As per the recent JP Gazette article “Overpass to be replaced by surface street network” (March 8, jpgazette.com), I applaud MassDOT’s decision to opt for the at-grade alternative.
The amount of effort put into the project from working groups on all sides of the issue has been tremendous. I would like to give a special thanks to groups like WalkBoston, the Livable Streets Alliance and the Boston Cyclists Union for their tireless advocacy, for bringing issues to light that weren’t readily apparent, and for leading us to the right decision. I’m a JP resident, a traffic modeler, and a licensed traffic engineer with working experience in dozens of cities around the world, and from my experience, the at-grade option is the best one. Communities across the globe are making the same decision, and for the right reasons.
An at-grade solution is a far more inviting pedestrian environment and leads to more economic development. It has been shown without a doubt that it benefits the city as a whole and by extension the human beings inside those buses and cars. Here in Jamaica Plain, we are in good company. Over a dozen U.S. cities, from Seattle to New Orleans, are tearing down bridges and highways and opting for at-grade solutions in their own projects. Cities around the world are increasingly saying “no” to new bridges and “yes” to at-grade alternatives.
During the development of Bogota’s citywide congestion management scheme in the 1990s, the city went through the same process we are going through now. But it went against the recommendations of a Japanese consultant to build seven elevated highways and opted for an at-grade environment. That wise decision has transformed its remarkable metropolis. The Netherlands is one of the safest places in the world to be a bicyclist or a pedestrian. Yet it continuously chooses at-grade solutions for situations similar to the Casey Overpass. Where Westlandseweg meets Provincialeweg in the Delft, the Netherlands, it chose an at-grade solution despite a seven-lane road meeting another seven-lane road. And guess what? It works well for bikes, pedestrians, mass transit and motor vehicles. It’s quintessential Dutch. They realized that building a bridge there would just induce more traffic and be more dangerous for pedestrians. What’s critical is that total trips have gone up in the area, because there are so many more walking and biking trips than there would be with a bridge, and that has spurred economic development.
At the 25 and 100 percent design stages we can dive into the details for the Casey Overpass. Granted, there are still issues with our current mindset. Traffic volumes in the area are stabilizing, not increasing. Designing for increased volumes for the year 2035 is akin to buying larger pants in anticipation of gaining weight. But now that we have made our decision, we need to use examples from places across the country and even across the pond as we hash out our final design.
Tom Bertulis, PE