We can learn a couple of things from New York

Going in reverse order from when these things came over the transom:

POINT THE FIRST

“25 keeps us all alive!” — To be clear, I do not believe this is really the slogan, but I was in New York over the past weekend and snapped this picture:

IMAG0008

You’re reading the sign right. New York has had a city-wide 25 mph speed limit for more than a year now. The world has not ended and their economy has not crashed, but traffic fatalities of all kinds of down year over year: 241 this year against 269 last year. The new Boston Vision Zero Action Plan is finally pointing us in this direction. But let’s be honest: it is long, long past time for our city to take the same kind of step — let’s make 2016 the year it happens.

POINT THE SECOND

Why 9 or 10 is better than 12. I commend to everyone the following article from Rob Steuteville over at Better Cities & Towns about how the humble Williamsburg Bridge’s rehabilitation back during your correspondent’s youthful years in the big city led to some of the first research into why narrower vehicle travel lanes are safer than wider ones. Worth a read: The New Science of Traffic Engineering. Challenging a misguided orthodoxy only sticks when you gather the data to show why that orthodoxy is wrong.

20 Taft Hill Rendering

Taft Hill Park Proposal Takes a Step Forward

20 Taft Hill Rendering
20 Taft Hill Rendering

We blogged about the proposal for 19 new residential units on Taft Hill Park (directly adjacent to the city’s public parking lot) a couple of months ago, shortly before the BRA’s public meeting on the developer’s small project review application. And we followed that up with a letter during the comment period. Just this week, small project review concluded with the BRA Board’s approval at their meeting on Thursday, along with five other projects indicative of the current pace of development in Boston. In WalkUP Roslindale’s view, this is the right result. In our comment letter, we expressed overall support for the location and the thoughtful way the developer was taking advantage of the highly transit-accessible and walkable location, while offering our suggestions on certain aspects of the developer’s proposal. The next step for the proposal will be to proceed with the process for obtaining the zoning relief (specifically, variances) needed under the zoning code. This will likely mean another community meeting and then the required hearing before the Board of Appeal. We will continue to follow the proposal and how our suggestions are ultimately responded to. Look for updates here as this proposal continues to work its way through the review and approval process.

Boston’s Vision Zero Action Plan and sharing the Arboretum Gateway Path with our friends at LivableStreets’ 10-in-1 Street Talk

As part of our effort to spread the word and gather more support for the Arboretum Gateway Path concept, I was excited to have the opportunity to do a 7 minute presentation at LivableStreets Alliance’s 10-in-1 Street Talk last Wednesday night at the Old South Meeting House downtown. This is the 10th anniversary for these talks, and they’re a great way to connect with folks who have similar interests and advocating for making our streets and public places better and safer for everyone. LivableStreets has posted some photos from the event on their facebook page. I’ll share the video of the whole thing as soon as I see it posted in a public forum, but I was most struck during the evening by the presentation from Mark Chase of Somerville Neighborways. You should check out the images on the website, especially the concept of stressing the importance and local ownership of key intersections with resident-organized and applied graphics painted directly on the pavement. Pretty impressive and something that we should look into doing here in Roslindale – I have my own thoughts on where, and I’m sure others in our neighborhood do as well.

The evening got off to a great start with the semi-surprise of the Mayor’s announcement of the city’s Vision Zero Action Plan in a short video, which was followed by reinforcing remarks from BTD Commissioner Gina Fiandaca. Chief of Streets Chris Osgood was also personally in attendance to emphasize the importance of the announcement. The whole action plan is worth looking at and taking part in as it moves forward. But I would say that among the most interesting  and important early action items is the institution of neighborhood slow speed zones in the Talbot-Norfolk triangle near Codman Square in Dorchester and between Washington Street and Franklin Park in Jamaica Plain’s Stonybrook section. My own understanding is that this is mainly a matter of lowering the speed limit from 30 to 20 mph and highlighting that fact with signage and enhanced crosswalk treatments and related measures. Bottom line: The pilots are a great idea, long past due, yet fundamentally every residential area in the city should get the same treatment, as soon as the city can get the standard package set next spring and summer through the pilots and then roll them out. The data on vehicle speed vs. fatality rates for pedestrians are uniform on pointing to the shift from 30 to 20 pm as being absolutely essential. If we can get actual vehicle speeds to that lower level on our neighborhood streets, we will have accomplished something of real and lasting value.

