Public Service and Transportation Liveblog

Thanks to Jack for going to Bennett Field so that I can cover this meeting (Public Service and Transportation, which will be discussing the CMRPC Worcester Regional Mobility Study among regular street light business).

Handling street lights first.

7.09pm – Bulbs.com will be getting a street light at 243 Stafford (or thereabouts).

7:11 – McKeon Road – city will construct new sidewalk and lights in 2012, feds will be paying for it.

7:11 – 137 West Boylston – Fiore recommends installing light there.

7:12 – Fiore says that there is a gap in lighting on Stockton Street from Ames Street to Vernon Street.  He thinks it will be pretty expensive, and to install would require digging and trenching.  Recommends hold pending a report.

7:15 – on to the main item on the agenda…

Mary Ellen Blunt (sp?) from CMRPC is here to make an opening statement.  Funding for the study came from federal and MassDOT.  They hired VHB to perform the study.  They’ll be doing a presentation tonight.  “This is the master-level plan”; still looking for input at this level.

7:17 – Donald Cook from VHB.  Will give quick overview, draft recommendations, next steps, and answer questions.

The study area started as a circle around Worcester, and expanded to an “amoeba shape.”  Various areas were expanded to include an interchange or particular roadway.  Some of the goals were reducing congestion, improving safety and economic development.

They had four public meetings, 17 technical and advisory group meetings, and some other small group sessions.  Process began in November 2008.

7:21 – The website contains everything he will be discussing tonight.

Now he’s heading into the Draft Recommendations section of the presentation.  “Understanding the limited financial resources that the state … is experiencing right now…” all recommendations would be overwhelming to existing funding resources.

The timelines listed are not in any way supposed to represent a prioritization.  The timelines represent a reasonable estimate in how long they think it would take to go through a process, get funding, etc.

“An attempt to make sure this was not just about cars.”  A number were related to pedestrians, bicycles, transit; “idea of enhancing east-west mobility through” the area of the study and Worcester in particular.

Alternative 4 – new interchange of Mass Pike at Route 56 (near Oxford/Leicester line) [$60-75 million].  “A number of things about this seem to be attractive to folks”: regional mobility, economic development benefit (this was especially important for folks from Leicester and Oxford, as well as Webster Square spinoff from a Worcester perspective), and airport access (“not a magic silver bullet line that will make that connection”; this improvement would not be the end-all solution to airport access, however).

Petty asks about Oxford and Leicester reaction to this; Cook says he was “pleasantly surprised” by the positive reaction to this.  “Can’t say we ever get 100%” approval on anything, but it was mostly positive.

7:31 – another gentleman speaking whose name I missed.

Alternative 7 – making the roadway from Changler Street- Tatnuck Square to Kelley Square easier to navigate [$12-15 million] – “adopting a ‘complete streets’ mentality.”

Alternative 8 – “south corridor” – Hope Avenue/Webster Square.  Not an extension of Hope Avenue through residential areas.  No significant realignments.  The big part of this would be making Hope Avenue on-ramps on both sides  (making it a “fully directional interchange.”)   Being sensitive to pedestrians and bicyclists by making Hope Avenue/Webster Street intersection a roundabout.  Making the RR bridge on Webster Street higher by a foot or two to better accomodate trucks.

He goes into a discussion of how traffic that would get off at Hope Avenue eastbound have to get off at Cambridge Street, name-checks “environmental justice”, and discusses how annoying this is for those of us who live in the area.

“You’ll notice a theme — Webster Square…(along with Kelley Square) is one of the biggest bottlenecks.”  Discusses shoulder for bicycle.  Turning lanes at intersection with Curtis Ave, Stafford Street could have additional turn lane as well.

They had presented this to the Webster Square Business Association, discussed the difficulties at Webster Square.  Would like to discontinue a portion of Webster Street as it continues to Cambridge Street (either closed-off or one-way, or access to local businesses only).  Would need to add space on the Mill Street extension (perhaps a taking where the Subway used to be).

Driveway to elderly housing is unsignalized, would get a signal with pedestrian crossing.

