By Stephen Quigley
In 2016, Mayor Carlo DeMaria became one of the first elected officials to designate a bus-only lane in a Massachusetts municipality. Five years later, cities such as Arlington and Somerville have followed DeMaria’s lead with their own dedicated bus lanes.
Today, building on the success of the lanes that have reduced commuting time by 20 to 30% on the 99, 105, and 106 MBTA bus routes on Everett’s Main Street, and the 104, 109, 110, and 112 buses on Broadway as far as Sweetser Circle, DeMaria is in discussions with state officials to extend the bus-only lane further along Broadway to the Alford Bridge and then beyond Sullivan Square onto Rutherford Ave., with the end destination spots of North Station and Haymarket Square in view.
Reliable and efficient public transportation will be necessary for the mayor to achieve his primary goal of creating affordable housing for both new and long-time Everett residents.
With new housing units in the pipeline for the Everett community, DeMaria knows that he must act quickly to get more public transportation alternatives into Everett. Working with state officials, DeMaria is trying to get plans for bus rapid transit lanes on Rutherford Ave. included in the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization-funded reconstruction project that is programmed for FY23.
Everett has become an increasingly-attractive community for families. Cambridge, Boston, and Somerville have long been out-of-reach for most families, and Everett now presents an affordable option for people who in the past typically would not have considered moving to Everett. However, in order to meet this surge in demand, the city must have growth in both its residential and commercial properties in order not to squeeze current residents out of the market.
“These demographic trends are making it very difficult for residents from Everett to be able to afford to stay, be it renting or trying to buy a home,” said the mayor. “That’s why with many new transportation options, we can meet the demand, keep our current residents in place, and look to build more affordable homes for them on existing parcels throughout the city.
“Viable public transportation alternatives allow for more housing construction without creating additional traffic issues so that residents whose income is 30 to 120 percent of the statewide area median income (AMI) do not get gentrified out of our city and thereby still afford to stay in Everett,” DeMaria explained. “If we don’t build this housing, the demographic changes will push us all out and that is why we need more public transportation alternatives.”
The mayor has been advocating for transit oriented developments (TOD) over the past five years to better meet the transportation needs of current residents and reduce the impacts of new development on the community. For example, the dedicated bus lanes also are able to accommodate bicyclists, who use these streets to commute to work, and shuttle buses from area developments such as Encore.
DeMaria, in an interview in his office, recently laid out how the Northern Strand Community Trail will be a passive recreation trail free of cars from Everett to the beaches in Lynn and Nahant.
The trail runs through Everett, Malden, Revere, and Saugus and soon will be completed in Lynn. This path also can be used as an alternative route for commuters.
DeMaria is the first to point out that Everett is one of the only communities in the MBTA geographic range that does not have commuter rail service within its borders, which means that many residents have no choice but to use their cars to travel to work or shopping areas.
DeMaria has developed a unique solution to the lack of transportation choices for residents. Realizing the decades that it will take state officials to construct rail service in Everett — for example, consider that the state has yet to connect the Blue Line and Red Line on Cambridge Street in Boston, even though that plan was part of the mitigation process of the Big Dig from the late 1980’s — DeMaria said he will seek to utilize the existing modes of transportation in the area, such as the Silver Line in Chelsea or the existing commuter rail (which has a stop in Chelsea), to make public transportation attractive and reliable not only to the new residents who will occupy these housing units, but for many existing families.
“Traffic in the Boston area only is going to get worse,” the mayor said. “We need to offer our new residents a dependable and affordable alternative to owning or driving a car.”
He believes that a bus-only route starting at Glendale Park in Everett to Haymarket would help solve some of the traffic congestion at very little cost with both enormous benefits and a quick time-table.
Reducing vehicular traffic on Everett’s streets has been a long-term objective for DeMaria. “I have been using new zoning policies to have the developers’ buildings not include parking lots, and making the tenants use public transportation by limiting the resident stickers that would be available,” DeMaria said.
Working with the City Council, DeMaria had two pieces of legislation passed — the Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Ordinance and a change in the Parking Ordinance.
The TDM employs strategies to change travel behavior in order to reduce traffic congestion, increase safety and mobility, and conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The parking change will be for new projects greater than four units. The ordinance restricts on-street parking spaces only to the amount of a lot’s frontage on the street. A 12-unit building for example, might only be able to have two cars parked legally on the street.
Other cities are facing the same issues. The city of Revere, for example, has provided zoning relief for the construction of new, multi-unit apartment buildings in a TOD, but on the condition that tenants will not be able to obtain resident parking stickers.
“We want to preserve the lifestyle of being able to park on the streets for our long-time residents,” DeMaria said, “but to do that, a viable, multi-pronged public transportation system is the key.”
DeMaria pointed out that his goal always has been to maintain the livability of the city for residents who are here, while also planning for the future.
“Many families are finding it difficult to afford a home in Everett. Demand for the existing housing is constantly pushing out lifelong residents. A dependable public transportation system will allow more new units to come into the market without the need for adjacent parking lots and without adding traffic congestion to our city’s streets. This new surplus of living units also could increase the affordability of housing,” DeMaria added.
As part of DeMaria’s efforts to increase TOD projects, there are incentives for developers in the form of providing bike racks, Charlie (MBTA) cards, and their own shuttle or car-sharing services for their tenants. In addition, the mayor pointed out that parking lot surfaces are impenetrable and thus force a lot of runoff into the sewer systems, often with no place for the excess water to go, causing local flooding issues.
DeMaria also added that fewer cars on the city’s roadways will mean fewer lost hours for people sitting in traffic, which also helps the environment because of the reduction in tailpipe emissions.
DeMaria said he recognizes that the demand for housing only will increase in the coming years if nothing is done because of Everett’s close proximity to the medical and research hubs in Somerville, Cambridge, and Boston.
“Downtown Boston is closer to Everett than many of Boston’s own neighborhoods,” said City Planner Jay Monty.
“We can always make things better, it just takes time and energy,” added the mayor. “My team and I are dedicated to the ultimate goal of improving the quality of life for all the residents of Everett.”