Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Added traffic is not inevitable

The Boston Globe has a nice article by Eric Moskowitz posted today, Car-free commuting push pays off in Kendall Square:
Despite the rapid expansion in and around Kendall Square in the last ­decade — the neighborhood absorbed a 40 percent increase in commercial and institutional space, adding 4.6 million square feet of development — automobile traffic actually dropped on major streets, with vehicle counts falling as much as 14 percent.
Although more commuters are churning in and out of Kendall each day, many more than ever are going by T, bike, car pool, or foot. 
Compare that to quotes from a recent article in The Harvard Crimson, Architect Presents Details of Allston Residential and Retail Project:
When the same land parcel was discussed in 2006, a hockey rink was on the table, but nothing of that size was mentioned this time around. But members of the audience voiced some of the same concerns as six years ago, focusing mostly on parking and safe traffic flow. 
One member of the audience said that parking was hard to find as is and that he was worried it would only get harder after development. The current proposal includes two levels of parking to accommodate consumers and residents. 
Other residents expressed worries about the potential ramifications of putting a large development at an already-complicated intersection. “I think they have a major safety problem with traffic that conceivably could create a lot of traffic problems stretching all the way down North Harvard [Street] and Western [Ave.],” Allston resident Ed A. Kotomori said at the meeting.
Now, it is true that one major difference between North Allston and Kendall Square is that while Kendall has the Red Line, there are only buses running through North Allston: specifically the 66, the 70, and the 86 at this particular site. But there are a lot of similarities too. Not too long ago, Kendall was a largely empty area, like Western Avenue is today. Kendall's development is largely driven by the proximity of MIT. The Allston project is owned and being developed by Harvard University, which intends to make this a center for research. So, the intended demographic picture is pretty similar; and they will be of the younger generation that prefers to walk, bicycle and ride public transportation instead of dealing with the hassles of cars and traffic congestion.

Both Harvard and New Balance, which is peripherally involved, seem to be open to promoting non-car transportation options, and they both certainly have the political weight to see it through. But will Boston work with them, or lag behind? At the last New Brighton Landing meeting, the BTD showed up with a plan to widen Cambridge Street from two lanes of traffic to four, which will make the street leading up to Union Square (Allston) a much more dangerous place than it already is. This plan seems to be an echo of the old, discredited ways of dealing with future traffic projections. But, as the Kendall Square example shows, it is possible to have development and growth without creating more congestion. There is nothing inevitable about it; the transportation choices of the community today will ultimately shape what traffic is like tomorrow. If the community decides to promote wider roads and parking lots, then traffic will increase accordingly. If instead the community decides to promote non-car transportation, then traffic will not increase. It's in our hands.

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