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?