By Michael Coughlin Jr.
During an in-person public meeting at The English High School on October 24, Alexandra Markiewicz, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s (MBTA) Deputy Director of Bus Modernization, outlined an updated 15% design for the new Arborway Bus Maintenance Facility.
The new facility, a significant component in the MBTA’s goal of fully electrifying its bus fleet by 2040, has been in the works for years, with previous design plans being presented to the community in June.
However, those plans from June left a lot to be desired from the community as Markiewicz acknowledged they heard concerns.
“There were a lot of concerns. I think we heard them in June, and then we heard them through subsequent opportunities throughout the summer,” said Markiewicz.
Specifically, she noted three major concerns, which included the lack of eight acres of community-use space, which was promised to the community in a Memorandum of Understanding between the MBTA and the City of Boston signed over 20 years ago, the size of the building and the treatment of the Arborway edge.
In response, the MBTA and the city collaborated to develop a design to address these concerns and presented them during the meeting.
The big update is that the design now includes the eight acres community members have been asking for. Markiewicz explained a few different design changes that make the eight acres a possibility.
The first design approach employed was reducing the size of the bus facility and its footprint. However, even with the size reduction, the facility maintains the capacity to house 200 battery electric buses.
“We did that by actually storing the buses on the surface in an open-air canopy-covered configuration, and what this does is it allows us to use the site much more efficiently because we can go over the area where the Stony Brook conduit is, and we also don’t have to dedicate as much space for ramping and circulation,” said Markiewicz.
In addition to the open-air storage canopy, the site also maintains a two-level indoor maintenance facility, and its programming is similar to what was presented in June, but it has been shifted to the east.
According to Markiewicz, this shift to the east was enabled by a collaboration with the city, which reduced the footprint of the Public Works Department (PWD) yard on the site to half an acre and also relocated it elsewhere on the site.
Further, the MBTA plans to accommodate 150 employee parking spaces on a “shared structure with the community uses,” according to Markiewicz.
Moreover, the frontage available in the eight acres of community space has been expanded along the Arborway to 660 feet. This was done by relocating the bus access point along Washington Street.
Markiewicz also outlined the change in massing for the proposal, saying, “The original proposal from June had a 60-foot tall building that was spanning nearly the entirety of the site. What we’re proposing now not only shifts the whole facility eastward away from Washington Street, but it’s also reducing the height by 35 feet for a significant portion of it.”
“Then, for the indoor maintenance facility, we do have a little more height in certain places, but that’s set back from the Arborway,” she added.
Finally, the landscape buffer along the site’s property has been increased by 35% for more greenery for those biking or walking along the Arborway edge.
Diana Fernandez, the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s (BPDA) Deputy Chief of Urban Design, also presented at the meeting and spoke more in-depth about the eight acres slated for community use.
“There’s been extensive planning and community advocacy for the use of those eight acres over many years. There’s many different plans, including PLAN: JP/Rox, the Forest Hills Improvement Plan — I mean so many different planning efforts that we are really looking to build upon,” said Fernandez.
Fernandez spoke about digging further into ideas for programming for the eight acres with the community and mentioned the disposition process for the site that would take place after construction.
Moreover, Fernandez spoke about some of the accommodations the eight acres could provide to the community, which include capacity for 980 units, which is outlined in PLAN: JP/Rox, open space potential, advancing Washington Street improvements, also outlined in PLAN: JP/Rox, a capacity for retail component, and the aforementioned MBTA employee parking.
In addition to the information provided by Fernandez, Jascha Franklin-Hodge, the city’s Chief of Streets, also spoke at the meeting about the aforementioned PWD yard on the site and potential improvements to Washington Street.
Franklin-Hodge identified that the PWD site serves as a winter salt distribution facility and that the facility “allows us to much more nimbly serve Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, Roslindale, the hilly areas on the south of the city.”
He went on to explain that other yards to the north and east are at capacity. He said, “Without a facility in this general vicinity, we would be bringing trucks from the very southern end of Hyde Park or West Roxbury to do an extended round trip in order to provide salt for the streets surrounding the facility in this area.”
Further, Franklin-Hodge also mentioned that the city is exploring using the PWD site as a seasonal CHARM (Center for Hard to Recycle Materials) facility.
In terms of Washington Street improvements, he said, “We have the potential to make for a much safer, much more multi-modal, much more pleasant Washington Street along the edge of the community use land.”
Specifically, Franklin-Hodge spoke about how things like green infrastructure and separated bike lanes could be added to the street through a future planning process.
Following the presentation, the floor was opened up for comments and questions, and many topics were covered.
Multiple attendees questioned why it took this long to get to the current design. One attendee asked specifically if there was any loss of functionality in the facility due to the changes.
While Markiewicz explained that the original goal was an all-indoor operation, she indicated that there were other models for building a bus maintenance facility.
Later, she added, “We recognized that we needed to make some tweaks where it wasn’t going to be operationally painful, and we’ve identified this is the best option.”
There were also comments about the plans for the eight acres. One attendee was not a fan of the potential for a 15-story building with housing, which is based on PLAN: JP/Rox, and favored affordable housing but of a smaller scale in size.
“That’s just what we want: 15 stories of housing with 951 units in it where we pack people into it, which was done in the past, and those people have suffered for it,” said the attendee.
However, another attendee commented on this and wanted this amount of density. “I would love to see 15 stories of housing because the housing crisis is very real for me,” they said.
As the discussion progressed, other attendees commented on the bus facility changes specifically and complimented them.
“I’m glad to see that you’re listening, and to our elected officials who have pushed as well, thank you for that. It does feel like progress,” said an attendee.
Another resident said, “I think that this proposal is so much better than what I saw last summer. I think we have to acknowledge this is good.”
Regarding the next steps in this process, Markiewicz explained that the 15% level design concept will be finalized over the next couple of months, and then there will be a move into the final design phase.
There is a target for construction beginning in the time frame of 2025 and 2026 and a target of being complete in 2029.
If you would like to view a recording of this meeting, you can visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmyIPPfdcbo&t=467s&ab_channel=MBTA.
Also, to follow along with the project, you can visit www.mbta.com/arborwaybus.