May 9, 2016 policy items

City Manager’s Agenda item 2016 #114, transmitting the Planning Board’s recommendation to adopt the Stern petition. This (1) concerns a small number of parcels with one owner, and (2) results directly from a few neighbors’ objection to a specific redevelopment proposal. Supposedly, this is not how zoning is supposed to be done.

Supporting petitions like this, which rely on nonsensical anecdotal arguments (“there is a crappy business across the wide, highway-like road that I never see anyone go to, so all retail should be forbidden…and we should build residential low and sparse because that’s what the side streets look like”), stands in stark contrast to massive upzoning and urban design requirements in other parts of the city.

Look, I’m someone who values context highly. I served on the Avon Hill NCD Commission, and have spoken many times in various forums in favor of neighborhood conservation/preservation, proper architectural context, etc. — the point is, the context here actually calls for dense, multi-story, mixed-use development.

This is a site on Mass. Ave. with 15-minute walks to both Davis & Alewife stations. If not mixed-use density here, then where?

Passing this zoning calls into question the seriousness with which the citizenry should take the city’s commitment to housing, let alone good urbanism generally.

I’m sure the neighbors are fine people and may even have their hearts in the right place. However, the Planning Board’s recommendation is a weak capitulation, and virtually derelict. The recommendation letter is a rubber stamp with no thought or counterpoints.

The City Council should not adopt this zoning petition. This is not only bad urban planning in the context of this site and corridor, but a troubling precedent on several levels.

City Manager’s Agenda item 2016 #119, regarding the Green Line Extension. This could have all been done better from the beginning, and the blame lies with the state. Obviously, the GLX is a total disaster and a skeleton project is now being desperately pieced together. In my opinion, even the original ($2B, real stations, community path) wasn’t enough — well, the $2B was more than enough, but the service should have extended to at least Route 16, and the stations and facilities could have been even more elaborate. And lest we forget, the community path extension was barely included at the last minute and was spartan to begin with for much of its run. Now, we’re left with significantly less, paying more, and Cambridge and Somerville are looking to put up money. I don’t think it ends here. There is no enthusiasm for the project whatsoever at the state administrative level, who are likely weighing whether there is more, or at least equal, political gain to be had from canceling the project outright. Management and long-term planning at the MBTA is doing ??? and oh yeah, this was all supposed to be done 10 years ago.

As I’ve said before, a creative approach with station building should have been taken. All of the stations could have all been built privately by coming up with zoning packages and air rights/land swap deals with developers, leaving the MBTA to do tracks/signals/trains/path. I’m puzzled as to why this wasn’t even really explored. This could have been an early collaboration among municipalities, the MBTA, and developers, and led to faster completion, significant cost savings to the public, and even better transit-oriented development.

Policy order resolution 2016 #129, regarding 25 & 20 mph speed limits. I’m all for it, “20 is plenty” after all, but our focus should be on designing streets to calm traffic, not relying on signs and the vague and ineffective “enforcement” to make streets safer, calmer, and more pleasant. We can get to a default 20mph (or less), by focusing on good design with speed reduction as a side effect.

Policy order resolution 2016 #132, regarding bus stop access. Here’s another point where enforcement and signage will always fail where design offers a simple solution and numerous compounded benefits. Look no further than our new Western Ave. to find the real solution to bus stop access/accessibility: bus bulbs/platforms. Bus stop curbside pullover zones are wasted space, routinely abused, and have significant accessibility problems. We should commit to building bus bulbs/platforms around the city, which will create waiting areas with benches in the place of empty pullover zones, meet high accessibility standards, and open up room on sidewalks. Fully-built bus stops contribute to our urban landscape while re-prioritizing transit.

This is one of my favorite ways to (more or less cheaply) improve transit infrastructure and urban place, and doesn’t really take much planning or effort. Apart from the protected bike lane, the other great loss that came with the Pearl Street failure was an opportunity to build these platform-style bus stops.

Regarding the new City Manager search, I have a choice in my head, and maybe I’ll reveal it at some point. Hint: this person already works for the city. If I had been elected, I would be their advocate and champion (if they wanted the job…if they didn’t, I’d do my best to convince them).

Committee Report 2016 #17, regarding things fastened to street trees. I’m all for the aggressive removal and confiscation of any items fastened to, or which otherwise damage, street trees/plantings.

May 9, 2016 policy items