Letter: A new bridge is better for overpass

November 18, 2011
By

The Gazette editorial of Oct. 7 read, “All things being equal, replacing the Casey Overpass in Forest Hills with surface streets rather than another bridge is the better option.” But all things are not equal.

The planning for replacing the Casey Overpass at Forest Hills is coming to a close. The options are whether to design a new smaller modern bridge, or to eliminate the bridge completely and bring all Route 203 traffic to the ground. MassDOT told us the community is making this decision, but the process has been skewed against a bridge.

As a member of MassDOT’s appointed Working Advisory Group (WAG), I have been attending meetings since March to help make this decision. At the Nov. 9 WAG meeting, it appeared the no-bridge solution will be the slam-dunk answer. But many of us question the assumptions, goals and data driving this. The idea of a replacement bridge has been presented as another ugly barrier separating neighborhoods and preventing reconnecting the Emerald Necklace.

I believe a well-designed attractive replacement bridge can actually unite our neighborhoods and provide a better Emerald Necklace connection. Sure, given enough lanes, traffic engineers can design roads to handle any volume of traffic. But replacing the bridge with seven or eight lanes of traffic on the ground is a new barrier. As a cyclist or pedestrian, I would find crossing or being next to a smaller road easier and more appealing. By keeping two-thirds of the traffic up on a bridge, moving through this area would be much easier than with all the traffic on the ground.

Keeping easy access for cars at Forest Hills is important for all local businesses. Eliminating east-west left turns, replaced with “bow-ties,” will discourage people from driving to the local businesses. This will affect not just the struggling Forest Hills business area, but also others up and down Washington and South streets. As much as we local businesses love our walking and biking customers, we also rely on people being able to drive here.

MassDOT has said that with the bridge option, there will not be a good Emerald Necklace connector between the Arboretum and Franklin Park. This is absolutely not true. There are both on-street and off-street paths in both the bridge and no-bridge options.  The bridge option actually takes up less overall space on the ground.  The bridge could also have a sidewalk on the south side so a bike or pedestrian could skip two major street crossings.

The current Casey Overpass is an overbuilt, dark structure that most people consider a blight. But it has also served a valuable function moving regional traffic through Forest Hills. This area is a transportation node that funnels all modes through it. Cars, buses, trains, bikes, walkers and runners all pass through here. The bridge will keep regional traffic moving through while maintaining optimal local access.

Please come to Monday’s public meeting and show your support for a new fabulous iconic bridge at Forest Hills.

Jeffrey Ferris, Ferris Wheels Bike Shop

  • http://twitter.com/kehutchinson Kate Hutchinson

    Jeff, as the owner of two local businesses, you would actually benefit as a business owner from people coming down to ground level and having better access to South Street where your shops are. And I agree with Kevin that many of your statements are misleading. I also read your flyer from the most recent public meeting, which repeats many false statements contained here. I’m not sure what you would specifically gain from a bridge over an at-grade solution, but your tactics smack of personal grudge-carrying, rather than allowing the entire community to participate in the process. Most people I have spoken to are in favor of the at-grade solution, particularly the bicycling community that you are so much a part of.

  • Beth A. Worell

    I am a 22 year resident of Jamaica Plain and have closely followed the community process for the Casey Overpass replacement.  I have attended most of the public meetings, as well as a few of the WAG meetings. 

    As an architect, I completely disagree with Jeffrey Ferris’s assessment of the advantages of a bridge replacement for the Casey Overpass.   This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to correct a terrible mistake and to restore a critical piece of urban design for future generations.  Frederick Law Olmsted’s original design for the Emerald Necklace, where intact, is still incredibly viable today.  The places where that viability breaks down are those locations where “modern” interventions have been insensitively inserted, such as with the Casey Overpass and the current street pattern of the Forest Hills MBTA station area.

    A replacement bridge will continue to have negative impacts in both the east-west and north-south directions.  In the east-west direction, the Casey Overpass is a high-speed roadway completely incongruous with the Arborway Parkway it feeds into.  A new bridge will simply perpetuate this problem.  The MassDOT team has presented the results of its traffic studies, showing that either solution, bridge or at-grade, will handle the traffic more or less equally, and in either case more efficiently than the current conditions.  If bridge proponents don’t trust these traffic studies, then why would they trust that the team will design a “fabulous, iconic bridge?”  Nothing presented so far suggests that this is even a remote possibility.

    In the north-south direction, even a lower bridge will still present itself as a wall for the majority of its length, perpetuating the existing condition of cutting off and isolating Forest Hills from South and Washington Streets and from the Southwest Corridor Park entrance.  Getting on and off the bridge as it rises to a workable height pretty much guarantees this outcome. 

    When the Casey Overpass was built in the 1950’s, automobiles and the subsequent highways they required were idolized in our culture as symbols of the future.  We know now that that approach was not in the best interest of the life and health of people and their communities.  As we plan the future of the Forest Hills area, let’s keep the focus on creating a more livable neighborhood by promoting walking, biking, and public transportation while still respecting the need for drivers to get from one place to another.  The MassDOT team has demonstrated that the at-grade solution meets many more goals for both livability and mobility than a bridge.  Let’s not make the same mistake twice by building another bridge when the at-grade solution is superior by every measure.

  • Kevin M Wolfson

    Quick correction, I stated the most basic bridge is $20 million more than the at-grade solution. The estimates are actually put the difference at about $15 million, I misremembered.

  • Kevin M Wolfson

    Jeff, as a member of the WAG, you have had more time to learn about this project and are responsible for giving the public accurate information. Despite that responsibility and the trust that comes with it, you choose to be misleading.

    “But replacing the bridge with seven or eight lanes of traffic on the ground is a new barrier.” The at-grade solution has 6 lanes along New Washington and 4 lanes outside of the “bowtie” u-turns.

    “Eliminating east-west left turns, replaced with “bow-ties,” will discourage people from driving to the local businesses.” You can’t possibly say that the bow-ties “will” discourage visits to business. You are stating opinion as fact. There is a strong argument that removing the bridge opens up the area in a way that makes the area more attractive for everyone, which would in turn attract more business. An at-grade solutions also means that 2/3 more traffic will see the businesses around Forest Hills everyday. In every other overpass removal example we’ve seen, businesses have thrived after overpasses are removed. Again, we can’t know for sure, but the best information we have suggests that the at-grade solution is actually better for local business, yours included.

    “There are both on-street and off-street paths in both the bridge and
    no-bridge options.” True, both plans have on and off street paths. But you are completely ignoring that ONLY the at-grade plan renovates Washington Street with better organized bus and car lanes and off-street bike and pedestrian paths. Those paths provide a safe connection for people to walk and bike between Forest Hills and Roslindale, especially important given the developments already in progress.

    “new fabulous iconic bridge at Forest Hills.” A “fabulous, iconic bridge” is expensive. The state is in deep debt. The most basic bridge is $20 million more than the at-grade solution, even when you include all the extra amenities in the at-grade solution (improvements to Washington St, a new MBTA entrance at the end of the Southwest corridor, etc.). We can’t know for sure what the bridge would look like, but we can be pretty sure it isn’t going to be a noteworthy or iconic bridge. Chances are it will be done for as little money as possible, and look just like a smaller, lower version of the bridge we have today.

    I understand some of your concerns, and I understand that there are honest reasons to support a bridge, but you are choosing to mislead your community. That is unfair to everyone, no matter what their opinion is.

    Kevin Wolfson, WAG member