Trolley effort rolls on

David Taber

Local activists with the Arborway Committee contested the 2009 dismissal of their lawsuit seeking the restoration of MBTA Green Line service at a Nov. 9 hearing in state Appeals Court.

Arborway Committee lawyer Paul Muniz of the firm Burns and Levinson “argued, I think very convincingly, that the judge in the Superior Court was in error when he granted a motion for summary judgment,” Franklyn Salimbene of the Arborway Committee told the Gazette.

It is not clear when the three-judge appeals court panel will rule.

The Arborway Committee’s lawsuit, filed in 2007, is a final effort by the local advocacy group to force the state to restore Arborway Green Line on-street trolley service between its current terminus at the Heath Street T Station and the Forest Hills T Station at the intersection of the Arborway and Washington Street.

The coalition’s suit stemmed from its contention that the state was in breach of a court settlement in which it promised to restore the trolley service along S. Huntington Avenue, and Centre and South streets.

The superior court’s summary judgment was based on the state’s contention that the coalition’s suit was filed after the three-year statute of limitations had run out.

The state contended that the alleged settlement violation came in 1997, when the state missed a deadline for trolley restoration. The committee contends that the violation came in 2006, when the state re-wrote the settlement, killing trolley restoration and replacing it with a public process to think of transit improvements in the “Arborway corridor.” The original plantiff, the non-profit environmental advocacy law firm the Conservation Law Foundation did not contest those changes.

The new Arborway corridor process eventually evolved into a set of proposed improvements to the MBTA’s Route 39 bus service, which runs along the same corridor and to Back Bay Station in downtown Boston via Huntington Avenue. Planning is close to done on those improvements, which will likely include bus stop consolidation, new bus shelters and the construction of sidewalk “bump-outs” at some stops.

Even if the coalition prevails in appeals court, it is not entirely clear if they have standing to sue, because the Conservation Law Foundation was the original complaintant. Salimbene told the Gazette that the coalition’s position is that the air-quality improvements were intended to benefit JP residents directly, so JP residents have standing to sue.

“Particularly in this age when we are worried, and rightly so, about climate change and pollution of various types, restoring the trolley makes immense sense,” Salimbene told the Gazette. “It is a proven way of improving public transit ridership and making Jamaica Plain accessible to the Greater Boston community.”

Trolley service between Heath Street and Forest Hills was “temporarily” shut down in 1985. A state-led planning process for the restoration of the trolley in the 1990s was controversial—spurring the creation of another local advocacy group called Better Transit Without Trolleys.

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