STEP Op Ed: Somerville will be Green, Assembly Square will be Orange, but sooner is better than later and we sure could use your help

Act Now!

As you may have heard we have hit a few bumps in the road with the Green Line and the Orange Line. Our Governor and his Executive Office of Transportation have suddenly suggested that the Federal government “might pick up” half the tab for the Green Line, with the possibility of an additional two year delay. And it is unclear how the Assembly Square Orange Line T-stop will be Federally reviewed, though the money is available, or if there is the will to open it before 2013.
But we can get over these potholes with a concerted effort at critical meetings in Somerville and Boston, next Tuesday and Thursday, September 4th and 6th. The first meeting will focus on Assembly Square (IKEA and Assembly Square Drive), the second will take up the State Implementation Plan transit commitments (including Green Line progress). The only hitch is, we need help again from everyone willing to pitch in. No experience required, just a little heart.

In 2004 and early 2005 Somerville’s residents, urged on by the Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership and local leaders, flooded two meetings at Somerville High School and one at the State House to demand that Green Line transit finally be extended here after decades of promises. The Commonwealth responded with a commitment to build and open two new light rail branches by the end of 2014, one through Somerville to Medford and one to Union Square.
In 2006, after years of battle, the Mystic View Task Force initiated and then agreed to a settlement with the largest developers in Assembly Square – Federal Realty and IKEA. We now jointly support a long term vision which will eventually produce many new jobs, a much stronger tax base and restored public open space along the Mystic, if only we can manage the traffic. We will have to rely on good pedestrian and bike connections, and a new T-stop put in place as soon as possible.
Somerville’s continued diversity, renewed prosperity and future livability are highly dependent on timely execution of the Green Line extensions and the Assembly Square T-stop. They are the foundation for a cleaner environment and a healthier community. But keeping the transit projects on time, and assuring their success, is not nearly as dependent on a few leaders, developers or volunteer groups, as it is on the continued participation of enthusiastic and thoughtful residents.
On Tuesday, September 4th at 6 pm, the Somerville Planning Board will hold a hearing on IKEA and Assembly Square Drive – at Somerville City Hall, 93 Highland Avenue, Somerville MA 02143. (Citizens may also mail or email their comments to the Planning Board, care of Madeleine Masters, at the address above or to
Key issues follow. Somerville residents might want to address job opportunities, transportation access (pedestrian, bike and Orange Line), traffic and congestion management, air pollution and health effects, public open space and Mystic River access, Lower Broadway impacts and/or potential East Somerville benefits. It is especially important to encourage IKEA’s external design to support and be an integral part of a new walkable urban district. IKEA needs a very strong link to the new T-stop, which could literally have a second entry and exit abutting the IKEA property. All potential improvements aside, we must remain grateful for the $15 million T-stop pledge.
Ample public open space, pleasantly configured rather than an afterthought, is also crucial. For comparison, the new mixed use developments at Fan Pier and Pier 4 on South Boston’s waterfront have more building square feet per acre than any buildings planned for Assembly Square but are still required to give over 40% of their land to public green space and public plazas. Though Assembly Square’s developments can take advantage of public lands along the Mystic River, the IKEA plans simply do not contribute enough new high quality public landscape. And the proposal to count their little parking lot traffic islands as “useable public open space” is just ridiculous.
On Thursday, September 6th at 1 and 5 pm at the Mass Department of Environmental Protection on the second floor at One Winter Street, (Downtown Crossing) Boston, there will be two identical meetings to take public comments on the SIP “transit commitments” progress report, including the Green Line extensions. If you can’t attend, please send comments to: Katherine Fichter, Exec. Office of Transportation, Rm. 4150, Ten Park Plaza, Boston, MA 02116 and/or Christine Kirby, Massachusetts DEP, 1 Winter Street, Boston, 02108-4746 (alternatively and/or
Key issues follow. Given the Commonwealth’s recent wavering on the Green Line, it is most important to insist on a renewed guarantee of completion of the two extensions, regardless of Federal funding availability. The Green Line extensions are a legally binding Clean Air Act commitment related to I93 and the Big Dig.
Somerville is the only Massachusetts municipality with over 15,000 diesel commuter rail trips per square mile per year, and the only city hosting over 200,000 vehicle miles traveled per square mile per day. Despite government reluctance to admit it, the local health effects from immediate proximity to regional transportation pollution – asthma, deceased lung capacity, excess heart attack and lung cancer deaths – are real. High capacity clean rail-based transit is the only effective way to reduce the vehicles passing through Somerville and the only way to provide our diverse citizens with convenient, quick and carless transportation.
We need the Green Line extensions without additional delay!