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Nothing straight about Green Line

Posted by Marcia Dick  June 18, 2010 09:53 AM

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Danielle Dreilinger photos

A commuter train passes the future Gilman Square Green Line stop..

In Somerville, everyone's speculating and dreaming about When the Green Line Comes — just see the real estate ads. In May and June, the Community Corridor Planning coalition put a little reality into the mix by holding open meetings to design the future light-rail stops. Almost 100 people attended, said organizer Ellin Reisner.

Well, not entirely reality: The state has no obligation to put any of the designs into practice. But the results provide an interesting imaginative exercise for the city. Here's a few of the ideas. You can see sketches at the Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership website.

BRICKBOTTOM

brickbottom.jpgNow: Residents recently won a battle to keep the Green Line maintenance facility tucked away instead of smack in the middle of things, but this neighborhood still faces a lot of challenges. Light-industrial buildings — Cataldo Ambulance, Gino's Ornamental Ironworks — lead down Joy Street to the Brickbottom live-in artists' studios. But the rail bed completely cuts them off from the small shops and restaurants a stone's throw away. With no crossing lights, the people who live across Washington Street hesitate, then run.


Later: Stephen Kaiser, a Cambridge engineer who participated in the design workshops, thought the state's draft design was all wrong: It allowed access only from the Brickbottom side. But "the corridor's there and the people are there," he said.

His team presented several alternatives. One shifts the station closer to Washington Street, taking over the Cataldo storage site. Another lofts the station into the sky, with access to Washington Street on both sides.

If the station stays at its half-hidden proposed location — a block down Joy Street — at least the state should cut an underpass through to Café Belo. Whatever happens, "It's got to be coordinated with good traffic lights to get people across the street," Kaiser said.

There's also a proposal afoot to move the station to the other side of Washington Street, squarely into an isolated wedge of residential East Somerville. "The key thing to emphasize here is the need for flexibility and to work things out with the locals," he said.

GILMAN SQUARE

Now: It's arguably the least promising spot — weedy, strewn with debris. The station site, tucked behind the high school, is next to a piano factory and the decrepit, city-owned Homans Building, which officials determined in 2004 was too expensive to renovate. Ed Leathers Park is new, green, and tidy but separated from the future station by Walnut Street. Commercial activity is limited to the Paddock pizzeria and several gas stations. The high school, blotted out by trees and the steep slope, towers above. If you have a taste for urban Gothic, it's actually kind of gorgeous.

Later: In the designers' vision, the Homans becomes "Somerville Center," with community multi-use space, a job center, and a café with outdoor seating facing the station. A walkway runs to a new north/south bus on steep School Street — a useful addition in a city whose buses all run crosstown. Another covered walkway channels visitors directly to the high school, City Hall, and the library uphill on Highland Avenue.

BALL SQUARE

ballsquare.jpgNow: It smells like fried food — fitting for a commercial strip known for its popular eateries. But Ball Square remains unassuming, perennially hobbled by the 15-minute walk to Davis Square. There's an old bowling alley, an old bank, an old travel agency that's been empty for years, an old … you get the picture.

Later: The priority was "connectivity," said design group member Jason Zogg, a Cambridge resident and urban planner. "We moved the bus stops to the top of the bridge," he said. "You could basically get off the bus and go directly down an escalator or an elevator to a central platform" and pick up the train. That's especially important for this stop, which is right along Broadway bus lines from the northern Winter Hill area, which gets bupkis from the Green Line extension.

But along with practicality, Zogg's team wanted something spectacular, as unique and striking as Boston's new courthouse or the Charles/MGH stations. Their design has wooden benches, LED light design, public art — no little Allston Green Line platforms here. "Why shouldn't our transportation systems … be these really amazing and inspiring public spaces?" he asked rhetorically. They even made a Ball Square logo: a sphere and a cube.

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ROUTE 16

Now: If Gilman at least has a run-down sense of place, the possible end of the line — being designed with the rest of the stations but not currently on the list for funding - has a sense of ... rear parking lot. It takes several minutes of scrambling among U-Haul trucks to locate the rail bed (above, below), tucked behind bland office buildings and cut-rate gyms. The tracks are fenced off and landscaped with neat beds of crushed stone.

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Later: In designers' imaginations, this stop that may not happen is the "(Meanest) Greenest" of them all. An overpass would bring pedestrians over to Mystic River parkland; an underpass, to the Medford Whole Foods. A new park would abut Boston Avenue. That said, as befits the end of the line, there's plenty of parking.

Traveling back inbound, the sun breaks out on a cloudy day, gold and gunmetal, and the bright future looks a little more plausible.

Contact Danielle at somervillescene@gmail.com.




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