Forest Hills, through its high through-put of people throughout the day, and proximity to world-class parks offering leisure and recreational opportunities, has the inherent traits to foster the high degree of pedestrian activity that is crucial for fostering community, safety, high transit use, and with all of that, successful development. In its current state, it achieves none of that. As a member of the Working Advisory Group, I applaud the efforts of my fellow members, MassDOT, and the consultant team to change that for the better.
We were tasked with designing alternatives that solve our mobility and livability goals. In light of the heated public debate, we would do well to remind ourselves that we all still agree with these goals. Where we differ is in our confidence in the ability of each design to satisfy those goals, or primarily, just one goal—the one about handling traffic. None of us wants excessive traffic and delays, and few want the bridge for reasons other than the belief that it must handle traffic better than the at-grade option. To the extent that the recently announced delay leads to information that inspires confidence in the traffic results, then I’m all for it. Only this confidence can lead to a wider, public consensus.
Given present conditions, it’s natural to be suspect, but we can’t let our senses of what we see and hear and feel now under this crumbling overpass, as bad as it is, blind our vision of how much better Forest Hills could be. We have to be bold enough to attribute much of the current congestion to a short-sighted, 50-year-old design, but smart enough to take the traffic counts and other data that led to that congestion and use it wisely and fairly, as I believe the consultant team has. Since we are starting from scratch, the consultants have found significant opportunity for improvement by replacing the current, overly complicated street network with one that is both simpler and has sufficient capacity. Simulations using the best tools at their disposal using the best data available bear that out.
So given this, why should we prefer the at-grade solution? True, there would be more lanes and more vehicles at grade than there is now, but the projected conditions are comparable to many other thriving pedestrian and transit-friendly districts in Boston. I think the extra surface vehicles are a reasonable trade-off given that I can’t think of any areas in Boston near or under an overpass that invite this level of pedestrian activity. The at-grade option also includes significant improvements for bicycles, pedestrians and transit users, and handles traffic effectively, thus dispersing benefits more evenly among every mode of travel. It also doesn’t require a car-only bridge structure that, however nicely designed, will still feel out of place dominating the view of an area that connects the world-class green spaces of Jamaica Plain.
Bob Dizon, JP Bikes and Boston Cyclists Union, Casey Overpass Working Advisory Group, Jamaica Plain