Casey Arborway adds 7th lane

(Image from MassDOT) This view of a MasDOT Casey Arborway illustration, magnified by the Gazette, shows the “seventh lane” to the right of the Washington Street intersection. The lane is barely noticeable in the original illustration.

The latest sketch for the Casey Arborway project shows a new, additional turning lane.

The so-called seventh lane, which allows westbound buses to turn south from Route 203 into the lower busway at Forest Hills station, was shown but not announced at the public meeting on March 29 at English High School. The change was noticed later by project critics.

“The project isn’t going to expand. This isn’t a slippery slope toward an 18-lane superhighway,” Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) spokesperson Michael Verseckes told the Gazette this week. He did not clarify why the change wasn’t announced during the meeting.

The addition is “strictly for improving turning movement for buses,” Verseckes said, a concern previously frequently brought up by Design Advisory Group (DAG) members.

Buses would otherwise have to drive through two more intersections, make a U-turn followed by a right-hand turn—a “Michigan left”—before reaching the lower busway. Other vehicles would still have to follow the longer route.

The change wasn’t noticed at the meeting due to its small size in relation to the scope of the project. On a handout given out by the design team at the public meeting, the new lane is a quarter-inch long and less than 1/16 of an inch wide.

Optimized bus routes are one of the recurring concerns of the DAG. Other concerns previously brought up by the DAG and the public, but not yet addressed by the state’s design team, include revised measures of evaluation and possible input from Michigan traffic experts who might be more experienced with “Michigan lefts.”

Members of the Bridging Forest Hills (BFH) advocacy group, which opposes the Casey Arborway plan, first noticed the addition in the days after the public meeting. The updated design drawing was dated March 22, two days after the last DAG meeting.

DAG member Allan Ihrer told the Gazette that he specifically drew attention to the possibility of buses having to take the “Michigan left” and extending their routes, a problem potentially solved by the addition of the new lane.

“It’s just another part of a badly-run community process,” he said. “It shows that there are important issues that haven’t been looked at.”

The state design team stated during earlier meetings that specific traffic issues—like minimizing bus delays—would be addressed during the 25 percent design process, now under way.

After being informed of the change by the Gazette, DAG member Sarah Freeman said, “There was heavy agreement [in the DAG] to prioritize bus movement.”

“I’d ask people to stay calm, let the design process unfold and make sure to put your concerns out there,” she said.

“The devil’s in the details,” BFH member Elizabeth Wylie said. “Once we get over our romantic Olmstedian notions, it’s all about traffic,” she said, referring to Emerald Necklace designer Frederick Law Olsmsted. “It’s part of the preconceived outcome that the whole process was designed to get at.”

Meanwhile, DAG members are being asked by MassDOT if they would like to continue with the project, assuming a further 18-month commitment. MassDOT is also talking to possible new DAG members, Verseckes said.

No date has been set for the announcement of new DAG members, Verseckes said, but he noted it should be “fairly soon.”

The DAG will have a meeting later this month, Verseckes said, though the date is not yet decided.

The Casey Arborway, an at-grade surface street network, will replace the crumbling Casey Overpass. The Casey Overpass is the State Route 203 bridge over Washington Street and Hyde Park Avenue at the Forest Hills T Station. The process has been fraught with controversy since it was first announced in late 2010.


Updated version: This version corrects the name of the Design Advisory Group.

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