Forest Hills Erector Set

June 2nd, 2007 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Imagine one-way traffic circumnavigating the Forest Hills T stop. People have and that could happen.

The Forest Hills Initiative is two thirds through with its public meetings, with the fourth this week at Boston English. A lot of information and a lot of public input rubs a blinding shine on the apple.

I’ll try not to be too cynical. With a pretty much self-interested DINO legislature and do-little or do-harm executive branch for nearly two decades, the commonwealth and city are in trouble. The jolly old pols watched out for themselves and brought home enough goodies to stay in office, while our schools, roads and other infrastructure grew sicker and weaker daily.

This initiative is one of several in the great sausage machine of progress to help correct the asthenia of our systems. It started before our new governor took office, under the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Of course, such well formulated and publicly accepted plans have a quail’s chance at a hunting ranch without support on Beacon Hill and City Hall Plaza. The money has to be there, but so too must the enabling legislation, zoning, and related support.

For example, Massachusetts has these keen laws that say you can only build or repave traffic arteries if they fully accommodate pedestrians and cyclists. That looks great, particularly when we want to reduce motor vehicle traffic, looks great until the exceptions and exemptions kick in.

Some of those are hard to disagree with in road planning. Think Wayland with colonial era stone walls abutting current narrow roads — too narrow for cycle lanes or sidewalks much less either, without huge expenses. These roads are lightly traveled and poof, get exempted.

Similarly with Forest Hills, there’s much on paper and in the air about mixed use and community services. When Senior Architect John Dalzell responded to the where’s the community centers for kids and the elderly, he fessed up. Send ’em to Boston English or Curtis Hall; we don’t have the money or space.

In the main though, he and the other BRA sorts offered pretty good strands of urban hope. Some were working ideas for three current parking areas, for Emerald Necklace connectors from Franklin Park to the Arnold Arboretum, and for three neglected and unused MBTA lots (parcels U, V and W). Others were vague promises of maybe one-way traffic around the station and maybe extending the Southwest Corridor bike path around the death defying routes below New Washington under the Casey Overpass.

As a cyclist, I’d love the one-way flow. The worst part of my commute to South Boston is that half mile from Walk Hill north to the start of the Pierre Lallement (SW Corridor) bike path. Turning left onto Ukraine Way around the station is an invitation to dismemberment. Straight up Hyde Park Avenue is through a gauntlet of cars, buses and pickups in four lanes of traffic on what should be a three-lane road. We’re all unhappy there, but cyclists are most at risk.

The utilty of the bike-path extension hinges of big-buck add-ons, crossovers from Washington Street on the western side of the station onto Hyde Park Avenue to the land of no-longer Doughboy, but Dunkin’. Not bloodly likely, mate.

The parcel and parking-lot schemes are as intriguing as one-way around the station. It could mean:

  • The big station parking lot becomes a combo commercial building facing Hyde Park Avenue with a multi-level garage, an open middle with access to the upper level, and a housing tower shorter than the clock tower on the northern end.
  • The Fitz lot across the street could be mixed-income housing.
  • The big T bus lot becomes housing and commercial.

MBTA parcels

Then there are those T lots U, V, and W.

The T has held onto these pretty awful, oddly shaped abutters of the commuter rail and Amtrak trains for many decades. They may have been smart in waiting until now to release them (declare them surplus). There’s a baby boomlet and tight realty here. What the heck?

Parcel U running from Ukraine Way south along the western side of Hyde Park Avenue is the best. It is pretty rectangular and big. The BRA sees mixed commercial and residential.

The trains rumble (but do not signal) by regularly and the triangle at the bottom is the ramshackle Tollgate Cemetery. Neither of those should be much of an issue. Consider Roslindale’s Dale Village, where residents can see, hear and almost touch the trains.

Plus, there’s the marketing possibility. Hell, people pay a lot extra to dine overlooking shipping lanes and smelling low tide at harbor side restaurants. Those of us who love trains might buy into the theater of it all, no?

Unfortunately, parcel V is a dog. The picture below is of the widest piece, which barely allows for a house next to the tracks. This tiny strip tapers to a pathetic point climbing to the tracks and Ukraine Way.

The BRA folk figure that parcel W is attractive and want to tie them. If you want to make a killing on W, you have to develop the ugly sibling simultaneously.

Realtors have made fortunes off much less workable patches of land.

MBTA parcel V

There are at least two more of these sessions coming up. Among the initiatives, the FH one is perhaps the most, as they euphemistically say, challenging.

JP is probably Boston’s most diverse neighborhood, culturally, racially and financially. It presently has these tremendous lots that are unused or poorly used, ripe for development, and equally ripe for failure. Being at the train and bus terminal is great and terrible, noisy and convenient. There are no real groceries. The only entertainment venues are a coffee shop and a pizza restaurant with acoustic music. There are no museums or other culture. Many only come to the immediate sub-neighborhood to fight criminal or traffic charges at the courthouse.

The potential is great. Yet, I don’t want John Dalzell‘s job.

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One Response

  1. Thanks for the detailed report. Now I don’t feel so bad about not going to these meetings. ;~}

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