Reports about developments and redevelopments in Arlington, Mass.
The East Arlington Concerned Citizens Committee (EACCC) says in a news release analyzing the results of the Mass. Ave. ballot question that Selectman Kevin Greeley is confused, "misreads handwriting on the wall" and his continued refusal to support a four-lane design "will undermine the project and lose the funding."
The release issued on Tuesday, April 9, by Eric Berger, longtime opponent of the Mass. Ave. Corridor project, sees the narrow victory in the April 6 town election for those backing four lanes as follows (full text of release):
Despite dishonest scare tactics by Arlington town officials and their supporters, and attempts at marginalizing Mass. Ave. Corridor Project opponents, the public has spoken. Selectmen can no longer characterize the clear majority in favor of keeping 4 traffic lanes as a mere "vocal minority."
On Saturday, April 6, 2013, Ballot Question 1, "Shall the town have four vehicular travel lanes on Massachusetts Avenue in East Arlington as now practiced? Yes / No" was answered affirmatively by a majority of voters. 4,334 (51.4%) voted "Yes" and 4,097 (48.6%) voted "no."
Moreover, in the seven East Arlington precincts (1-7) located where the Corridor Project lies on Mass. Ave., 1,594 (55.6%) voted "Yes" and 1,273 (44.6%) voted "No." Regarding the town's 21 precincts, voters in 15 (71.4%) of those 21 precincts cast more "Yes" votes than "No" votes. It is clear that a majority of the voters want to keep the four travel lanes.
As reported by The Arlington Advocate on April 6, Mr. Greeley charged that many voters who voted "Yes" meant to vote "No" because they were confused by Ballot Question 1.
"It is shocking and unacceptable for newly re-elected Selectman Greeley to react to the "Yes" majority by insulting the intelligence of those voters" said Eric Berger, a member of the East Arlington Concerned Citizens Committee (EACCC).
"The only person confused is Mr. Greeley," Berger stated. "He misreads the handwriting on the wall. He misrepresents the truth. His continued refusal to support the 4 lane design will undermine the project and lose the funding. He will only have himself to blame."
From February, 2009 when the people of Arlington first learned of the Selectmen's plan to narrow Mass. Avenue in East Arlington from an Arlington Advocate article, "Changes to Mass. Ave.'s Wide Lanes?", residents and businesses have repeatedly made clear they want to keep 4 traffic lanes to serve the 98% of the Avenue's users who travel it daily by transit bus, car, truck and motorcycle. Ample evidence has been presented to the Selectmen, evidence met with derision or silence:
-- In April 2009, East Arlington residents and business leaders broke a Fox Library all-time attendance record when they gathered to speak against the Town's Mass. Ave. Corridor plan to Town officials (only 3 spoke in favor).
-- In July 2009, the EACCC conducted a Poll of businesses lining the Mass. Ave. Corridor. Over 90% expressed opposition to the Town's plan. Selectman Hurd dismissed the results as a “push poll” (Board of Selectmen minutes, 7-13-09).
-- In April 2011, EACCC presented to selectmen and MassDOT signatures of 3,027 Arlington residents and business owners in favor of keeping 4 lanes on Mass. Avenue. EACCC has yet to receive a response.
-- In Fall 2011, a letter signed by 74% of the businesses lining the Mass. Ave. Corridor was delivered to Selectmen asking to keep 4 lanes on Mass. Avenue. (A Planning Department spokesperson stated the businesses were misinformed.)
-- In October 2012, EACCC collected over 3,200 signatures representing in excess of 10% of Arlington's registered voters--an achievement forcing the question of keeping 4 lanes onto the April 6, 2013 town election ballot as a non-binding question. Selectmen Greeley and Dunn criticized the ballot question as "simplistic" and "too simple".
-- The Feb. 26, 2013 MassDOT Design Public Hearing Transcript record contains two-and-a- half times more written comments from the public opposing removal of a traffic lane than comments received in support of the Town's 3-lane plan.
Despite this (and more) strong evidence, Selectmen and their appointed committees ignored public opinion and belittled the plan's opponents:
-- Selectman Dan Dunn posted the following comment on his website regarding Town Meeting 2012's "Article 70 Vote/Add Ballot Question on Mass. Ave. Travel Lane Count": ...."And, in the end, the result is the same -- most of the town thinks the project should go forward, and a vocal minority is opposed to it."
-- An Arlington Transportation Advisory Committee letter in The Arlington Advocate on April 1, 2013 included this passage: "At this point the project has been thoroughly evaluated and approved at multiple stages by a majority of interested parties and citizens. Dozens of meetings and hearings have afforded all participants sufficient opportunities to voice their concerns."
