Regional Transportation Plan Central Sub Region Meeting Liveblog

6:16pm: Meeting scheduled to start at 6:30; if you’ve got feedback for them and can’t attend the meeting, you can do so with the survey here.

6:33: Can I just say before this meeting starts how the liveblog as an art form would make a great master’s dissertation for someone?  (And that it’s obvious I have no abilities in this arena?  I need to be less serious and more humorous!  Also — this room is really empty.)

6:38: If I loved you, I would have typed out the whole agenda and handouts while I was waiting.  But all you’re getting is this liveblog.

Rich Ridens (sp?) from CMMPO is discussing the agenda. 

Two gentlemen from the Canal District; one representative from the City Manager’s Office; one from WRTA; one from MassDOT; a few other citizens; staff from CMMPO.

6:41: Why are we here?  On the PowerPoint, pictures of congestion on Main Street, watch for bikes sign blocking bicycle lane, cars parked on sidewalk, and truck trying unsuccessfully to get under an overpass.

6:43: Mary Ellen Bluntk, to discuss Potential Themes.

Overview of the Powerpoint; we’ll discuss in detail in a minute…

Potential Themes
Backdrop – Fiscal Constraint: not enough $, how do we make it go further?  What items do we prioritize? 
Maintenance: is preserving existing infrastructure most important?
Equity: How do we distribute funds across modes and communities?
Security: Can we make transportation systems more secure?
Congestion: Do you find yourself waiting in traffic?
Safety: Do you feel safe on roadways, buses, and trains?  Do you see a lot of accidents or areas where accidents are very likely to happen?
Access and Connectivity: Should we focus on gaps in connectivity?  Should we focus on multi-modal access?
Livability: Should roadways be designed for all users?  How do we coordinate transportation planning with economic development, housing, environment, & health.
Planning: How do we foster sub-regional dialogue?  Are there better ways to engage the public?
Technology: Can we better manage systems for efficiency & safety?  Are there low or high tech solutions that we should consider?  Should we prioritize making multi-modal choices easier?

What Themes should we focus on?
What would improve your daily travel?
What is your long-term vision for improved travel in your local area, in the region, across the state?
What do you think planners should be working on in the future?

6:52: Steve from WRTA (?)- [we should be] making it easier to use public transportation.  We could have wireless on buses, make it easier for passengers to know where bus is/on time.  More routine maintenance schedules.

John G., Canal District: agrees with Steve…we can use transportation as infrastructure resource.  American population wants to live near amenities (bike paths, parks, etc.)  Would like re-creation of Blackstone Canal; $20m investment in canal could be brought back to taxpayer in 10 years (from feasibility study).  (So, highlighting the combination between economic development and housing.)

6:57: Anne from MassDOT: for “transportation owners”, infrastructure and maintenance are high in importance.  Indicates that all the above points (in italics) are intertwined.

Tom, the guy next to me, who brought handouts!!!): proposes a potential rail plan to go from Worcester out to the suburbs.  Wrote to the city fathers (back in 1999) that we could improve the city and region by using Union Station as a regional hub.  The rail beds would need to be improved.  Many hospitals and shopping centers are close to where existing rails are. 

7:01: Tom continues, to discuss highway.  Specifically, the airport connector.  Route 9 from Warren to Worcester/Cherry Valley is “hellacious”; he proposes improvements to that part of Route 9, with a branch to lead to the airport.  The rail system would be connected to the airport by a tunnel (from Stafford Street).  So, the tunnel would be for airport patrons to have a walk/moving sidewalk to a rail station.

7:04: we should not be thinking in little pieces, but all pieces at once.

7:05: Rich addresses the freight rail question: Worcester was traditionally a hub and “needs some spokes attached to it.”  In the future, it has been suggested to expand commuter rail to Springfield.  He notes that P&W goes to Gardner; access to Providence; a line to Ayer.  P&W RR has indicated that they would be willing to explore passenger service in the future (with a public/private partnership). 

7:08: Rich discusses the recent T&G article about whether CSX would be an impact to residents.

