Looking towards a less auto-dependent city
On Wednesday, June 15, the City of Boston held a meeting on improvements to the bicycle lanes on Massachusetts Avenue, as well as the retiming of crossing lights to better serve the pedestrians in the city. The meeting showed the difficulties that are encountered in moving ahead to a different model of city planning.
The lessons of the past are that often highways are built only to become as clogged as downtown streets. Six lanes of asphalt come to have rush hour travel speeds of 20 miles per hour. Money that should go to public transportation is spent upon perpetually widening highways.
This building of Storrow Drive and the Massachusetts Turnpike Extension has had continuing effects upon the local streets of Beacon Hill and the Back Bay. When “the new Boston” was planned the city was designed around automobiles, and the Massachusetts Turnpike Extension was built to bring commuters with their automobiles into the city. However, in recent years, Boston has enjoyed a resurgence as a place to live. This rebirth involves providing an adequate and safe infrastructure for people who are walking or bicycling around the city.
Beyond balancing the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists and automobiles, are the questions: How can we move forward and make automobiles less of a necessity? How can we create a city designed not around automobiles but around people?
Maurice “Rick” Laurence
Leggat McCall Harrison-Albany Project
Leggat McCall Properties (LMC), Boston Redevelopment Authority, and the South End Community share the common desire for the Harrison-Albany project (The Project) to be successful. Success lies in integrating the project into the South End both through design and matching the needs of the community.
There are several issues with the concept and design of this project that need to be addressed. In my opinion, the Project does not comply at all with the zoning for the area and the proposed height and density for the residential use being put forth do not fit with the surrounding neighborhood. The unit-size, type and affordability do not fulfill the community’s needs either. Further, the open spaces and commercial spaces are ill placed. And finally, the already failing traffic flow and lack of parking will be even worse as a result of this development.
To get the Project back on track, we suggest the following:
- The Project should better reflect the intended zoning
The Project is contrary to the vision of the Harrison Albany Corridor Strategic Plan. While the Strategic Plan and zoning envisioned new residential and related uses in the New York Streets area, its vision for the Back Streets is for affordable commercial and industrial space. The PDA designation with its increased height and FAR was meant to coordinate with the heights of the nearby medical neighborhood and facilitate Back Streets uses. PDA guidelines never were intended to be the standard for residential development in this area. The location of The Project is not suitable for the creation of a new residential neighborhood and the design does not fit in with the nearby residential neighborhood. As presently configured, The Project is too dense and too tall, overwhelming the neighborhood while introducing a completely incompatible and jarring aesthetic.
- The Project should be physically reconfigured to fit in with the surrounding neighborhood.
If LMC persists with a residential project it must make significant changes. The project’s design and configuration is very similar to the New York Streets, but lacks the location and amenities to compete with it. LMC is providing units of the same size and at the same price point in an already saturated and very competitive market. LMC claims its target population is graduate students who are already housed in the neighborhood, but we have serious doubts that such students will choose to live in the less affordable proposed housing.
The Project is more than two and a half times denser than comparably sized residential areas in the neighborhood. The maximum number of units on a totally residential South End street is about 250. LMC is seeking to put in 700 units plus retail and commercial. East Brookline, the nearest residential street located parallel to The Project between Harrison Avenue and Albany Street accommodates a maximum of 174 units in 35 attached buildings.
- Unit Affordability and Size
The project should be required to build all of the affordable housing on-site. Further, the South End needs more middle income housing. There is already a glut of high-end market rate studio and one-bedroom units. (70% of the rentals, 1,000 units, already approved or constructed in the NY Streets area are either one bedrooms or studios, and more are in the works.) There are not enough two and three bedroom units to satisfy a wide range of tenants – singles willing to share to save money, dual income couples or families, and empty nesters. Homeownership is also an important component. Homeowners provide stability that is needed in this area, which is surrounded by institutional uses.
- Transportation and Parking Issues need to be addressed
Transportation presents huge challenges in this area. Already, the Berkeley Street and Mass Ave. entrances to the Mass Pike and I 93 have traffic backups that are rated unacceptable. And these entrances will be further strained by other developments nearby including projects in the New York Streets, South Bay and Flower Market. In addition, the Silver Line, the project’s closest transportation to downtown, is already strained and overcrowded during peak. Before this project (or any new project) is approved, LMC must work with the City to better accommodate the huge influx of new residents on our roads, highways and public transportation. A transportation plan is needed that demonstrates how increased demand for vehicle flows (including cycling), parking and public transit will be accommodated. Any new projects of this size create a significant impact that cannot be ignored.
Further, any spaces over and above the 205 currently on the property (which we assume can be handled under existing conditions) should be reserved for residents of The Project and other South End residents. Only about 25% of South End residents drive to work. As a consequence, they use their cars less thereby contributing less to traffic problems. In addition, as more residents move their cars indoors, on-street parking is freed up for retail customers. (This was a successful and profitably strategy at Washington Street projects such as Rollins Square, Wilkes Passage, and Gateway Terrace.)
- Doing it right . . .
In the late 1990s The Project’s architects, CBT, redesigned and reconfigured Rollins Square, a mixed income, award-winning project that was commended for its collaboration with the community. This is CBT’s description of it on their website:
Designed as a grouping of six-story buildings and four-story townhouses surrounding a central park, the complex fosters a sense of community while allowing for a range of diverse domestic environments varying in size from one-bedroom apartments to three-bedroom duplexes…
The project’s design is informed by the Victorian architectural traditions of the South End, as well as three existing row houses that were located on the site and integrated with the new construction. Because the project is broken down into a series of smaller parts, Rollins Square harmonizes with the existing cityscape without overwhelming it.
We can’t express guidelines for The Project any better.
Washington Gateway Main Street Design Committee Chair
Harrison Albany Alliance/Abutter
Plus 47 signed abutters and direct abutters