-- East Arlington Livable Streets Coalition's website wrote the following in an article titled "Board of Selectmen Approve Mass Ave Plan 4-1", August 2009: "The Selectmen each stated how they got to their decision and those in favor spoke eloquently about the need for this project. We thank them for their leadership on this project in the face of a vocal and often vitriolic minority."
-- In the week leading up to the April 6, 2013, town election, selectmen emailed a message to Arlington voters using the political emailing list and logo of President Obama's OFA organization in which they called the ballot question "deceptive", stating it jeopardized state and federal funding. They said the Town's plan would have zero cost, failing to mention their plan moves curb lines and requires hundreds of easements costing unspecified thousands of dollars.
-- At the Feb. 26, 2013 MassDOT design public hearing held at Arlington Town Hall, a state senator warned of loss of state and federal funding if the town's plan does not go to bid by September, 2013.
Selectmen must not continue to deny this evidence. They will lose the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and MassDOT funding if they continue to advocate spending almost $7 million in very scarce transportation public dollars on a project they know a majority of the voters do not want. The Selectmen still have time to save the funding but only if they listen to the "Yes" majority and the FHWA. They must follow the FHWA directive to present a 4-lane alternative that includes pedestrian safety features such as an on-demand crossing light at Orvis Road. They must meet the FHWA directive of conducting an honest merge analysis of their 3-lane plan and share the results with the public. They still have to time to fix Mass. Avenue, not ruin it.
This story was published 1:10 p.m. Tuesday, April 9, 2013.
The East Arlington Livable Streets (EALS) Coalition has analyzed the narrow vote supporting the Mass. Ave. ballot question and asked its supports to take heart.
A statement by Phil Goff and Chad Gibson a day after the April 6 vote, said the coalition:
-- Dispelled the notion that "the 98 percent majority want four lanes" (direct quote from YES campaign literature and from Eric Berger’s spoken words);
-- Rejected the notion that there is a decision message in this vote (the statement said the town is nearly evenly split on the project, including the neighborhoods that directly abut Mass. Ave.);
-- Knows through anecdotal evidence that some people were confused by the wording of the ballot ("Despite our efforts," the statement said, "we believe that some people who support the project voted 'yes' without carefully understanding what the referendum asked"); and
-- Looked at the selectmen’s race as a proxy: "While both candidates' positions on Mass. Ave. were crystal clear and central to their campaigns, Kevin Greeley easily defeated his opponent in 17 out of 21 Precincts," the statement said.
The statement also said turnout was up significantly (29 percent overall), in all likelihood caused by the nonbinding referendum asking the public whether it favors retaining four traffic lanes on Mass. Ave. from Pond Lane to Cambridge.
"We are delighted that Kevin Greeley -- running on a platform that strongly supported the current three-lane plan -- easily won reelection," the statement said. "He defeated Maria Romano, who made opposition to the Mass. Ave. plan a core part of her platform, by a 58 percent-to-42 percent margin.
"We are also pleased to note that Kevin’s votes outnumbered Romano’s by 57 votes in East Arlington.
"While clearly a defeat to Question 1 was what we’ve been working toward this spring, it was not to be. The question about retaining four traffic lanes on Mass. Ave. won by a margin of roughly 51 percent-to-49 percent.
"We came within 237 votes of defeating a referendum that was an overly simplistic question whether voters preferred four lanes without any mention of the trade-offs to pedestrian and bicycle safety, enhancements to Capitol Square, the inability to meet state design standards and, of course, the risk of losing the $6.8 million in federal and state funding.
"Another clear positive from this election was the enormous support from over 80 election-week volunteers across Arlington with the shared vision of a stronger community tied together with a more livable East Arlington. Our livable streets community is not weaker after this election, but stronger.
"Rest assured, EALS Coalition and others will continue to work our tails off to ensure that the corridor plan moves forward to final design and out to bid before the September deadline. Beyond September, the federal/state funding allocation could be removed from the state’s TIP (Transportation Improvement Program) funding cycle, putting us at the back of the long line of towns and cities wanting federal and state aid for road projects.
"We are confident that MassDOT and the Federal Highway Administration are not going to put any further roadblocks to the plan because 237 more Arlingtonians voted 'yes' to a simplistic and vague ballot question. As a nonbinding referendum, it simply provides a recommendation to the Board of Selectmen. We foresee no indication of any weakening of support from the unanimous Board.
"While opponents to the Mass. Ave. plan have surely taken heart to yesterday’s results, in the end, there is no doubt we will have A Better Mass Ave in the near future."