Of Millennials, Transit Accessibility, and our regional transit provider

mbtaThis article from yesterday’s Globe – Access to MBTA influences where millennials work, live – is an eye-opener, even for someone who already recognizes the massive shift in habits and preferences that Millennials (in this case, 660 of our friends and neighbors between the ages of 20 and 37 from the greater Boston area) are exhibiting on auto use and transit access:

  • A combined 96% of respondents to the MassINC/ULI survey reportedly put transit access in the somewhat/very important category on where they want to live, and
  • A combined 93% of respondents to the survey reportedly put such access in the somewhat/very important category on where they want to work
  • Just 24% reported driving alone as their mode of travel to work

Big numbers, without question, that reflect that access to the MBTA, despite its shortcomings, is viewed as an indispensible amenity and driver of locational decisions among a very large cohort in our population (and, by extension, the companies that want to employ them and the developers who want to build their housing). As someone a bit older who would fall into the very important category on transit access myself, I hope this and similar information on the importance of the T to our region’s livability and economy will spur all of us to advocate for and support new initiatives, funding, and service in the days ahead. Among the other things we all need to do, it’s time to help the T work better.

REMINDER: 20 Taft Hill Park Proposed Project — Comment Period ends 7 Nov 2015

We will be submitting a comment letter on behalf of the WalkUP Roslindale steering group tomorrow (most likely).

THAT SAID, everyone here is encouraged to submit their own comment letters/emails before the official November 7 comment period deadline. Public meeting presence and participation count to set the tone about a particular process, but it’s the written comments that really get reviewed and counted in the formal consideration. Take a little bit of time and send in an email with your comments and expression of support (if applicable) to edward.mcguire@nullboston.gov, the BRA project manager for the project.  And feel free to let us know when you’ve submitted and even a summary of what you said in the comments to this post. Thanks!!!

20 Taft Hill Rendering

Taft Hill Development Up Next

20 Taft Hill Rendering
20 Taft Hill Rendering

Everyone is encouraged to attend the upcoming community meeting on the proposed new development at 20 Taft Hill Park, next to the municipal parking lot just north of the Square. Per the BRA, which will be hosting the meeting, essential details are as follows:

Date: Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Time: 6:30 to 8:00 pm
Location: Roslindale Community Center, corner of Washington and Cummins

Information on the proposal as submitted by the developer can be found on the BRA’s website HERE.

Basic project numbers shown there are as follows:

  • 19 residential condominium units in 2 buildings (6 units/13 units).
  • Unit mix is 2 1BRs, 15 2BRs, 2 3BRs.
  • 19 off-street parking spaces (1 per unit).
  • Bicycle storage for 34 bicycles.
  • $2,000 car-sharing service credit to each unit buyer.

Five things to consider/watch for in the meeting and in discussions over this project:

