Thursday, June 24, 2010

Riverside direct access from 128

Let's start with the bottom line: direct access to the proposed development at Riverside Station seems to make no sense.

The developer (credibly) claims that there is no technically viable plan for access to the site; any new access would have to go through the site to Grove Street. (More on this in a moment.) The neighborhood-proposed access to the site, even if it were technically viable, eats up a lot of real estate. On an already difficult site, it doesn't seem possible that direct access would leave enough lot for a commercially viable site.

Since direct access from 128 is either technically or economically not feasible, making support for the development contingent on direct access doesn't really make sense. There are a ton of good reasons to oppose development at Riverside. That it doesn't include access from 128 is not one of them.

So, what about the controversy over the developer's presentation, which was the subject of this week's TAB editorial? The other night, the developer's traffic engineer presented a series of slides showing what direct access to the site from 128 would look like. As I understood it, the purpose of the slides was to show the neighborhood what direct access from 128 would mean, given the technical limitations. Current highway dictate that access from the exit ramp could not start for 800 feet or so from the highway. And, the ramp would have to support a certain exit speed, which in turn dictates the radius of the curve. Which means that the ramp would not be able to end in the development, but would go through the site and terminate on Grove St. Then there are a number of other conditions that culminate in this new access replacing the existing exit, which would require another ramp that would go over the Charles River basin.

It's important to keep in mind that, on this point, the interests of the developer and the neighborhood are in opposition. Access to the site from 128 would be hugely expensive and eat into the opportunity to develop. So, skepticism is in order. It is appropriate to push back on (and have independently reviewed) any of the developer's claims.

But, the claim of bad faith? The neighborhood wanted the developer to evaluate direct access. The developer met with city and state officials and reported back that Mass DOT gave an unofficial thumbs down. (Is it reasonable to have the developer invest in a full MEPA review to get an official thumbs down?) The developer explained pretty clearly what direct access would look like -- in light of technical constraints -- and how it would not be any better for the neighborhood.

It appears that the accusation of bad faith arises because the developer didn't start the direct-access analysis with the neighborhood's proposal and, instead, treated the issue from a clean sheet of paper: if there were to be direct access, what would it look like. On this, the traffic engineer was probably damned if he did, damned if he didn't. Were direct-access proponents going to be pleased if the developer's traffic engineer had picked their proposal apart piece-by-piece?

For a number of reasons, it is going to be very difficult -- if not impossible -- to design an acceptable development. So far, the developer isn't there yet. But, direct access is no longer a meaningful issue. For either commercial or technical reasons -- or both -- it isn't going to happen. It's now a red herring.

1 comment:

Nathan Phillips said...

I wonder if increased congestion on Grove St. around the development could actually lessen congestion in Auburndale, by making cut-through commuting on Grove/Lexington less desirable. Kind of like how turbulence can block flow in a water pipe. I can envision it, but have learned enough about counter-intuitive results from roadway changes to be wary of my own thinking.