Changing the Mindset: BRT, Less Parking Can Equal a Better City, Mayor Says

At many meetings in City Hall – whether the Zoning Board, the Planning Board, the City Council, and sometimes even the Licensing Board – the city seems to be at a crossroads on the subject of automobiles.

Should there be more parking at developments, or shouldn’t there be?

Will people really take Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)?

Is a zero parking development crazy, or wise?

These questions and many more come up routinely at the various City boards as Everett transitions from a car-oriented middle suburb to something more urban and entirely different. And while those questions often linger at the various boards, make no mistake that Mayor Carlo DeMaria is resolute about his desire to minimize the use of automobiles, lessen the dependence on parking and build the city more densely.

It is, he said, the way of the future for great cities, and he believes Everett can be that kind of place.

“It’s all one big picture and it’s all connected,” he said this week, following another major philosophical impasse on parking and transportation at last week’s Planning Board. “We need to develop more housing, and we need better public transit to do that…We need to stop building parking lots and we need to give people reliable transit. It has to happen. Everett is going to have Gold Standard BRT, the Gondola to Assembly Row, bikes lanes, the Silver Line going from Everett to Cambridge and Somerville, a commuter rail stop at Market Forge in the Commercial Triangle…In 10 years, Everett is going to be a city where people will come and say, ‘How did you do it?’ We’re really trying to think outside the box and I credit my whole team at City Hall.”

Mayor DeMaria is hot off of a major regional win for BRT and his transportation vision. While many in the City debated parking at Everett City Hall, DeMaria was able to lobby Boston Mayor Martin Walsh to embrace the BRT idea and include it in the year’s-long Rutherford Avenue/Sullivan Square plan. That was introduced at a meeting in Charlestown last Tuesday, where new aspects of the BRT – perhaps center-lane BRT with two Charlestown stops – was introduced in that City’s 25 percent design plan for the critical corridor that connects to Everett.

“We are going to have gold standard, center lane BRT in Everett,” DeMaria said. “We have Boston and the governor and their consultants working with us…(Boston Mayor) Marty (Walsh) gets it and the governor gets it. We have to get these cars off of our streets and coming through our cities. Giving people better transit means we can build more housing – giving developers more room to build more stories and that gives them the ability to build more affordable housing. You get more people of mixed incomes living in the same building…That helps everyone. You can mix people’s incomes.”

He said that while they are planning to start their BRT at Glendale Square, they plan to design it all the way to the Malden line. He said Mayor Gary Christianson also is supportive and wants to look into the same service – all in the name of getting suburban commuters off the streets of the middle suburbs like Everett.

“Once you get it all the way up 99, then you have BRT on Rt. 1 with connections all along Rt. 1 getting people connected as far away as Newburyport, Saugus and Danvers,” he said. “That will take thousands of cars off our streets.”

A long-time pet peeve of Mayor DeMaria is also the environmental implications of building so much parking in Everett – and the City policies in the past that pushed people to pave over green space and build parking.

“In the old days people would want to convert their two-family into six units, and they would say they needed 12 parking spaces,” he said. “They responded by paving over all their grass, flowers and gardens to make a parking lot in their backyards – leaving us with stormwater issues.”

Beyond the neighborhoods, DeMaria said Everett should be on the cutting edge in its downtown. He said cities on the move are taking parking away from their downtowns and putting gardens in front of the businesses – making things more inviting, more friendly to pedestrians. That, he said, is a vision he would like to see in Everett.

“It’s that kind of thinking that will change the community, and the country,” he said.

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