I-90 interchange 10 – Additional elevated structures would be infeasible for something that isn’t entirely a problem.  Proposing a T-intersection.

Alt. 15 – I-290 traffic flow; long-term it will need a lane on either side, property impacts would be extremely severe and that isn’t a long-term solution.  Short-term restriping options have been implemented (as with the I-190 lane merge, which Nicole feels is much more logical and easier to navigate).

Alternative 16 – synchronizing traffic signals (which I believe in Worcester is called “The Holy Grail.”)

Alternative 17 – transit system priority system — buses would talk to traffic lights to either extend green lights or shorten red lights.  This might increase bus service to areas that are currently congested.  This plan would also position signs where drivers could make an informed decision about whether or not to take the highway (when it’s congested).

Phil P. just left to take a phone call.

Alternative 18 – extending commuter rail to points west (Stafford and James Street-ish area).  Ridership would not make it a draw at this point, but perhaps with CSX causing more Worcester trains.  But there are scheduling issues that could be created by this.

Alternative 19 – bicycle improvements.  Recommend extension of Blackstone River Bikeway.  Goal is to get it extended to Union Station.  On-road bike lanes extended.

Alternative 20 – pedestrian improvements.  Difficult intersections (Lincoln Square, for instance, the “burnout tunnel” creates obstacles to pedestrian mobility; Chandler Street; Kelley Square; Park Avenue).

Kelley Square is “organized chaos”; if you know it, you’re fine, if you don’t you go slow.  They did a survey of crashes at Kelley Square, and most are small, fender-bender type crashes.

7:49 – Intersection of Green and Madison (Hess Station) – extending a lot of the curbs out which would make crosswalks shorter for pedestrians and make transitions more logical for motorists.  “Making it more pedestrian-friendly and more auto-friendly.”  All one-way street patterns would remain exactly the same.

Alternative 21 – Freight System enhancements.  (Posner Square area).  Reconfigure Posner Square so that traffic from Franklin Street can access Winter Street.  Could be a bypass of Kelley Square for trucks (5%) that don’t need to go through Kelley Square.

Cook — “The context to which you should understand this is that they are ideas”…that have gone through a certain amount of scrutiny by the public.  We think we have a nice mix of projects to be taken forward, a nice menu for folks as we go forward…to pick and choose the ones they think are the most important, to prioritize…”

7:55 – Question Time.

Petty says that many of these topics (Webster and Kelley Squares, Hope Avenue, etc.) have been discussed by the Council for the years he’s been on it.  Discusses the pricetag of the Central Corridor project.

Cook: “You could see people taking pieces of these” and handling them separately. 

Petty asks if there were a separate estimate on the cost for the Webster Square bridge alone.  Not at this time.

Cook: “[In 26 years,] I haven’t had a project where everyone’s been happy.  [optimistically, half-laughing] It’s out there.”

Petty wants Borbone or McGourthy to give an update on Newton Square at some point.

8:01 – Haller –did you give any consideration to changing I-290 Exit 11/College Street?  Could there be anything done to fix that intersection?

Cook — there was nothing specifically about that.  Too late for them to do detailed analysis; they may reference it as a note in the final report, and a smaller working group could have that as a discussion.

Haller will provide him with a narrative.

Haller found the 290 congestion being deemed “too difficult to handle” was concerning.

Cook – one of the original goals was to find improvements that limited land takings, etc.  He would recommend going through MassDOT, but they’re having a hard time getting funding for more pressing projects.  “The idea that if you can provide additional service for other [than automobile] modes” that would improve things.

“There’s such a demand for 290 that even when” we diverted onto 56, it didn’t change things significantly.

“Even if you added one more lane” (as with Route 3) “the congestion [might not] get any better.”

Joe also comments about I-290 — “people will take it for just one exit.  … People will use it for that quick-on/quick-off.”  Synchronizing traffic lights could help traffic flow in the city to take it off of 290 and keep it on arterial streets.

Haller: need for leadership.  Have you identified who will take that leadership?

Cook: we made some preliminary recommendations “as to who might appropriately take the lead.”  “If somebody doesn’t take ownership, nothing happens.”