  1. Generally speaking, this is a project that fits within WalkUP Roslindale’s principles and is likely to gain our support. The location is adjacent to the square, and so walkable to its services, restaurants, shops, and transit options, and the design and program appear interested in making use of that walkability. To get the most out of this project as a neighborhood, we will want to focus much of our attention on the quality of the urban design here so that we end up with something much closer to the substation redevelopment as opposed to, for example, the redevelopment of the former Roslindale Pub site. The initial renderings suggest that this will be more like the substation, even if it is a bit of a departure from typical residential architecture in the neighborhood.
  2. According to the application, the project will require zoning relief (in this case, variances) because the site is zoned 2F-5000, a subdistrict previously discussed at this blog. Given the project’s size, it will also be subject to the city’s inclusionary development policy, also previously discussed here. That means that at a minimum 13% of the units will need to be affordable under the policy’s definition. WUR is already on record through our principles that we think this percentage is low given the scope of the need and it further doesn’t address the broader workforce housing challenge that has occupied so much of the Walsh administration’s attention and bubbled up just a couple of days ago in a slightly different context dealing with the city’s housing and jobs linkage fees. This is an issue that will need to be on the table.
  3. The developer’s decision to include bicycle parking and car-sharing credits shows a willingness to engage on encouraging active transportation in our neighborhood. To WUR, this presents the opportunity to work constructively and proactively on promoting walking, bicycling, and transit infrastructure, very much along the lines of the City’s recently released draft vision for GoBoston 2030, especially the “health”  section. New development that smartly leverages our neighborhood’s existing active transportation assets should be thinking about ways to concretely support their improvement and expansion.
  4. The 1-to-1 off-street parking ratio will be a topic of discussion and deliberation. The multiple intersecting issues that are bound up in parking were identified as needing thoughtful consideration in an early post here. Clearly, there are different sides to this issue and spillover effects on generally available on-street parking from households that own more cars than they have off-street parking spaces to put them in can have impacts. On the other hand, simply imposing a higher rate of off-street parking has multiple impacts of its own, including increasing motor vehicle traffic, taking up valuable space that could be devoted to other, more productive uses, and driving up the cost of housing to provide an “amenity” that many residents may not want. These are just a few of the considerations about parking that I’m sure will be voiced through this process.
  5. Finally, a note on process: This will be a public community meeting required as a result of the developer’s Small Project Review application. There may be more than one such meeting for this process and there will also be an accompanying written comment period that the BRA project manager will identify at the meeting. Conclusion of this BRA process with a BRA Board vote will then be followed by a process with the Board of Appeal for the variances that would almost certainly include a further public community meeting and then a hearing before the Board. In other words, there will be multiple points at which to plug into this process, be heard, and be counted.

Thinking about the proposed project at 100 Weld and Boston’s inclusionary development policy

The former Weld American gas/service station at the corner of Weld and Centre may be zoned within the West Roxbury Neighborhood District, but by virtually any other known geographic listing it’s in Roslindale. After a prior redevelopment proposal failed a few years ago, it looks like the current proposal – now dubbed “100 Weld” and including 17 condominium units and a Centre Street-facing exercise/office space for residents with 26 accessory off-street parking spaces – is going to thread the needle and be that rare exception to the general rule that nothing worth doing is ever done under the Boston Zoning Code without needing zoning relief (i.e., either variances or, at the very least, a conditional use permit). This is not to say that the proposed development program and design don’t leave a few things to be desired — they do, and WalkUP Roslindale intends to submit a written comment letter about them to the BRA by the September 10 deadline. Among other things, I predict we’ll focus on the missed opportunity for retail to encourage vitality at this location, the need for well-designed and landscaped frontages on Weld and Centre, how the time has ever more obviously come to have a real discussion about the impact that required off-street parking has on the cost and shape of new development, and how this intersection and the mixed residential/commercial node here could use streetscape/motorway improvements beyond just at this project’s front door onto Centre. Overall, though, the project deserves to go forward. The neighborhhood has lived with this vacant parcel long enough.

Another issue that this project raises is the fundamental inadequacy of the city’s inclusionary development policy (IDP). This is the policy adopted over a decade ago by mayoral executive order under which the city requires residential projects of 10 units or more that require zoning relief (variances or conditional use permit) to set aside a number of units equal to 15% of the market rate units for households earning within a set series of ranges related to area median income, depending on whether a particular project is rental or homeownership, with a buyout option. I’ve italicized “that require zoning relief” because that’s where the rub comes on 100 Weld and where the city is going to need to figure out a new way forward. 100 Weld had a couple of pre-filing meetings in the spring at which alternative schemes were presented for a few more units that would have required variances and thus a few affordable units. Whatever the reason, the developer has elected to reduce the number of units and thus has come forward with a scheme that can be done as-of-right, with no zoning relief. As a result, the project no longer triggers the IDP and so there will be no affordable units in this project.

Going forward, there clearly seems to be a need to rethink the IDP and potentially make it apply to all projects with a minimum number of residential units, regardless of whether they require zoning relief. One would fully expect this to be part of the ImagineBoston process. But the pace of the current boom argues for putting in an interim policy that plugs this gap, especially if the city’s ultimate intent with the planning process is to right-size our zoning code for the task ahead of us and make a much greater share of worthwhile projects able to proceed without zoning relief. To be continued.