EALS next monthly meeting is set for Wednesday, April 10, at 7:30 p.m. at the Fox Library. Members intend to further analyze election results and will discuss next steps to moving the project forward.
The statement was released after YourArlington requested comment about what the town election meant.
Key supporters of the East Arlington Concerned Citizens Committee, who pursued the ballot question, have also been asked for their statement about the election’s meaning. They have not yet responded.
This story was published Sunday, April 7, 2013, and updated the next day.
"More vibrant," "Not a speedway" and "A good balance." These are among the comments expressed by Arlington residents in support of the East Arlington’s Mass. Ave. Corridor project at a new site, ABetterMassAve.org.
The site is the brainstorm of Chad Gibson, cochair of the East Arlington Livable Streets Coalition. It features a growing number of testimonials from residents and a strong message about the four-lane ballot question.
The signed endorsements are upbeat and accompanied by photos of individuals, families and pets, EALS said in a news release.
Gibson says it's no small thing for people to take a positive public stand.
"These are Arlington residents who feel strongly enough to stand together publicly and say why they are want a better Mass. Ave." he said.
The website has become the Internet headquarters of the Better Mass. Ave. Committee, which is warning voters that the four-lane referendum on April 6 is not as innocent as it sounds.
"This vote could cost Arlington millions of dollars in federal funding," Gibson said, calling the question "a sneaky trick" that the taxpayers cannot afford.
This story was published Monday, March 25, 2013. Comments to this story are welcome at the link below, but you must sign your full name.
An estimated 400 people jammed Town Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 26, at the second hearing for the Mass. Ave. Corridor project. Of 75 who spoke, 53 expressed support (76 percent), 12 opposition and five others raised questions but left their position unclear.
The Federal Highway Administration requested the hearing, but no representative from the federal government was present at the table in front of the crowd. The session lasted three hours and 40 minutes.
Residents have 10 days to submit written comments to the state to Thomas F. Broderick, chief engineer, MassDOT, Highway Division, 10 Park Plaza, Boston, Mass. 02116-3973 Attn: Project Management
After that, federal, state and town officials will decide whether or not to move forward.
Overall, the evening proceeded with civility, but there were moments of tension.
State Sen. Ken Donnelly, a Democrat who lives in Arlington, presented a ringing defense of the project. "We must move forward," or funding could be lost, he said to strong applause.
As he continued, some cried out, "Lies!" Donnelly asked for respect to continue, and he did, pointing out that the state faces a September deadline to advertise a federal project. If the project doesn't proceed, funding could be lost.
"It’s time to make a decision that will determine if we move on using the funding available to us or wait and use local money, our money," he said to applause.
When Eric Berger rose to speak, a critic of the project since 2009, demanded more time than the three minutes allowed for any speaker. He said that if he did not get the time, he would continue speaking past three minutes.
"I'm speaking for the 98 percent who are sick and tired of being ignored," he said. Opponents, he said, fear gridlock, believe the public has been misled and that the Corridor plan was "developed in secrecy."
When the clock hit three minutes, Berger continued. "I'm not done," he said. Corridor project supporters then began a clapping applause so that Berger could not be heard. At length, a state official called a halt to Berger's speech and the applause.
Later, Sean Harrington, a Precinct 15 Town Meeting member and a project opponent, said he found the jeering "despicable." He presented officials with a sheaf of documents that he said showed opposition to the project from 268 individuals and 32 businesses.
Launching public comments clearly in the supporters' column were those by Selectmen Chairman Kevin Greeley, who said he spoke on behalf of the board.
"It’s unique, it’s necessary and I personally feel it's a very exciting project for business development, for beautification and to create a destination versus an area that we look to rush through going in or out of the town of Arlington," he said.
Other selectmen present were Joseph Curro, Dan Dunn and Steve Byrne. Former Selectmen Clarissa Rowe, a Precinct 4 Town Meeting member, called herself a slow walker who is "110 percent behind" the project, which aims to improve safety on wide avenue.
Precinct 7 Town Meeting member Phil Goff, chairman of the East Arlington Livable Streets Coalition, which backs the current design, said computer models have shown that the Corridor design would delay a westbound motor vehicle 26 seconds by 2028 and that this applies during the evening rush hour.
Expressing strong opposition besides Berger was Maria Romano, among those representing the East Arlington Concerned Citizens Committee and who is making a fourth try to be elected to the Board of Selectmen.
She also asked for more than three minutes to speak and was turned back. "We had a plan four years ago,' she said in a statement she read, "and the town never looked at."
