Proposed ‘T’ Hikes Meet with Outcry from Commuters, Elected Officials

Proposed ‘T’ Hikes Meet with Outcry from Commuters, Elected Officials

A roomful of commuters and elected officials roundly rejected proposed MBTA fare hikes during a public meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 27, at the State Transportation Building in Boston.

Steve Poftak, general manager of the MBTA, outlined the increases, which would go into effect July 1 and raise fares an average of 6.3 percent system-wide.

Under the proposal, the cost of a local bus Charlie Card would increase to $1.80 from $1.70 while a subway Charlie Card would rise to $2.40 from the current $2.25. The monthly LinkPass, which provides unlimited bus and subway travel for one customer, would jump to $90 from $84.50, and a seven-day LinkPass would rise to $22.50 from $21.25.

The proposed fare increase would bring in $32 million in additional revenue to help recoup losses against the budget shortfall of $111 million projected for the next fiscal year.

The last hike came in July of 2016, which raised fares an average of 9.3 percent across the system, but since that time, the Legislature has passed a law limiting fare hikes to a maximum of 7 percent every two years.

After Poftak’s opening remarks, City Councilor Michelle Wu presented T officials with a petition she circulated calling for unlimited year-round passes for seniors and children, as well as a lower fare for the city’s poorest residents, which had already garnered 2,700 signatures by the time the meeting commenced.

“This moment in history demands aggressive action against the threats of income inequality and climate change,” Wu said. “Sustainable, affordable, reliable public transit is fundamental to providing Boston residents with the greatest access to jobs, schools, and opportunities beyond their home neighborhoods.”

State Rep. Adrian Madaro, who represents East Boston, read from a letter on behalf of the Boston Legislative Delegation urging the MBTA board of directors to hold off on fare hikes at this time.

“Public transportation is a vital resource for residents of Boston, and especially for low-income individuals, seniors and students who rely on MBTA service as their primary means of transportation,” the letter read in part. “We realize fares bring needed revenue to the operations of our public transportation system, but understanding how higher fares affect these vulnerable populations is essential to striking the right balance between funding and public accessibility to transportation services. We believe that there needs to be a more in-depth discussion with the MBTA about the background and reasoning for this proposal prior to the imposition of any fare increase.”

James White, chairman of MBTA Accessibility Advisory Committee for the past 18 years, advised against raising fare until after planned improvements are made to the Red and Orange lines, including the replacement of both fleets by 2023.

In response to the MBTA’s own projection that a fare hike would amount to a 1.3-percent loss in ridership, State Rep. Andy Vargas, who represents Haverhill, said, “At a time when we have increased ridership on the T, we should be doing everything we can to encourage that.”

State Rep. Tommy Vitolo, who represents Brookline, took to the podium with a can of Arizona Iced Tea in hand.

“It costs 99 cents, says it right on the can,” he said. “It has cost 99 cents for 18 years. What the good people of Arizona Iced Tea figured out is if you don’t improve the quality of the tea, you don’t raise the prices,” Vitolo said before drinking from the can as the audience applauded him.

The fare increase would put an even bigger burden on commuters living outside the city as illustrated by statements from Egan Millard, a 27-year-old Weymouth resident who works in Cambridge and currently pays $217.75 for his monthly commuter rail and subway pass.

“I, and I’m sure most T riders, already feel we’re paying too much for such abysmal service,” Millard said “Commuter rail service is so infrequent I have to plan my entire day and sometimes week around it. I have lost, at this point, days of my life on the T that I can’t get back.”

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Better Bussing – MBTA Meets with Chelsea Community to Discuss Proposed Fare Hike, Projects

Better Bussing – MBTA Meets with Chelsea Community to Discuss Proposed Fare Hike, Projects

By Laura Plummer

Chelsea residents and MBTA officials mingled at the Chelsea Senior Center on Tuesday, February 19, where the MBTA sought community feedback on three new system-wide changes on the horizon: a proposed fare hike, a bus system improvement initiative dubbed The Better Bus Project, and an upgraded program for managing ticket purchases called Automated Fare Collection 2.0.

