Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Design in isolation

There are several recent projects in the Boston/Cambridge area—some of which have been covered on this page—that have been in the conversation recently. One major flaw of all of these is that they do little to combine the features of multiple projects but rather are viewed in isolation, even though they often border each other and, in many cases, deal with the same roads, paths and transitways. These include:

These are all worthy projects, and it's mildly infuriating that there is no overarching planning agency which can corral these in to one cohesive plan. Right now, it's an alphabet soup which includes MassDOT, DCR, Cambridge, Boston, the MBTA, Harvard and MIT (they own part of the Grand Junction right of way). The issue is that these projects are often viewed as singular entities, and not in relation to the greater transportation ecosystem. For instance, I see the Allston campus, Cambridge Street Overpass and Turnpike Straightening as inextricably linked, with no small connection to the DCR paths and, down the line, the Bowker overpass. A vehicle driving over the Bowker Overpass may well have come from Harvard Square, via a DCR roadway and through the Turnpike interchange. And, heck, with better transit or bicycling connections, that vehicle might not be there at all. 

Instead of single-item traffic studies, we need to take a holistic view of the transportation infrastructure in the region, and decide what we want to see in 20 or 30 years: slightly realigned roadways which still prioritize funneling as much traffic as possible to the detriment of other uses, or a more complete transportation system. Most of the infrastructure in question is 50 or more years old, and will need to be rebuilt (or reconsidered) in coming years. Instead of rebuilding the broken infrastructure we have, we need to take a broader view of what we could create. Since we're going to have to spend the money anyway, we might as well spend it wisely now, rather than have to fix yesterday's problems tomorrow.

This page will attempt to do so in the near future.


  1. Don't forget Storrow drive, with the tunnel problem, and the Comm ave overpass of the Pike / BU bridge intersection. These are also upcoming issues on the table which need to be integrated.

  2. Certainly. In the long range I think:

    Soldiers Field merges on to the Turnpike in Allston.
    No road from Allston to Charlesgate.
    Two-lane road from Charlesgate to Charles Circle, then four lanes from there to Leverett.

    You could probably mitigate this by completely rejiggering the Allston toll area, and by expanding the Turnpike to five lanes each way (perhaps with an HOV lane included as one of those five in each direction), to Charlesgate. This would require grade separation and a rebuild, but you could get that space by temporarily routing Worcester trains to Cambridge/North Station. See, it's all connected.