Green Line Extension Seeks Public Art for New Stations

The Green Line Extension is seeking public art submissions for its first three stations.

The Green Line Extension is seeking public art submissions for its first three stations, including the redesigned Lechmere station. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The first three stations on the new Green Line Extension—Lechmere, Union Square, and Washington St.—are approaching the 60% design threshold, and now, MassDOT is looking for local artists to help make these stations beautiful. Artists are encouraged to submit their designs for public art at the new Green Line stations, and everyone who’s interested should strongly consider attending a prequalification/information session on Thursday, February 6 at 5pm at the GLX Project Office (100 Summer St., Suite 250, Boston). You can read the full Request for Qualifications here.

All applicants will need to apply through MassDOT’s online platform. All submissions are due by noon on Thursday, February 20. With the vibrant arts communities in Cambridge and Somerville, I know our local artists will come up with some brilliant designs!

 

Buses Only on Longfellow Bridge This Weekend

An 1871 work by Cantabrigian Winslow Homer, subtitled

An 1871 work by Cantabrigian Winslow Homer, subtitled “Oh, Ain’t It Cold!” Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Temperatures are expected to rise this weekend as the polar vortex remembers why it’s called a “polar” vortex in the first place. That’s good news for the folks working on the Longfellow Bridge, because they’ll be working hard this weekend during one of the project’s planned service diversions.

As with previous weekend diversions, the only motorized vehicles allowed on the bridge will be MBTA buses running between Kendall and Park St. stations. The detours for motorists remain the same. Here’s a map of those detours, and you can always find more resources at MassDOT’s Longfellow Bridge page.

Green Line Extension Small Business Event Tomorrow

The Green Line Extension is committed to working with small and disadvantaged businesses. Visit tomorrow's informational meeting at 10 Park Plaza in Boston to learn more

The Green Line Extension is committed to working with small and disadvantaged businesses to build and redesign seven stations, including Lechmere. Visit tomorrow’s informational meeting at 10 Park Plaza in Boston to learn more. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The Green Line Extension is an enormous project, and the work will include everything from demolition to electrical, plumbing to roofing, concrete, steel, glass, track, HVAC and more. The MBTA has pledged to work with locally owned small businesses and DBEs for the Green Line Extension, and tomorrow, local business owners can meet face-to-face with the MBTA and the project’s general contractor at a meeting at MassDOT headquarters (10 Park Plaza, Boston) from 3:30-5:30pm.

To attend, interested contractors and vendors must register by emailing Mark Smith at WSKdbe@jfwhite.com. The Green Line Extension is an incredible business opportunity for workers and businesses in Cambridge and Somerville, and I strongly encourage all interested contractors to attend.

MBTA Seeking Volunteers for Green Line Construction Working Group

The MBTA is looking for a few good neighbors to help on the GLX project.

Mayor Curtatone speaks as Governor Patrick and others look on at last year’s Green Line Extension groundbreaking ceremony. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The MBTA is putting together a panel of citizens to advise on the final design and construction issues associated with the Green Line Extension. Members of the panel—known as the Construction Working Group—will represent their neighborhoods and serve as a communications link between neighbors and the T.

Since this initiative is all about neighborhood engagement, the Construction Working Group is seeking applicants who live within a mile of the Green Line Extension. The Group’s seats will be apportioned based on the Green Line’s new stops, with one representative each from the neighborhoods surrounding Lechmere, College Ave., and Union Square stations (Gilman Square and Ball Square will be represented by two seats each).

The Working Group will meet every few months to make sure the Green Line Extension construction happens as smoothly as possible. To apply, just fill out this form and send it to Regan Checcio by Friday, December 13.

Longfellow Bridge Closed to Cars and Trains This Weekend

The Longfellow Bridge will be closed to cars and MBTA trains on Nov. 23-24, 2013.

A photo from the early 20th century showing the Longfellow (then Cambridge) Bridge’s arches under construction. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Cars and MBTA Red Line trains won’t cross the Longfellow Bridge this weekend, part of a planned service diversion associated with the bridge’s landmark rehabilitation project. Instead, buses will run between Kendall/MIT and Park Street stations. Pedestrians will be able to cross the bridge as they always have, but cyclists will be asked to walk their bikes across the river. There will also be alternating lane closures on Memorial Drive eastbound this weekend.

The detours for motorists remain the same as they were in previous weekend diversions. Here’s a map of those detours, but you can always find more resources at MassDOT’s Longfellow Bridge page.

