Comments on Sullivan Square/Rutherford Avenue Design Project 3/31/17

Comments on Sullivan Square/Rutherford Avenue Design Project 3/31/17

March 31, 2017

Deputy Commissioner James Gillooly
Boston Transportation Department, 7th floor
1 City Hall Square
Boston, MA 02201

Re: Sullivan Square/Rutherford Avenue Design Project (SS/RA Design Project)

Dear Deputy Commissioner Gillooly,

WalkBoston has been engaged in and following the planning and design of Sullivan Square/Rutherford Ave. for many years. We have consistently and persistently noted that the redesign of the streets and roadways for this part of Boston should reflect what the people of Charlestown, Somerville and Everett deserve as a hub for walking and transit, and should create opportunities for the redevelopment of what has long been a neglected, dysfunctional and unsafe auto-­centric wasteland.

We strongly believe that an at-­grade street system with opportunities for at-­grade redevelopment of parcels (that do not require air rights or decks) presents the greatest opportunity to create a sense of place, answer the long-­term transportation needs of this dense urban location, provide for safe mobility for all street users and allow for climate resilient designs.

Over the last decade transportation planners and engineers across the United States have come to understand that adding roadway capacity in multi-­‐modal, dense urban environments simply means that more people will drive their cars and fill up the roads. We’ve learned from years of mistakes that building large roads that look and feel like highways through communities encourages high speed traffic, attracts more vehicular traffic and traffic congestion, cuts off parts of neighborhoods.

The roadway, transit and sidewalk network at the heart of the Boston metro area should meet the multi-­‐modal needs appropriate to the land uses and neighborhoods that surround the roadway network. With I-­‐93 directly adjacent to Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue, this part of the region already houses a regional road system that serves longer distance travelers.

Slowing traffic down on Rutherford Ave and keeping regional traffic off of local roads will better protect Main St, Bunker Hill St and Medford St. the local streets are 1-­lane in each direction, with parking on both sides, and a number of traffic lights. It is counter-­‐intuitive to think that anyone might navigate off of Rutherford Ave and onto these streets in order to go faster. Waze and other similar tech services will always show drivers the fastest routes – if Rutherford Ave is faster than I-­93, Waze will route even more drivers through Charlestown.

The City’s new plan, Imagine Boston 2030 states the case that WalkBoston is making here: Sullivan Square has the potential to be “a walkable job and housing center with access to quality transit,” and goes on to note that this would require that “strategic infrastructure investment, potentially including open space, would be needed to address congestion and flooding vulnerability in Sullivan Square and nearby areas.”

The many comments that the City will receive about the project will provide both detailed technical and moving personal information about the project and its impacts on the Charlestown community. To put the project in a larger context, WalkBoston has reviewed the City’s plans for transportation (GoBoston 2030), resilience (Climate Ready Boston), and long range planning (Imagine Boston 2030). The table below puts the SS/RA in the context of the goals that these plans set for the City. We believe that the goals clearly point to the surface option as the right choice for the project.

If the City carries both options to further levels of refinement, we ask that several technical assessments be included:

1. Estimated number and severity of total traffic crashes for the entire roadway system from the Mystic River to Austin Street for each mode: pedestrians, bicycles, transit users and vehicles. We believe that the crash statistics cited on page 29 of the 2/28/17 slide show do not represent an accurate picture of the impacts of the project designs on all crashes. (see note below)

2. Measure the total land area devoted to roadway surface and “unbuildable” air rights parcels in each alternative.

3. Measure the longest distances that are not traversable by pedestrians between intersections: (1) from the bank of the Mystic River at Alford Street to the first pedestrian crossing, (2) from northern D Street south toward Baldwin Street), (3) north from Austin Street.

4. Estimate the walking travel time from the corner of Main and Bunker Hill Street to Sullivan Square Station.

5. Provide construction and fifty-­‐year operation/maintenance cost estimates for each proposal.

6. Describe in detail how vehicles using a Rutherford Ave tunnel will be slowed to 25-­‐30 mph when they emerge onto the surface portions of Rutherford Ave.

Let’s not put the design of Sullivan Square/Rutherford Ave on the wrong side of history. We don’t want to build new streets with underpasses that are “relics” before they are built.

Thank you for your consideration.

Best Regards,

Wendy Landman
Executive Director

Cc Chris Osgood, Chief of Streets, Transportation and Sanitation
Commissioner Gina Fiandaca, Boston Transportation Department
William Conroy, Project Manager Boston Transportation Department
Tad Read, Boston Planning and Development Agency
Peter Furth, Northeastern University
Amy Branger, Liz Levin, Emma Rothfeld Yashar, WalkBoston Board members and advocates from Charlestown

Note: Peter Furth provided WalkBoston with the following information about the cited crash statistics. “They are using Highway Safety Manual’s general 42% reduction in crash rate when an at-­‐grade intersection is converted to a grade-­‐separated interchange. It’s obvious, but worth emphasizing: a grade separated interchange is NOT what’s proposed for Sullivan Sq; what’s proposed is a flyunder, akin to a flyover. The HSM has no data on flyover / flyunder conversions. They are making a logical leap by using a reduction that comes from complete grade separation. On the slide they write “*Applies to Underpass Movements Only,” meaning they intend to apply that reduction only to cars who will use the underpass. However, that suggests that a flyunder will leave all the other traffic unaffected. That is not proven (there is no data), and moreover, there are good reasons to expect that crash rate will go *up* for the other traffic. One reason is that the only traffic removed by the flyunder is thru traffic; all the turning traffic, which carries higher crash risk, remains, and furthermore will be concentrated. More importantly, the space required for the flyunder structure forces the at-­‐grade intersection to have an unfavorable geometry, with the left turn lanes that flank the underpass separated from each other in a way that results in interlocking left turns, which are less efficient and (probably) less safe. Nobody would ever lay out an intersection that way if they weren’t constrained by the structure of the flyover / flyunder. That change could have an unfavorable safety effect that erases the gains enjoyed by thru cars that get to bypass the intersection.”

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