On the seats in the hall were copies of a three-page document with a red cover title "Residents Corridor Plan," June 2009. The focus then, as it is with the group's push for the ballot question in the April town election, is on trying to preserve four lanes.
The majority of speakers favored the current plan. It proposes three lanes, two eastbound lanes toward Cambridge and one westbound lane toward Arlington Center, from Pond Lane to the Cambridge city line.
Some supporters said they wished the original plan was still effect; that is, to have one lane each way.
An opponent, Precinct 13 Town Meeting member Stephen Harrington, pointed to Pleasant Street, which once was wider than it is now. Noting the daily backups there, he said, "That's the future of Mass. Ave."
Supporters included East Arlington parents of young children as well as those who live in other parts of town but see the planned improvements as ways make the gateway from Cambridge more inviting.
Businesses managers weighed in: While the owner of Arlington Vision Center opposes the plan, another, Alan Tauber of the Drum Connection, near the Fox Library, expressed his support. So did owners of the Capitol Theatre, Barismo and Salvage Inc, through a letter.
Donna Janis, a longtime opponent, had questions about when surveyors would check on right-of-way and asked whether on-demand pedestrian light would be included.
Aileen Gildea-Pyne expressed support for the plan's safety but questioned whether trucks would continue to unload in front of business, as they do now, blocking bike lanes.
Among the 75 speakers, five did not clearly express a position about the plan but still raised issues for officials to consider.
Bob Radochia, a Precinct 20 Town Meeting member, wondered whether the bus stop in front of the Capitol Theatre should be moved for safety's sake.
Glenn Koenig drew applause with his call to make sure that once the project is finished, any problems be addressed and that the state does not walk away from the project.
Town Meeting members backing the current design were Adam Auster (Precinct 3), Barbara Boltz (9), Robin Dratch (3), Molly Flueckiger (4), Goff (7), Gordon Jamieson (12), Alan Jones (14), Hugh McCrory (20) and Susan Stamps (3).
Meeting members speaking against it were Berger (6), Sean Harrington (15), Stephen Harrington (13), Mark Kaepplein (7) and Romano (7).
The start of the project recently was delayed for three month. Advertising for bids now will occur about June 1.
This story was first published Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, and updated March 26 to add link to hearing comments.
The East Arlington Concerned Citizens Committee (EACCC) says in a news release that an analysis of the Mass. Ave. Corridor project shows traffic flow worsening in 2028. The East Arlington Livable Streets (EALS) Coalition says the increase is 26 seconds.
Each view was expressed in separate news releases.
A letter the group opposed to project cites quotes a project director: "The results show improvement in the operation for bicyclists in the eastbound and westbound directions with the pedestrian operation not significantly affected by the project."
YourArlington has requested a copy of the analysis and the letter from Eric Berger, a longtime critic of the project. He sent the release Feb. 18.
The EACCC release has three headlines:
"Arlington Engineer Analysis Reveals Controversial Mass. Ave. Corridor Project Will Cause Traffic Delays"
"'Build' Analysis Shows No Improvement to Pedestrian Operation, Car and Transit Bus PM Peak Travel Times Increase by 22% eastbound, 20% westbound"
"East Arlington Concerned Citizens Committee says flaws in Analysis Mask Even Worse 'Build' Operation Results"
These headlines may accurately reflect the news release, but to have a better idea about the overall picture, one should read in full the documents cited.
In January, Berger declined to provide the full copy of a document portrayed in an EACCC news release alleging collusion.
Here is the full text of the Feb. 18 news release (previous estimates of project cost have been reported at $5.8 million to $6 million):
"The EACCC has acquired a copy of a "Multi-Modal Analysis" of the Mass. Avenue Corridor reconstruction project produced by Fay, Spofford & Thorndike (FST), the town of Arlington's design engineer. This analysis was performed at the instigation of the Federal Highway Administration, Massachusetts Division (FHWA). This $6.8 million taxpayer-funded Corridor Project, proposed for Mass. Ave. in East Arlington, has been touted by Arlington officials since its inception as necessary to improve pedestrian operation.
"EACCC has obtained a letter sent to MassDOT's chief engineer, Thomas Broderick, by John McVann, director of project development of FHWA Mass. Division, regarding FST's multimodal analysis.
"In his letter dated Jan. 23, McVann writes: 'The results show improvement in the operation for bicyclists in the eastbound and westbound directions with the pedestrian operation not significantly affected by the project.'