Longfellow Bridge Closed to Cars and Trains Next Two Weekends

Buses like this one will run between the Kendall Square and Park Street Red Line stops for the next two weekends. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

For the next two weekends, MBTA buses will be the only vehicles allowed on the Longfellow Bridge. Boston-bound vehicles should follow this detour, while Cambridge-bound traffic should follow this detour. If you’re a cyclist, this applies to you too, as police will be on hand to ask cyclists to walk their bikes across the bridge. Pedestrians, on the other hand, can cross the bridge as they normally would. I’d also like to take this opportunity to remind you that there’s one more weekend closing in 2013, on November 23-24.

Why the complete shutdown of traffic on the bridge? In short, construction crews need to work close to the Red Line tracks, and it’s not safe to operate trains that close to workers.

As always, you can see MBTA service disruptions in real time with Service Alerts, and if you have any questions about the project, you can call the DOT’s dedicated Longfellow Bridge hotline at 617-519-9892.

Next Two Longfellow Traffic Diversions Cancelled, Postponed

The Longfellow Bridge will remain open to car traffic and Red Line trains next weekend.

The Longfellow Bridge will remain open to car traffic and Red Line trains next weekend. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

The MBTA has announced that a planned weekend diversion of Red Line and car traffic from the Longfellow Bridge has been cancelled, and a subsequent planned diversion has been postponed. In layman’s terms, that means cars and Red Line trains will continue to travel over the bridge next weekend, September 14-15. It also means that the diversion planned for the weekend of October 19-20 will be postponed to the weekend before Thanksgiving, November 23-24.

As always, you can find more information on the Longfellow Bridge project and traffic management plans at MassDOT. For questions, to report issues and concerns related to construction, or to be added to the project email distribution list, please call the project hotline at 617-519-9892 or email longfellowbridge@state.ma.us. You can also receive MBTA alerts via Twitter and Facebook.

The New and Improved #1 Bus

We're #1! We're #1! Image via Wikimedia Commons.

We’re #1! We’re #1! Image via Wikimedia Commons.

We expect a certain level of excellence with anything designated “#1,” and our bus routes are no exception. When its functioning properly, a good bus system can save time, money, and our environment. But the MBTA’s #1 bus, which runs from Harvard Square down to Dudley Station in Roxbury, carries more than 1,200 people every day, and we all agree that it’s in need of some improvements. To create a more seamless daily commute, the MBTA is updating the timing and infrastructure for 15 key bus routes, including the #1. You can read all about the larger Key Bus Routes Improvement Program here, but I’d like to focus on the changes to the Cambridge portion of the #1 bus route.

The funding for these route improvements comes in part from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as “the stimulus.” The MBTA is eliminating the 15 least-used stops on these key routes, including three serviced by the #1: Memorial Drive (inbound only), Clinton St. (outbound only), and Landsdowne/Front St. (inbound and outbound).  

Equally important, the MBTA is improving several stops by adding benches, shelters, pavement markings, and more:

  • The Albany St. inbound stop will see its driveway eliminated and its sidewalk rebuilt.
  • A shelter, a bench, and pavement markings will be added at Harvard’s Johnston Gate.
  • The Pleasant St. stop will be lengthened and better defined with pavement markings.
  • The Hancock/Sellers St. inbound stop will be lengthened and given new benches and pavement markings, while the Sellers St. stop will be eliminated to improve traffic flows.

Cambridge’s improved #1 bus route is scheduled to be fully complete by this fall.

Governor Patrick Leads Green Line Extension Construction Kickoff

The speeches are done, and the Green Line Extension construction has officially begun.

The speeches are done, and the Green Line Extension construction has officially begun.

The first phase of construction on the Green Line Extension is officially underway, bringing with it a promise of light rail service to and from a new Union Square station by 2017. Speaking at the event, Governor Patrick and Congressman Capuano emphasized that both sustainable growth and environmental justice require investment for the long term, a sentiment echoed by Mayors Curtatone, Davis, and McGlynn.

I was happy to see so many members of state and local government at the event, but the attendance of local home- and business owners showed what this project is all about. The last two people to speak weren’t politicians but the owners of CasaB, a restaurant in Union Square. The “B” in CasaB refers to one of the owner’s grandfathers, whose love of Latin cuisine inspires the menus of chef Alberto Cabré. Alberto and his co-owner Angelina Jockovich were born in Puerto Rico and Colombia respectively, but they’ve chosen to start their business in Somerville, a decision they said was influenced by the promise of the Green Line Extension.