Exactly

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This photo was taken yesterday at the Roslindale Farmers Market. I assume RVMS gathered the information and made the display. Well done, guys! Exactly the kind of thinking about the area that’s needed. Really makes the argument about how much is within very short walking distance. Our focus should be on finding ways for those steps to be easier and safer to make, increasing the number of places you can get to by walking, and supporting old and new neighbors who want to take those steps!

(Revised slightly after initial posting.)

Governor Baker’s official response on Casey Arborway looks like the final word

And the manner of the response could bode well for how our commonwealth’s new administration views major projects in urban areas

By necessity, WalkUP Roslindale’s focus is primarily on Roslindale Square and its immediate vicinity. But what is now happening with Casey Arborway — the MassDOT project currently underway to demolish the old Route 203/Casey Overpass at Forest Hills and replace it with a network of at-grade streets — also matters a lot. There is no denying that the construction has made the area more difficult to navigate in the short term: the area right now is a mix of permanent and temporary roadways and paths and demolition of the old overpass is ongoing. Ultimately, once completed, Casey Arborway promises a more connected, accessible, and livable Forest Hills for everyone.

For those who have followed the project for the last several years as it wound its way through the public process, the most regrettable outcome has been the bitter split among many politically active players in Jamaica Plain over the wisdom of MassDOT’s decision to go with the at-grade network over reconstructing or replacing the overpass. Since the decision was originally announced in March 2012, Bridging Forest Hills, the anti-at-grade group, has managed to hold itself together even as the project has moved forward through design, final approvals, selection of the contractor, and even commencement of construction this spring. The last move the group made was a petition and direct appeal this spring to Governor Baker to halt the project and consider a new direction. Putting aside the practicalities of doing that at this late stage, we all know stranger things have happened and so those on both sides of the issue were still waiting with some interest to see how the governor would respond.

And so he now has. The text of the email from the governor’s office was recently posted at BFH’s website and it does indeed look like the final word. In a brief but substantive response worth reading in full, his deputy chief of staff touches principally on the level of inclusion and robustness of the public process and the way the project evolved over time. In terms of looking forward and thinking about how MassDOT will evaluate their urban projects in the future (such as the Allston Interchange/Beacon Yards project, about which Renee Loth wrote in today’s Globe), the key passage for me is this:

The at-grade option was advanced because it ranked the highest for all forms of mobility, livability, and long term maintenance costs.

Those 3 criteria — mobility across modes, livability, and long-term maintenance costs — are pretty good measures if you’re looking to boil things down. For way too long we allowed one of those criteria and one mode within it to control decision-making. The Casey Arborway represents a new direction that I hope is replicated more often at all levels of government.

South @ Walter Clearly Heating Up — Time to consider Live/Work Units?

Add another ingredient to the mix at what is becoming a hot corner: Green T Cafe just announced they are moving into the former Christos Market space on the corner of Walter and South streets. Some limited activity had been noticeable a few weeks back, but over the past weekend a dumpster materialized (was quickly filled and already replaced) and work appeared to be starting in earnest. The news popped up on the LANA NextDoor group as well as the Keep Roslindale Quirky facebook page, and on Green T’s own website/facebook page. Timing sounds like this fall/winter. This is a big change – the location has been vacant for several years and we have been in desperate need for a neighborhood coffee shop for almost as long.

Green T’s impending arrival signals that there is retail potential at this corner. Further to the recent post about the proposed residential development across South Street, I would suggest again that there is a meaningful basis for more commercial activity at this corner (again, just down the street from where I have lived for 15 years), not less. And one way that the South Street developer might straddle the fence would be to include one or two live/work units on the ground floor street frontage of the building. I suspect, without researching the question, that live/work units at that location (and probably almost everywhere else in Boston) would require a variance from the existing zoning. But the advantages in affordability, flexibility of use and allowing the building to evolve with changing circumstances would be significant. Something to consider here and possibly elsewhere in Roslindale where retail might work but hasn’t been proven yet or has been dormant for an extended period.