7:11: Joe from City Manager’s office: two points:

1) Economic Development.  The CSX deal (and increase in trains to and from Worcester)is really about economic development; hoping (and seeing) that the former factory buildings in Canal District are being populated by people from the “other side of 128” and then commuting to Boston.  Thinks bicycle is the most difficult for planning.

City is really hot on econ. dev./transportation link.

2) Existing vehicle transportation.  The more we can use technology, the better off we’ll be.  About half of traffic signals have no loops; the other half are pre-timed.  Improved traffic flow comes from improved technology; they try to use it when they get funding.  Even if it’s only in a small way, it’s an improvement for the environment because less cars idling, etc.  [Can I ask why we aren’t having any lead/end green lights along Park Avenue?  Really?]

7:17: Seth, also of Canal District: had three children who all went to school outside the city who said they’d never come back…and now they’re coming back.  And bringing their friends.  Many older people are not building “trophy homes” but are coming back into the city.  You’re going to see a lot more people here in the future.

Commuter rail: increasing service.  Need railroad bridge improvements.

Signage on 290 — indicating Canal District.

Kelly Square: make it safer!

Bicycle path: many younger people are using public transportation.  We’re going to be seeing a lot more people using bike paths and public transport.

7:20: Steve from WRTA: with the addition of trains, there ought to be syncing with the bus schedule.  Not much has been discussed about that, but it needs to happen.  How can we discourage people from entering the city with cars/one-person vehicles?

Tom, picking up on the comment: the idea of people traveling from outside communities to here via rail would reduce cars coming in.  [And, yes, T, I’d like a James Street station too!]

Joe: echoes what Tom said; we had a bit of a discussion about drawing people so that they don’t need to own a car — if they really needed a car, they could rent one, but wouldn’t need it for day-to-day existence.

Mary Ellen sums up our discussion well: moving towards a more sustainable vision for transportation; think boldly about where we want to get to and plan for it.

7:28: Singjatha ((sp?): showing a traffic volume map.  No surprises; Highland, Pleasant, Main, Chandler, Park Ave are busy; the interstates are busy…

Pavement condition data: in all of Central Mass., about half are not in good shape; I’d say about a sixth are considered great.

In Worcester specifically, it’s a bit better.  [I believe this is only for roads that are eligible for federal funds.]

 7:31: very intricate map of bike and pedestrian paths; they surveyed towns for walkability in the town center.  They overlaid the accidents with pedestrians and bicylists as well. 

[I should note that I left out my own comments; I spoke to the need for better/more bike paths and lanes, making pedestrian access safer by such simple things as painting crosswalks on a regular basis.]

 She’s discussing the major infrastructure projects suggested from last time (2007).  One of the more interesting is Worcester East-West Connectors.  A Highland/Pleasant Street is under design, but because of right-of-way, it will likely be mostly intersection improvements.

 7:40: There’s a discussion of a Park and Ride study to see where it’s needed; perhaps along the ring communities with a link to public transit. 

 A woman who’s name I didn’t catch discusses having a challenge to use public transport and then blog about it, or discuss it in some way.  She thinks that would be interesting…I agree! 

 [And doesn’t all this tie in with what MikeGermain was saying at last night’s council meeting?]

7:48: Tom discusses Providence: it’s an urban center that’s cohesive (a capital city surrounded by other cities) and that Worcester has a long way to go to get to that kind of cohesion…move away from thinking in terms of individual towns.

The dude from the City Manager’s office, regarding pedestrians: in discussion of making city of Worcester more walkable.  No money for all sidewalks to be in perfect shape.  Finding paths within city…destinations people want to go…and making sure there’s a good, safe way to get there.  [Oooh…I like that.]  Maybe that works in the towns, too?  Could there be a study for a plan of destinations?  (He spoke a lot more about how it’s impossible to improve all neighborhood sidewalks at once, but that this would be a way to target the destinations.)

 7:53: more advocacy from the Canal District guys.  These guys are tenacious!

Dude from City Manager: discusses cities that have closed off the main downtown road(s) and the economic development, but has not heard about the impact to other roads around those.  Mary Ellen says that it’s mixed.   Various discussions of Memorial Drive in Cambridge, Quebec City; perhaps it’s something that can be looked at for certain days and/or times.  John G. notes that on weekend nights, Water Street is essentially pedestrian because of congestion.