Monday, December 13, 2010

The bridge is out of the bag

Shots of the Lower Falls bridge now that it is fully stripped and painted and no longer in a baggie.

In the last shot, the wood under the tarp appears to be the new surface for the bridge.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Alderman Baker is good at what he does

Watching Lisle Baker at work last night, I couldn't help but wish that he and I shared the same values. More so than any of his colleagues, he's willing to say I'm not happy with what I see and I want an answer or change. He's civil. He's well-prepared.

Most importantly, he's patient and tenacious. He doesn't get discouraged or distracted if the first answer he gets is not an answer he likes.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Drive-thru open space

Though the rezoning that New England Development requested for the Chestnut Hill Square site will not obligate them to provide open space, there is universal recognition that open space is important enough that they ought to provide a little on a site that may include up to 100 residential units. It's important even if there end up being no residential units.

The open space provided is really inadequate. The measure of its inadequacy is the lengths NED goes to take credit for open space. Here's the open space map provided by NED:

A will probably be a nice little space. Too small to really act as a "garden" for the 100 residential units, but a real open space. Note, however, that it could only be open space. Squeezed between the apartment building to the right and the parking lot to the left, it's a leftover squib of land. There's no way it could be developed.

B is a pedestrian plaza. It's all hardscape. And, its virtues are likely oversold. But, it's arguably open space.

C and D are a stretch. They are primarily passages between the two buildings on either end of the parking lot. Such passages are a good enough feature that we should overlook the fact that they too are oversold as open space, in this case as potential gathering spaces.

E is too small to matter. I hope that it functions as a lively outdoor cafe, as advertised.

It's F and G, though, that really take the cake. They are bigger together than either the garden or the plaza. Take them off and the paucity of open space would be glaring. You can understand the developer's desire to have them on the map. But, calling them open space is an insult to the city.

Take a closer look. Click on the picture to see it full sized. Then come back. The unshaded part is F.

It's the world's first drive-thru open space! A car-centric innovation brought to you first in Newton.

It's part of the driveway. It includes parking spaces. Handicap, to be sure, but parking spaces. You can't get to a a quarter of the upper lot parking spaces without driving through one or the other of these so-called open spaces. No one will or could linger without getting run over. You might as well call all of the parking lot open space.

Again, there's no explicit legal requirement to provide open space. But, the developer wants a zoning change and a special permit to build what it's building. And open space is a quid pro quo for that very valuable benefits that the zoning and special permit confer. So, the board order (in its draft form), includes language stating that the site has open space. And, by recommending the board order, six of the city's alderman consider this open space. Paved. Parking lot. Driveway.


Sidewalks on Boylston St.

At the Land Use meeting on Tuesday, city attorney Ouida Young got into a heated exchange with Alderman Deb Crossley about a draft board order finding related to pedestrian accommodations. At one point, Young said that Route 9 is not pedestrian-friendly and never will be.

The comment is unfortunate on at least four levels.

First of all, it's not accurate. There are parts of the corridor that are quite pedestrian-friendly. Here's the situation in front of the Capital Grille. Decent sidewalk. Huge grass berm. Wide shoulder before the travel lane.

Second, it is dismissive of or ignorant of the fact that, regardless of the quality of sidewalk, people use it.

Not caring about pedestrian accommodations is a real screw-you to the people who use those sidewalks by people who only drive on Route 9 and cannot imagine walking beside it.

Third, it fails to acknowledge that the Chestnut Hill Square proposal doesn't just fail to provide good pedestrian accommodations, it makes the existing conditions much worse. Here's a picture of the sidewalk in front of the site. Again, wide shoulder, a grass berm, decent sidewalk.

Here's a picture from NED's materials. NED has since agreed to put a berm between the sidewalk and the roadway, but the berm is no wider, the sidewalk is no wider, and the shoulder will now be an active turning lane for a large portion of traffic into the site. Bottom line: the situation is worse.

In front of David's, as the NED rendering shows, it's much worse. The roadway widening eliminates or (possibly) reduces a very wide berm.

Fourth, it's not consistent with what many of us understand is the city's policies on promoting pedestrian mobility. It is critical that we make it easier and more attractive to walk around our city. Car traffic is destroying our quality of life. It's killing the planet. The infrastructure needed to support our car dependence creates sprawl. We have to take every opportunity possible to actively promote walking.

No, Route 9 is not the most attractive place in town to take a stroll. But, it is a tremendous opportunity, nonetheless. There are people, lots of people. It's the densest residential area in the entire city. There are destinations. The Mall at Chestnut Hill, the Chestnut Hill Shopping Center (lower mall), the shops on Boylston across from the shopping center, the Atrium, Barnes & Noble and Milton's, Hammond Pond, MIshkan Tefila, Webster Conservation, Longwood station, &c.

If we connect those people and places, if we create a network of really good pedestrian accommodations, we can get people out of their cars. Not all of them. Not all the time. But enough to make a difference.

Route 9 and its traffic is an impediment, but there is no reason to give up on making a walkable district. In fact, if anything, Route 9 and its traffic should be a constant reminder of why we need to promote walking.

So, it's incredibly discouraging to hear from city staff, the lead negotiator on the board order that's going to define New England Development's responsibilities, that promoting pedestrian mobility on Boylston St. is a waste of time.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Land Use fail on Chestnut Hill Square

On the substance, there's lots to say about tonight's 6-2 Land Use vote to recommend a board order granting a special permit to New England Development, but here are three little bits of atmosphere that give a sense of why there wasn't a better outcome:

  • The board order includes and makes reference to a site plan that counts as open space active parts of the site driveway, as in space that cars will regularly drive through
  • City Attorney Ouida Young got into a heated debate with Alderman Deb Crossley, arguing that Route 9 is not pedestrian-friendly and won't be pedestrian-friendly
  • The three Ward 6 alderman were non-participants in the discussion, despite the site's proximity to and impact on the neighborhood
A thoroughly discouraging outcome.