BRA head backs Green Line extension

Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) Director Peter Meade is in favor of the concept of extending the MBTA Green Line to Hyde Square, according to a BRA spokesperson.

“The BRA would be in support of the extension,” said BRA spokesperson Melina Schuler. She noted that it would increase the economic development of the area. But, Schuler said, the money needs to be available for such a project.

Mayor Thomas Menino, who last month announced he would not seek reelection, did not respond to a request for comment. With Menino exiting office next January, Meade could follow suit.

The MBTA had previously told the Gazette it was aware of the proposal and takes all public input into thoughtful consideration.

The plan is also listed in the BRA draft guidelines for the S. Huntington Avenue. The guidelines state that the extension would be analyzed for its potential.

The Gazette first learned of Meade’s support of the extension when Fred Salvucci, the former state secretary of transportation, mentioned it during a meeting April 4 held by the Arborway Committee, a local transit advocacy group.

“Tell people I like the idea and I will be supportive,” Salvucci said Meade told him.

About 50 people attended the meeting at the Connolly Branch Library that featured a film about the Portland, Ore. transit system called “Portland: A Sense of Place.” A panel consisting of Arborway Committee member Michael Reiskind, Hyde Square business owner Damaris Pimentel and Salvucci talked with the audience about the film and the extension plan, though discussions primarily focused on the latter.

The Arborway Committee released a report in January advocating for the E branch of the Green Line to be extended to Hyde Square. The report includes various alternatives, including one routing the streetcar through the Hyde Square rotary.

The E branch of the Green Line formerly ran all the way to Forest Hills Station on S. Huntington Avenue, Centre Street and South Street. Service was reduced in 1985 and today Heath Street is the end of the line.

There was initially public support for restoration of service and the MBTA made a planning effort during the 1990s and early 2000s before eventually abandoning it. Public support had been eroding for the project and it became a major neighborhood controversy for years, but nonetheless, the Arborway Committee sued to try to keep the project alive. Its lawsuit was thrown out by a court in 2011.

Reiskind said during the meeting that for the MBTA, “rail is the A-class service,” while “buses are the B-class service.” He was drawing a comparison between the Route 39 bus that runs down S. Huntington Avenue now versus the proposed extension of rail through that road.

Alison Pultinas, a Mission Hill resident, disputed that notion later in the meeting, saying that “the E-line is not A-class service.” She noted that trolleys are continually bogged down on Huntington Avenue and S. Huntington Avenue.

Pultinas also said that there is an issue of safety with the trolleys traveling down the middle of the street. She said people have been hurt getting on and off the trolleys because of vehicle traffic.

Arborway Committee member Franklyn Salimbene agreed with Pultinas about the safety issues and said, “These type of issues we need to work with the expertise of the MBTA to resolve.”

Pimentel appeared to be in favor of the extension, saying, “We need to create a good neighborhood” so young people will raise families here instead of moving out to the suburbs to do so.

Most attendees supported the plan, though it was mentioned that the extension would lead to an increased need of housing. Allan Smith of the Arborway Committee said that equitable housing would be “part and parcel of this conversation.”

One attendee remarked during the meeting that the film showed Portland having public officials who were enthusiastic about public transportation and that Massachusetts seems to lack those types of officials. Salvucci worked as transportation secretary during the 1970s and 1980s for former Gov. Michael Dukakis, who was very supportive of public transportation.

Salvucci relayed an anecdote about how Dukakis used to take public transportation to the State House as governor and would call him to complain about graffiti on the system. Salvucci joked, “Why couldn’t he take the limousine like everybody else?”

But in terms of officials supportive of public transportation now, Salvucci said, “There is a mayor’s race. Talk to all of them about it.”

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