After nearly two years of regional study, the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) released a groundbreaking transportation report with several public and private partners – a report that calls for an extension of the Silver Line through Everett and for an emphasis on getting people onto mass transit and out of their vehicles.
The Lower Mystic Regional Working Group was born out of the permitting debates regarding the Encore Boston Harbor casino and the traffic mitigation that it required. As a takeaway to that process, State Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack was called on to lead a group that included leaders from Everett, Charlestown, Boston, Somerville, Encore, Federal Realty (Assembly Row), and state agencies to plan for how to address transportation for the casino and all other developments in the fast-growing region.
Now, two years later and many hours of meetings later, the final report with many key recommendations has been issued. It came during a press conference at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Charlestown on Thursday, March 14.
MAPC Director Marc Draisson led off the report by highlighting key recommendations. Those recommendations included:
•Extending the Silver Line BRT on a dedicated right-of-way from Chelsea to Everett and into Sullivan Square – where it would potentially branch off into two lines, one going to North Station, and the other going to Kendall Square.
•Reducing vehicle trips to reduce congestion: by providing improved transit services and transit-oriented parking policies, the numbers of auto trips to and from the area can be reduced.
•Making the Orange Line the backbone of the area’s mobility: the goal is to possibly achieve three minute headways in the near future (headway goals are currently around five minutes), and that would attract 24,000 new riders and reduce auto travel by 2 percent in the area.
•Improving feeder bus routes to the Orange Line and making dedicated bus lanes and faster service.
•Land use policies, such as parking, have to change: the report says when transit is paired with market-rate commuter parking rates or the reduction in residential parking requirements, it produces the most significant benefits against congestion. Using these strategies could reduce single-occupant vehicle trips by 45,000, which is a 5 percent mode share reduction.
•Making a complete walking and biking network: to be successful, the regional bike paths need to be connected and complimented by a pedestrian- and bike-friendly local street network.
Pollack said it was a great report and one that piggybacked on two other recent state reports – the Commission of the Future of Transportation and the MBTA’s Focus 40 report. Together with the Lower Mystic, the three reports hit on some of the same ideas, she said.
“It is not an accident there is so much consistency between the approach the Lower Mystic takes and the approach the Commission takes,” she said. “One of the things they both looked at was to continue to put transit at the center of our transportation planning even as we look at a future that may have autonomous vehicles or all-electrified transportation systems.
“The Lower Mystic Working Group focused on all the ways people need to get where they are going using buses and using the Orange Line and, yes, driving as well,” she continued. “I think this report really embodies the philosophy the Commission talked about in being in the business of moving people and not moving vehicles.”
Mayor Carlo DeMaria said he is concerned about the future of the region, and said now is the time to really make sure the Lower Mystic is well-planned and using different strategies to get people out of their cars.
“As you all know we will be experiencing lots more vehicles coming into our community and into Sullivan Square,” he said. “That causes me great concerns. I actually have sleepless nights. The traffic really keeps me up at night when it comes to what people will think about getting through Everett. That’s why we’ve done bus lanes, bike lanes, a pedestrian footbridge that Encore is looking to put in for the City…This report talks about reliability. People don’t use the bus system because they sit in traffic behind thousands of cars. Meanwhile, they should have their own lane. We have to think about how we can give them the reliable lanes to get into work, give them the bike paths to get into the city. Everett and Somerville are part of Boston. This report is wonderful.”
He suggested that casino mitigation funds should be focused on creating more bus lanes, perhaps completing the dedicated lane on Broadway so it can run all the way from Malden to Haymarket Station.
“Those funds should go in and around the resort,” he said. “It should go to help Sullivan Square, to help Rutherford Avenue, to help the bike lanes, and the bus lanes. You put a bus lane on Rutherford Ave and connect it to a bus lane to the City of Everett, you’re getting people from the entire length of Broadway in Everett. Hopefully the City of Malden comes on with it and creates a regional bus lane to get people out of their cars…If we can do a reliable bus lane, that will relieve a lot of cars coming from Everett to Sullivan Station.”
Also speaking during the conference was Boston Transportation Director Gina Fiandaca and Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone.
The next step would now be to get funding over the next 20 years to implement many of the changes.
“The fact everyone signed the report shows they are a high priority to advance these with design work and looking at implementation,” said Draisson. An immediate next step identified in the plan was to begin drawing up designs for transit improvements and new BRT routes – which includes the Silver Line extension proposal.