commuter parking at Riverside
  • Reconnecting Riverside to the commuter rail line
  • Large(r) easement for walking and biking access along the Charles River Basin side of the site
  • Green light the Needham Street rail extension

The second and fourth make sense on their own merits, so it would not be much of a concession on the T's part. The third should be relatively easy. The first I've touched on previously, and I'll address again in more detail in the future. It's a meaningful sacrifice on the T's side, but also more consistent with what should be regional transportation planning goals.

The key is to stop thinking only about what Newton's requirements are with respect to the specific character of this development. The MBTA wants something from Newton. What does Newton want from the MBTA?


Anonymous said...

The Needham St rail extension just doesn't make sense since it spells the end of commuter rail service in that area, thus leading to a longer downtown commute...

Sean Roche said...

Never heard that. How so?

nmHz / Rhu said...

I know that there are tracks connecting Riverside to the commuter rail line, but I have trouble visualizing what service changes you mean by "reconnecting" them.

Anonymous said...

I agree, Sean. Newton should get something back from the MBTA. What exactly is the discussion, but certainly more consistent service on the D line and busses!

Adam said...

Pressing for public transit improvements as part of a Riverside development is smart for a whole bunch of reasons, but pressing for unrealistic projects will not serve the cause. As much as I'd like to see trolley restored throughout metropolitan Boston, ridership projections, central subway congestion, and the inability of the MBTA to handle the LRVs it already has make the Needham Street project a non-starter. The MBTA wants to continue to bustitute costly trolley service. Look no further than the Silver Line or Arborway line (or the A line and a much longer list, going further back) There are far more deserving projects in the pipeline seemingly going nowhere, like the Somerville extension, Urban Ring, etc.

Try to get a commuter bike path on Needham Street ROW instead, or find ways to make the D line service in Newton better -- a commuter rail connection could do just that, but I suspect it would be non trivial to do. Like the Needham line, this line operated as a commuter railroad "circuit" 100 years ago. Rhu has a good point -- has anyone ever worked out exactly how this would work with multi-modal transit?

Anonymous said...

What exactly is "the Needham Street rail extension" proposal? Does it involve extending commuter rail northeasterly from Needham Heights to add a stop in Newton? Thanks for anything more you can say about what this would involve.

Adam said...

Try googling "Needham Street Rail Extension". The first hit under includes a map. It would not change the commuter rail service, but instead would extend the green line along a new branch down the abandoned rail corridor toward the existing commuter rail terminus. I think three stops are proposed, along with rehabilitating a bridge over 128.

Anonymous said...

I do not know why the Green line Riverside station does not have a connection with the commuter line. It makes a lot of sense for travelers to save time and money commuting
from the Newton Brookline area. Instead of paying extra fare to go basically
all the way into Boston you not only spend twice or more but it probably increases
travel time by twice or more.