"FST's multimodal analysis shows traffic flow worsening from present day under a '2028 Build' scenario. McVann notes 'an increase in travel time of 59 seconds per vehicle (22% increase) traveling during the PM peak period in the eastbound direction' in 2028 if the project is built as designed, and 'an increase in travel time of 34 seconds per vehicle (20% increase) traveling during the PM peak period in the westbound direction.'
"'This increase in travel time "would affect the operation of the transit bus riders in this corridor,'" writes McVann. These increases are significant given that the entire project is slightly under one mile in length.
"McVann also raises a question as to 'the completeness of the analysis with respect to fully quantifying delay to vehicles merging from two lanes to one lane going westbound on ... Massachusetts Avenue and to additional delay introduced to vehicles traveling in a one westbound lane due to turning vehicles at unsignalized intersections,' such as vehicles taking left turns into driveways or side streets.
"McVann writes, 'As can be seen from the results of the multimodal operation analysis of the Urban Facility, the currently proposed alternative would introduce delays to vehicular and transit traffic compared to a No-Build alternative.' And, 'In light of the results of the multimodal analysis of the operation of Massachusetts Avenue, public input should be sought to ensure the preferred alternative reasonably accomplishes the purpose and need of the project.'
"MassDOT has scheduled a Public Hearing on this project at the instigation of FHWA to be held at the Arlington Town Hall Auditorium on Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 7 PM.
"EACCC charges, in its email sent to FHWA on Jan. 7, 2013, that FST's multimodal analysis 'is replete with flaws and misrepresentations" which, if corrected, would reveal traffic flow and pedestrian mobility are even worse than FST's analysis shows, and the $6.8 million corridor project design falls shockingly short of the Town's stated goals."
Headlined "Benefits of Mass. Ave. design far outweigh costs, says neighborhood group" and issued Feb. 19, it is a statement of East Arlington Livable Streets Coalition. Cochairs are Phil Goff and Chad Gibson, longtime project supporters.
"A new traffic-analysis software package that fails to model all the benefits of the current three-lane design nonetheless finds a three-second improvement eastbound, and only a 26-second delay westbound, compared to a four-lane design in 2028, but only from 5-6 p.m. on weekdays."
The summary of the modeling and analysis presented in MassDOT’s Dec 13, 2012, and Feb 13, 2013, memos to FHWA is shown below:
Eastbound travel end to end
Westbound travel end to end
“No build”, i.e. the status quo
Current 3-lane plan
329 seconds (59 s increase)
201 seconds (34 s increase)
Hypothetical 4-lane plan
332 seconds (62 s increase)
175 seconds (8 s increase)
The EALS release comments on this chart:
"26 seconds for one weekday hour in 15 years is a small price to pay for safer pedestrian crossings, state and federal funding, wider sidewalks in the heart of Capitol Square and other benefits of the three-lane design that would be precluded by an unnecessary fourth travel lane.
"For both the current three-lane and hypothetical four-lane designs, the model shows that the additional delays come from existing and proposed traffic signals, both which make the street safer and/or were requested by the community. It’s worth 26 seconds to keep safe crossings at the Teel/Thorndike and Linwood intersections."
The release continues:
"Furthermore MassDOT has consistently said that Mass. Ave is not wide enough for four lanes, turn lanes and appropriate bicycle accommodations and that a four-lane design would fail to meet the state’s design guidelines intended to improve safety."
A note to editors and reporters from EALS says a Jan. 23 letter from FHWA cited peak future delays, from the untested software model, of 34 seconds eastbound and 59 seconds westbound compared to the "no build" status quo in which nothing is done at all. Since the street is deteriorating, "no build" is not a choice, and the relevant comparison is to a modeled four-lane option.
MassDOT’s Feb. 13 reply to FHWA cites that comparison, which found that both three- and four-lane options were similar: Both produced delays, probably because of the additional signal at Bates Road.
MassDOT noted that the proposed design was three seconds faster than the four-lane design on the critical inbound route, and 26 seconds slower westbound, in 2028, during the evening peak.
The agency in its reply further noted that there are travel-time improvements in the town's design that "are not reflected in the multimodal analysis [the software model]. This includes the benefits of keeping bicyclists out of the main travel lane and providing much more space for buses to pull over without blocking traffic."
The EALS Coalition, founded in 2008 to advocate for safer streets and better quality of life, claims more than 400 direct members and supporters.
In addition to its work to make the Mass. Ave. design safer, the group has lobbied the town to fix broken street lights and repaint crosswalks, held educational events, promoted walking and biking to the Hardy School, and erected a sign on the Minuteman Path promoting Capital Square businesses.
This story was first published Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2013, and updated to add the EALS release.