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Beyond The Big Dig
About this project

What happens to the ribbon of land being created by the depression of the Central Artery may be the most important development decision to face Boston in a generation.


City transportation plan leaves traffic mess

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 10/07/2001

We promised you a first glimpse of Boston's grand transportation plan, and then we waited.

It was going to be issued last year, but as Bob Dylan sings in his Oscar-winning song, "Things Have Changed."

No longer a single item to be issued under one cover, the plan is now made up of several parts that are being issued as they're completed.

City Transportation Commissioner Andrea d'Amato said it didn't make sense to hold everything up for a single release. (Not to mention that the change in plan offers another year or two to get it all done.)

We've expressed skepticism before that the plan will make much difference in the average commuter's life on city streets. The basics -- enforcement of violations of no-parking and no-standing laws, bus pickup zones, and traffic signals -- are crucial to helping drivers.

So is some reasonable coordination of traffic lights, which despite what city officials insist, doesn't exist. We'd like to invite d'Amato to ride through Dorchester, Franklin Park, and West Roxbury sometime and count the traffic lights you don't stop at, regardless of your speed. You can do it on one hand.

On Center Street, there are two lights within one-tenth of a mile of each other, and entire lines of cars, having just stopped at one, then hit a solid yellow at the next.

What's the point here? Encouraging road rage?

One of the major goals of the various parts of the transportation plan is discouraging traffic from cutting through neighborhoods -- yet frequent, pointless red lights on major thoroughfares accomplish just the opposite.

Anyway, d'Amato recently met with the MOVEMass transportation group to give an update on Boston's plan. High points:

Its goals are enhancing quality of life in the neighborhoods, appropriate economic growth, and equitable distribution of the costs and benefits of services.

People are moving back to the city. Boston has almost 600,000 residents, and about the same number of vehicles come into the city daily.

Sidewalks are being widened, which means even less room for cars on the crowded streets. Reducing the number of off-street parking spaces is one of the ways employers can encourage (force) more people to use the MBTA.

A Corridor Improvement Program has had some success in consolidating loading and unloading of trucks in the 8-11 a.m. period. More curb areas on a few streets, including Boylston, are devoted to short-term parking, and meters now run two hours longer, till 8 p.m.

This is a transportation plan, but don't look for it to do anything but discourage auto traffic. To come, d'Amato promised, is more "traffic calming" and, if the state Legislature agrees, a reduction in the city's speed limit for unmarked areas from 30 to 25 miles per hour.

We had a lengthy follow-up conversation with her about what the plan does and doesn't do. The automobile and the metropolitan area don't coexist in a friendly way, and this plan clearly sides with the city, which perhaps is appropriate.

Given that it really doesn't deal much with resolving traffic congestion, it might have been good to call it something other than "Boston's Citywide Transportation Plan."

It covers reaching out to teenagers, immigrants, and the elderly. It deals with pedestrian safety. It deals with bicycling. And it deals with public transportation.

But don't look for any brilliant strategies for unclogging, for example, the area around Forest Hills Station.

Here's where things stand with the various parts of the plan:

Parking: New commercial-vehicle regulations are in effect, and the corridor-improvement programs have been implemented on High, Boylston, and Newbury streets. The publication is being drafted, maybe out the end of this month.

Pedestrian Safety: Walk This Way and Let's Get Moving campaigns have begun, "traffic calming" sites identified, and Hyde Square improvements made. The publication is at the printer.

Bicycling: The Bike Plan was released in May, and 150 of 250 bike racks have been installed. A bicycle program manager has been hired.

Public Transportation: The publication is being drafted, out by end of November.

Boston Transportation Fact Book: With sections on the city's 16 separate neighborhoods, it's supposed to be out by the end of the year.

A summary report on all this is also due out by year's end. A Web site isn't done yet.

On the traffic side, there is hope, according to d'Amato, that eventually the arterial streets (and how badly they function much of the day) will get attention.

"Washington Street came up," she said. We'll bet it did.

There will be a "state-of-the-art" traffic control center, but that won't be for two years. Boston got $3.4 million to upgrade its center and modernize some signals. But currently there are 750 signalized intersections, and only a third of them can be controlled remotely from City Hall.

Pit stops

The 175 new low-floor, natural gas-powered buses ordered last week brings the MBTA's total to 358, a third of the MBTA's bus fleet . . . Mass. Highway has awarded an $8.6 million contract for rehabilitation of the Sullivan Square overpass from Route 99 to Broadway in Boston . . . MBTA public meetings on the New Bedford/Fall River commuter-rail extension project will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Taunton City Council Chambers, 6 p.m. Thursday at the New Bedford Public Library, and more next week. . . . Jim from West Roxbury said he likes the new security officers at South Station, but they shouldn't just stand around in groups and jaw . . . Here's a needless reminder that, while you used to be able to carry knives with blades up to four 4 inches on airplanes, the new rule is no knives of any kind . . . The MBTA is buying $400,000 worth of bomb-resistant trash receptacles.

Dig in

The titles of both new volumes start with the Big Dig. One is "The Big Dig at Night," the second book by former project spokesman Dan McNichol, this one with photographs by Stephen SetteDucati.

The other is "The Big Dig: Reshaping an American City," by Peter Vanderwarker, a familiar name to those who read The Boston Globe Magazine on Sundays and a chronicler of the Central Artery/Ted Williams Tunnel project since the early 1990s.

Big Dig buffs will want both of 'em.

McNichols's new volume is more pictures and less a written history than his previous book, last year's "The Big Dig."

There are almost no people in it, but it is 127 pages of extraordinary shapes and a story of progress that you almost certainly slept through.

Vanderwarker's slimmer volume shows his incredible photographic talent in fewer photos, but contains a light-spirited text from someone who clearly loves the city. In particular, look for the Fort Point Channel at dusk and a view of the southern half of the Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge.

Can't get there . . .

The Gilmore Bridge will be closed Wednesday night, 8:30 p.m.-5 a.m.

The ramp from Rutherford Avenue to the Tobin Bridge will be closed Thursday night, 10 p.m.-5 a.m.

The ramp from Purchase Street to the Central Artery southbound, at Oliver Street, will be closed tonight and Tuesday through Thursday, 10:30 p.m.-5 a.m.

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