Alberto and Angelina, along with the tireless community leaders who made today possible, reflect the best of our community. Their speech was brief—they, and we, still have work to do.

Let’s Talk About the MBTA

Before his election to the State Senate earlier this year, Will Brownsberger served as the State Representative for the 24th Middlesex District. I worked closely with him as a member of the Cambridge delegation to the State House, and if you’ve met Sen. Brownsberger, I’m sure you’ll agree with me that he’s a serious and thoughtful legislator. Among the priorities we share, Will and I understand the importance of public transit and we’re both committed to fully funding the MBTA.

Charlie rides the MBTA

So when Sen. Brownsberger published an op-ed regarding the MBTA’s funding challenges, all of us in the State House took notice. Before we dive into the details of Sen. Brownsberger’s op-ed, let’s review the situation:

  • 37% of people working in Boston get to work by using the T. In the communities of Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline, Everett, and Malden, at least one in ten people get to work using public transit.
  • The MBTA is facing significant long-term funding challenges. Last year, I voted with my colleagues for a one-time transfer of funds from the state to the MBTA to keep T service at its current level, but we all knew the fix was temporary.
  • The current funding streams for the MBTA have proven to be insufficient for the level of service we’ve come to expect. There are a bunch of reasons for this—notably, the decline in sales tax revenue due to the struggling economy—but to get the T back on a solid financial footing, all options need to be on the table.

This is a complex issue with a number of potential fixes: for example, a marked increase in ridership across the system would go a long way toward closing the current funding gap. Cutting services could also narrow the funding gap, but at the expense of our neighbors’ ability to get to work. Similarly, finding new sources of revenue through open-road tolling, a reapportionment of sales tax proceeds, or levying a regional tax on T riders might get us closer to a balanced budget. All of these proposals present both benefits and drawbacks for the Commonwealth’s commuters.

There are a lot of innovative ideas out there, but the one thing we can’t do going forward is maintain the status quo. Some people are calling for a maintenance of current service levels and not touching revenue and complaining about the MBTA’s fiscal situation. But the numbers simply do not add up. As Bill Clinton might say, this approach simply defies arithmetic.

So, the challenge of fixing the T’s balance sheet becomes a question of priorities. Here are mine:

  • I believe that service cuts are almost always more harmful than revenue increases. I would rather see all of us pay a little more than make public transportation more expensive and more inconvenient for working families.
  • I believe that we as a Commonwealth should encourage more people to use public transportation. More T riders means cleaner air, less traffic, downward pressure on gas prices, and a healthier MBTA.
  • I believe that if we are going to raise revenues, we should do so in the least regressive way possible. Some self-described progressives have promoted a Parking Space Tax (PST), but, again, the arithmetic doesn’t lie: a PST would force residents of densely populated Somerville to pay four to five times more than residents of less-densely populated Newton. I can’t understand how anyone who calls themselves a progressive could ever advocate for a tax that forces working families to pay more than the wealthy, but that is indeed what some people are proposing.

Ideally, fixing the MBTA will be part of a statewide, comprehensive transportation solution, one which fixes our roads, bridges, and harbors along with our buses, stations, and rails. I will advocate for this comprehensive approach, but I’d also like to point out one idea in Sen. Brownsberger’s op-ed that caught my eye.

Drawing on a piece by the Globe’s Derrick Z. Jackson, Sen. Brownsberger brought up the idea of a congestion fee for drivers entering downtown Boston. Congestion fees are already in use in major cities such as London and Stockholm, and they’ve been proven to work. The idea is simple: when you drive into Boston, you pay a small fee. If you live within the congestion-fee zone, you’re largely exempt from the fee (in London, for example, 90% of your fee is waived if you live within the zone). The effects of this fee are pretty straightforward: commuters will be encouraged to park outside the city and take the MBTA in, thus driving up ridership, cutting congestion in the city, improving air quality downtown, and reducing consumption of fossil fuels.

As I said before, all options need to be on the table. But the congestion fee proposal is both proven and innovative. We here in Massachusetts have been ahead of the curve on a number of important issues, and a congestion fee gives us another chance to lead. The devil, as always, is in the details, but I believe a congestion fee could be a key component of a long-term fix for the MBTA.

What do you think? We need lots of good ideas to meet this challenge, and I would love to hear yours in the comments below.