Friday, September 20, 2013

Boston mayoral candidates weigh-in on Casey Arborway

Mayoral candidates were recently asked about the Casey Overpass in a Transportation & Livable Communities Mayoral Questionnaire. The full questionnaires covering a wide range of related topics and video from the public forum on transportation issues is available here:

The candidate's excerpted responses pertaining to the Casey question (alphabetical by candidate) are here: 

Q: Communities across the city have embraced smaller roadways and better, cheaper alternatives to large, expensive overpasses and underpasses. As mayor, would you support the City's endorsement of the surface road for Rutherford Avenue in Charlestown, the state DCR's endorsement of a surface road to replace the Casey Overpass in Forest Hills, and a surface road in lieu of the Bowker (Charlesgate) Overpass in the Back Bay? What else would you do to bring Boston's roads back to a human scale?

Felix Arroyo: We have great opportunities with these projects to create beautiful, livable spaces as we have seen done in other cities all over the world. We need to be forward thinking in our city planning especially as we face rising fuel costs, climate change and health disparities in our city. I am personally impacted as a neighbor by the project to demolish the Casey Overpass and replace it with a surface option. I believe as a community, our focus should be on ensuring that this project moves forward in a way that improves the flow of traffic and people, best connects our communities, creates green space and also adequately accommodates for growth in our city. As is in the case in Forest Hills, I believe that development in Charlestown, Back Bay, and all of our neighborhoods should be led by a planning process and the community should lead planning

John Barros: In general, I'd support more community-human scale roadways and NOT spend lots of money on over or underpasses. We can save money and rethink how these roadways can be incorporated back into the fabric of our neighborhoods. That said, each of the cases is different and need to be looked at based on its role in the transit system and the community that its in. Community planning process needs to be inclusive and comprehensive. I know the City's Rutherford Ave plan and state's Casey Overpass plan are already advanced in their process, but I have heard that the planning process could have been more engaging.

Charles Clemons: I agree that overpasses are costly to maintain and are aesthetically unattractive. I support developing grade level upgrades.

John Connolly: In general, I think it's great when we can take opportunities to knit communities back together. You don't need to look any further than the North End, which is no longer physically isolated from the rest of downtown by the expressway, to see how much this can improve quality of life in a community. As our infrastructure ages, we need to reexamine our overpasses and underpasses and make changes wherever we can to improve the level of service for all modes, not just cars. I believe there are two critically important considerations as we go about this work. First, we need to make sure that when we make these changes, they are truly improvements for all road users. Second, whether it's a city or state project, we need to make sure that we have robust, transparent community processes that give all community members the opportunity to get involved and make their voices heard.

Charlotte Golar Richie: I generally support these initiatives, and I definitely support a shift away from supporting vehicular convenience rather than making significant improvements to public transportation. Boston's roadway system is, if anything overbuilt. We need to begin an era of unprecedented focus on other modes of transportation. I will take advice from community activists and transportation experts about the impacts on mobility and the environment. We cannot take action that may help and have a negative impact elsewhere. Our transportation network has to work as a system, and as mayor I will take into account how specific actions will impact mobility.

Mike Ross: I have been a strong advocate for many years of alternatives to overpasses where they can be used. I believe that overpasses create dead, underused space within neighborhoods and creates divisions between them. In my own City Council district, I have worked with the Friends of the Charlesgate for many years in their fight to remove the Bowker Overpass on the Kenmore/Back Bay line. I personally worked to set up meetings with MassDOT to advance these neighbors plan to remove the crumbling, unsafe overpass and to replace it with a surface-level road.
Residents of Forest Hills and surrounding communities have invested a significant amount of time and energy into debating the options for the Casey Overpass. The resolution of that planning process is the proposal to remove the Casey Overpass and replace it with surface roads. While I understand that there are many residents who would like to replace the crumbling structure that now stands with a new overpass, I support the results of the community planning process to replace the overpass with surface streets. As Mayor, I would work closely with all stakeholders to advance a smart street design for the area that was focused on multi-modal uses of the roads, appropriately managed MBTA bus routes, and aggressively sought to mitigate congestion. The potential to re-knit the community by following the community plan to remove the overpass is tremendous and I look forward to strengthening the Forest Hills community

Bill Walczak: I believe each of these roadways was built in the 1950s at a time when for many the American Dream of upward mobility meant, among other things, moving out of crumbling cities to well-manicured suburbs. This move was, literally, driven by an infatuation with the automobile - and it was largely supported by federal transportation policies that favored highway construction under the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. It was a different time with different priorities.
I support the decisions to replace these outdated roadways with surface roads. We no longer need roads designed to help people flee the city. And we no longer need roads that divide neighborhoods. For the first time in many years, Boston's population is growing. People are moving back in from the suburbs. And what we need at this point in the City's history are roads that bind neighborhoods together.
That said, I understand why these decisions are so controversial. And while I trust transportation engineers' analyses that show these changes will not lead to the kind of congestion and gridlock that many fear, I understand why residents of those neighborhoods would be skeptical.
They have every right to be skeptical because of the way planning has been done - or, more accurately, not done - over the past several decades. The last comprehensive review of Boston's zoning code was done in the 1980s and the last comprehensive transportation plan was done in 2000. Real estate development and transportation decisions have been done in such a piecemeal fashion over the past decades that one can hardly blame people for doubting the wisdom behind them. These three transportation decisions should have been made as part of a comprehensive planning process that engaged residents in developing an integrated transportation, housing, open space/environmental and commercial master plan to guide the decisions about Boston's future growth.

Marty Walsh: Community engagement and planning are vital to what is going to happen in the three mentioned situations. First of all, I plan to do a feasibility study of all of these projects and see what results they will generate. In regards to the Casey Overpass, after talking to neighbors in Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, Hyde Park and Roslindale, I am personally against tearing down the overpass. However, more community input is needed for a decision to be made. All of these decisions need to be looked into more, and as Mayor I will work with the communities most affected and make sure their voices are heard at the negotiation table.

Charles Yancy: Consequently, if eliminating overpasses and underpasses improves community livability, and survives a strong community process, then I will certainly support the city's endorsement of surface roads in Charlestown, Forest Hills, and in the Back Bay.

On September 21, four days later, Bill Walczak was quoted in the Jamaica Plain Patch and Roslindale Patch "Speak Out" Board as follows:

“I want to reiterate my support for keeping an overpass in Jamaica Plain,” said Walczak.   “While I support tearing down some bridges – this is not one of them.  I believe an at-grade roadway will cause greater congestion in the Forest Hills section of Jamaica Plain and hurt small businesses on Centre St., Washington St., and Hyde Park Ave, and I don’t believe the public was truly heard during the determination process.  As mayor, I commit to working with MassDOT to ensure the rebuilding of the overpass."

He appears to believe that we DO need roads that divide neighborhoods.


  1. This thing has to come down because its obsolete. This is obvious when you consider all that has been said above about why it was built in the first place.

  2. Do you have any thoughts on the final two candidates? I know Walsh wants to rebuild the overpass (or "not tear down" as he says which shows he is not aware that it is not an option to keep the current overpass). That was a dealbreaker for me in the preliminary election, but Connolly's charter school plan terrifies me so I can't vote for him in good conscience either.