[Also, for those of you wondering, Phil is wearing a medium blue blazer with an olive green turtleneck.  I know you needed that sartorial interlude.]

CMRPC will provide them with a list of the particular people who were involved in these discussions.

Palmieri – airport “not that it’s in my district” — did they say a major artery to the airport unnecessary?

Cook: “what we did was we looked at their projected activity levels…even in their high-growth projected scenario, … 3,000 trips a day.  From a pure traffic scenario…that equates to a large office park or a fairly substantial Home Depot. … When we look at it in context to what it’s generating…300 trips an hour.  … Where are those people coming from?  40% come from downtown Worcester; 60% – it’s like a shotgun.”  “It’s not that an artery to the airport is not necessary…”there’s not one artery that could be identified.  Potentially millions of dollars in investment…”to say we’re going to spend [$x million]” to help 60 people.

Phil is harping on about the airport when Cook spoke more eloquently and bluntly.  I will tune out right now.

8:18 – Cook says that perhaps MassPort might redo their projected scenarios if some of the improvements to 290, MassPike at 56, etc., happened.  Palmieri longs for more passenger flights.

8:21 – Off-ramps closing down in the downtown area and businesses adversely impacted.  Does it make sense to shut down these off-ramps?  Was there any thought to which ramps, if any, would make sense to shut down?

Cook: there was a lot of conversation about ramp closings up and down 290.  Historically, the public was concerned about mobility and businesses in closing ramps.  If 290 were being built today, there would be nowhere near as many exits.

Palmieri – 290 traffic – if there is any issue in the morning with any part of I-290, “it puts the city in a straitjacked and no one can move.”  How can a city like ours be so crippled — can traffic move in a better way?  “Stifling at the very least.”

Cook mentions the technology alternative, especially with signage.  City of Worcester and MassDOT could also go onto a standard protocol to improve communication and response times.  “It’s not going to limit the traffic on 290, but will hopefully eliminate some of those occurences.”

Palmieri – tractor trailer trucks and “mov[ing] commerce.”  Franklin Street/Winter Street area growing dramatically with housing and business; traffic [from Kelley Square] being diverted to there.  “How do we justify wanting to short-circuit having these vehicles move in and around such a small area that’s wanting to grow?”  The Shrewsbury Street on-ramp cuts things off.

Cook — “all fair points.  There will be plenty of discussion and opportunity.”

[I really am trying my best to be impartial in my Phil coverage, but it’s tough.  Hats off to journalists who can do that.]

Phil — “little more than a wasteland.”  “It’s one thing to have traffic, and it’s a whole other thing to have 30-40 buses through it and” trailers.  “I’m not attempting to be confrontational at all.”  [I’m telling you, we could do a short inspirational book called “The Wit and Wisdom of Phil Palmieri.”

8:33 — friend of the blog and its readers, Jo Hart, up to speak.  She faults the entire part of the country that has turned everything into a giant parking lot.  She is, as you know, a public transportation fan.  “At some point, somebody has to take a hard line and do something.”

Hart, cont’d – Most of these problems could be resolved with public transport.  We have the worst bus system in America.  Franklin Street has to be a street and go both ways.  That would alleviate the “whole Winter Street thing.”  Cambridge – same thing.  “Especially with the name changes, nobody knows where they are.”

Hart, cont’d – “The real hard line should be that CSX should pay for everything…” because they are the ones who are causing all the problems.  Hart says that CSX has said that they will have 800 trucks, not 400 as previously stated.

Jo continues to champion light rail, and says “it’s not nonsense — it simply has to be done.”  People who don’t drive, who don’t want to drive, can’t go anywhere.  Jo submits papers into the record with her recommendations, papers about light rail, and her “latest diatribe” about public transportation.  [I have copies in case anyone wants one.]

Another public comment, from Paul Gabry, Paxton — bought Webster House, so this will be site-specific.  Closing off that section of Webster Street is a deal-killer for him.  If you take away his traffic flow, it will kill his business (as well as Bicycle Alley and Barrows).  He wishes he had been involved earlier, but appreciates that the Webster Square Business Association was able to host them.

