JP delegation moves to protect parkways

May 1, 2009
By

DAVID TABER

PONDSIDE—Proposals contained in state transportation reform legislation being considered by state legis-lature could see control of Massachusetts parkways—including Jamaicaway and the Arborway—transferred to a new umbrella state transportation department, but not if Jamaica Plain has anything to say about it.

Local Reps. Liz Malia and Jeffrey Sánchez and Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz mounted efforts to block the transfer when the two chambers took up the legislation in recent weeks.

The transfer—along with the transfer of state Department of Conservation and Recreation controlled bridges—was blocked in the House version of the bill when it was passed April 7, thanks to an amendment co-sponsored by Sánchez.

A similar amendment proposed by Chang-Díaz was defeated in the senate, but another amendment she proposed would require the new umbrella transportation agency formed under the bill—the Mass Surface Transportation Authority (MSTA)—to follow historic parkway treatment guidelines currently used by DCR to guide management of the roadways.

The parkways—originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted as part of the Emerald Necklace park system—were meant to be scenic, meandering roadways providing access to the string of parks, and are officially designated as parks, themselves.

Even under DCR’s stewardship, the Arborway running between Franklin Park and the Arnold Arboretum, and the Jamaicaway running past Jamaica Pond and Olmsted Park to the Brookline border, have, in the past 100 years, turned into high-speed commuter roadways.

A final version of the transportation bill is currently being negotiated in conference committee.

Sánchez told the Gazette the efforts to keep the parkways under DCR control are in response to community concerns. “Our legislation was responding to what the community and residents were asking for,” he said.

Chang-Díaz said her goal was to “make sure we have the strongest protection possible” for the parkways. The simplest way to do that would be to maintain DCR control over the roadways, she said, but she appreci-ated that Senate leadership “is open to making sure those protections are in place.”

Gov. Deval Patrick’s version of the bill maintains DCR control of the parkways, but transfers control of parkway bridges to the new transportation agency.

In a Gazette interview, Julie Crockford, head of the JP-based Emerald Necklace Conservancy, painted a dire picture of the parkways’ future if control is transferred.

“We are concerned that…they will start to be treated like highways,” she said, and “stripped of park cul-ture.”

Crockford said she is concerned that removal from DCR’s oversight changes would be made to accelerate that trend. She said she could see a transportation-focused agency moving to straighten the streets and re-move the trees growing a long its edges.

She also expressed concerns about the roadways being opened to commercial vehicles, which are currently banned.

She said she would like to see state oversight of the roadways remain focused on the roadways as part of the parks. “The trees could be better cared for, and we don’t have a workable bike lane through the system. Those would be the sorts of changes I would like to see.”

The overall transportation reform is a cost-saving effort that would put control of state roadways and mass transportation under the MSTA. “There are a lot of moving parts to this. We are trying to do so much in one omnibus bill,” Malia said. “Transportation gets put off every year. Nobody wants to wrestle that bear to the ground.”

Chang-Díaz’s amendment, along with an amendment requiring private owners of public tunnels to be insured, were the first two amendments the freshman senator has successfully added to legislation.

It was [a milestone]. It was very exciting for me,” Chang-Díaz said.

The latter amendment was inspired by the 2006 collapse of the Big Dig tunnel that killed JP resident Milena Del Valle.