Letter: In Casey debate, remember that cars are people, too

May 10, 2013
By

Anyone who cares to see a preview of the traffic situation without the Casey Overpass need only try to use Memorial Drive or cross into Cambridge from the B.U. Bridge in a hugely extended rush hour since the overpass there has been closed for repairs. The backup and gridlock extends in an enormous stain, even though the intersection under the overpass is essentially a free-flowing rotary with but one light.

To imagine that six lanes, multiple intersections and traffic lights, cars, trucks, buses, bikes, pedestrians, commuters, handicapped users, strollers and apparently recreational visitors to some promised “green space” will all fit together in an improved rational traffic flow is madness. Navigating the streets under the Casey Overpass is already a hell; adding more cars won’t make it better.

By removing cars from the surface streets with an overpass we relieve traffic and make those streets safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, et al., and that’s rational policy. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Those who want the overpass gone say they are in the majority. How they know that except by repeatedly saying so is hard to determine; there could be a vast silent majority who prefers an overpass. Either way, it doesn’t matter, for in this democracy we respect the rights of the minority; we acclaim diversity; we demand choice.

This is not a question of Eisenhower versus Olmsted. Sometimes a meandering trip on Rt.1 to Maine is fun; sometimes a straight run on I-95 is preferred. It is a better world when both choices are available.  Arborway designer Frederick Law Olmsted himself included parkways.

This is not cars versus people. People use cars; cars are part of a necessary traffic flow that combines lights, dedicated bike lanes, handicapped cuts, public transport, sidewalks and yes, overpasses to serve all people in a complicated urban dance. Cars are people (as are bikes, as are strollers, as are….).

Today, government has offered just one solution: Remove the overpass. In the ’50s and ’60s, government also offered just one solution: Ram highways through cities. That is the historical analogy:  top-down governmental status quo. People stood up and said, “No, there has to be a better way.” And that better way is choice and common sense.

Fine letter-writer Larry Fabian had the right idea when he recommended the City of Boston launch an international design competition for a new Menino Overpass. (“A new ‘Menino Overpass’ could be a global landmark,” letter, April 12.) His glorious vision of a soaring overpass with bicyclists, pedestrians and scenic pullovers may be overgenerous, but an airy flyway for express traffic only would require just two lanes, not the four we have, casting a narrower and lighter footprint on the streets below. Besides aesthetics, reduced costs through inventive construction would be the main parameter for the design competition, because it is cost ultimately that has forced government to push the surface option. Both an improved overpass and also improved surface roads are doable. Government is made of people; we only need ask.

James Byrne

Jamaica Plain

  • Clay Harper

    Comparing the traffic flow of a redesigned and presumably completed Casey Arborway to the current construction zone at one of the few Charles River crossings in Cambridge is disingenuous at best. Believing that all the elements of city life listed – cars, buses, trucks, bikes, pedestrians, strollers, wheelchairs – should be able to coexist on, well, a street in the city is far from “madness”. it’s the necessary challenge of all urban planning. The “hell” of the current street level you describe has an opportunity to be rationalized, using the footprint of the crumbling bridge and ramps.

    The “choice” you demand was investigated, vetted, weighed against the alternatives and found to be unnecessary as well an expensive burden.

    • september16

      One thing that never is discussed when debating about the replacement of the Casey overpass is the issue of catering exclusively to making it easier for everyone to drive from one place to another. With peak oil just around the corner( read the most recent report online from the Energy Watch Group) we will be hard pressed to keep all that infrastructure, especially bridges, up and running for the long term. In this country we take endless energy supplies for granted. This a short sighted mistake. We should stop fooling ourselves and start rebuilding our mass transit system not only locally but nationwide because we won’t have a fallback if we just think everything is going to go on as business as usual.