Borbone gives a brief update on Newton Square (I think).  The state had, many years ago, given 17 recommendations on improving area from Lincoln Square to Tatnuck Square.  Next year, the state will be advertising for various intersection projects along Highland, at Newton Square, and a bit further.  Construction to start in late 2012 for this phase.  The state is altering the plans as it can find money.

Jo has one question.  Since the study was basically over, she feels that there should be more public meetings about the impact of CSX on this study.  Petty wants a follow-up meeting in six months or so.

And … I think we’re done.

10 thoughts on “Public Service and Transportation Liveblog

  1. Tracy says:

    A) Thanks for the sartorial update.
    B) Jo Hart is right. I would LOVE to take a bus to and from School Committee meetings, and I would, but I can’t get home at night.
    C) Webster Square is a bottleneck, but it’s a lively business district, too.

    • Nicole says:

      A) Regarding the sartorial update, on closer inspection, he was wearing a blue turtleneck underneath an olive crewneck-ish sweater.

      Phil, think of the children and wear that awesome metallic green tie!!

      B) Jo tends to sound like a crackpot [to some of the powers-that-be], which touches on the gadfly discussion on the last 508. But she’s absolutely right. If we’re talking about I-290 needing another lane in each direction in 20 or 30 years’ time, that should tell us that we not only need to focus on something more sustainable, but we also need to change our attitude towards funding of public transportation from being a nice-to-have/subsidy to a necessity, and we need to start looking at these large road projects as just as much a “subsidy” as we have traditionally regarded public transportation.

      C) Yes to all that.

      • Joe says:

        I think I heard Jo talking at the Burns Bridge meeting (https://nicolecommawoo.wordpress.com/2010/09/09/burns-bridge-sept-8-additional-notes)

        She was asking about incorporating a light rail into the center of the Burns Bridge replacement. Think the Longfellow Bridge in Boston (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longfellow_Bridge)- visible nationwide in the opening credits of Spenser-For Hire (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longfellow_Bridge)

        I think part of not “sounding like a crackpot” is to keep your testimony/speeches at a meeting relevant and realistic. It’s a great idea to plan for the future, but it’s unlikely that we’re going to have another trolley line connecting downtown and White City anytime soon. I’m not sure what the grade requirements for modern rail are, but the original trolley used to curve through the Coburn Avenue neighborhood to the South of Belmont Street.

        To establish a new east-west rail connection through Shrewsbury, crossing the lake is the least of the obstacles.

        • Nicole says:

          Joe — I totally hear you.

          Something I’ve found in my brief foray into attending meetings is that (a) not a lot of people attend them and (b) I have a lot more respect for people who have to make decisions and compromises to make things work. You and I both probably know a few people who would be able to speak intelligently about transportation, in a way that is focused on the conversation at hand and is somewhat realistic about what can and cannot happen. Those people, by and large, are not attending these meetings.

          The folks who are attending the meetings are a mixture of (1) people who are affected by the project who are coming to be informed and perhaps ask a question or two, (2) people who think the whole issue can be solved by doing something completely unrealistic, and (3) people who have an ax or three to grind about some tangential issues.

          I like Jo’s passion for transportation, and I share a similar (if slightly less passionate) interest. But I agree with you that complaining about CSX and talking about major light rail plans don’t make sense in the context of this discussion. I’d rather see us investing in making certain areas bike- and pedestrian-friendly. I think those are the baby steps to making various parts of public transportation more widely used. I think Jo’s vision tends to be long-term and that sometimes you need the small-steps approach (and to only talk about those small steps) to get to that long-term goal.

          But since there was (and generally is) no one with a more moderate message willing to comment, hers is the voice we tend to hear at these meetings.

  2. jmstewart says:

    Hope some nice amenities can be brought to Union Station for people to enjoy between buses. Hope a humane area is established for smoking bus riders with some ongoing tobacco education as well.

    • Nicole says:

      What’s your take on where the smoking area could be? Was that a subtle reminder that I need to keep asking about a cart full of books for Union Station?

  3. jmstewart says:

    smoking area-near the abandoned shelter in the abandoned parking lot along Major Taylor Blvd

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