The event was the first meeting in a series that the Transit Authority is hosting in the Greater Boston area throughout February and early March. Other cities and communities on the list include Quincy Center, Woburn, South Boston, Harvard Square, Downtown Boston, Watertown and Worcester.

Chelsea residents perused information from the MBTA on Tuesday
night at the Open House – the first of many in the Greater Boston area dealing with rate increases, the Better Bus Project and the new fare collection system.

Departing from the traditional town hall-style meeting, there was no speaker or agenda. Rather, officials from the MBTA were stationed at a horseshoe of tables featuring large informational posters and fliers in Spanish and English. Residents from the Chelsea community were invited to circulate from station to station in order to learn about the proposed changes, ask questions and provide oral and written feedback.

FARE PROPOSAL

The MBTA is looking to increase fares by an average of 6.3%, which, according to its website, it needs in order to “continue making system investments to improve service.”

The increase, which is aligned with Boston’s inflation rate, also meets the State law allowing the MBTA to raise their rates no more than 7% every two years. The fare hike, which would go into effect in July, would be the first since 2016.

The 6.3% increase would be applied to all fares, including bus and subway, commuter rail, ferry, and The RIDE.

In terms of the most common fares and passes, a local one-way bus ticket would go from $1.70 to $1.80. A one-way subway ticket would go from $2.25 to $2.40. A monthly LinkPass would go from $84.50 to $90.00, and a 7-Day LinkPass would go from $21.25 to $22.50.

Those interested can read more about the proposed fare hike at mbta.com/fare-proposal-2019. Comments can be emailed to fares@mbta.com, or mailed to MBTA, Attn: Fare Proposal, 10 Park Plaza, Boston, MA 02116. Respondents can also share their opinions via an online survey available at surveymonkey.com/r/6TW8FFQ.

THE BETTER BUS PROJECT

Another project on the table is The Better Bus Project, an expansive initiative looking to overhaul the entire bus service of the MBTA. Its current projected rollout date is 2020.

“Too many of our bus routes still fail to live up to our own standards,” states the MBTA on its web site. “Through the Better Bus Project, we are changing that. Every day we’re finding new ways to improve the experiences of the people who use and ride our buses.”

The Better Bus Project would be comprised of five distinct elements: continuous change, analysis, proposed near-term changes, multi-year investment strategy and the Bus Network Redesign.

Continuous change refers to changes that can be made incrementally over time as the opportunities arise. Analysis includes reports generated from a period of outreach in which the MBTA surveyed riders most affected by gaps in service.

“Riders want more frequent, more reliable service,” said the MBTA. “They want more routes that run more often throughout the day—not just during peak service hours. And we learned […] that there are too many routes, too many complex routes, and too few routes with frequent, all-day service.”

Proposed near-term changes for The Better Bus Project include 47 specific suggestions for the consolidation of duplicate routes, the increase of space at bus stops and the elimination of some obsolete bus routes.

One of the 47 proposed projects is Route 111, which runs from Haymarket through Chelsea to Revere. The MBTA aims to “provide faster and more reliable service to Route 111 by removing service on Park Avenue in Revere, with connection remaining via Route 110,” according to a Better Bus Project flier.

A multi-year investment strategy will kick off a dialog about how to best leverage resources to improve the bus system as a whole, taking into account what riders want and need.

The ambitious Bus Network Redesign would re-envision the current MBTA bus network in the hopes of better serving passengers.

To learn more about The Better Bus Project and share your input, go to mbta.com/projects/better-bus-project.

AUTOMATED FARE COLLECTION 2.0

Citing an outdated system, the MBTA hopes that its new project will make paying for transit easier. With the introduction of AFC 2.0, the MBTA hopes to “improve customer experience, ensure equal access, upgrade outdated hardware and software, improve revenue control, operate buses and trains more efficiently and support future MBTA changes and growth.”

According to the MBTA, passengers will be able to pay their fares faster with improved Charlie Cards, a smartphone app, different payment options and digital fare readers. Under the new system, passengers will be able to conveniently reload their Charlie Cards in a number of venues, from schools and employers, online, over the phone, retailers and an increased number of vending machines.

MBTA employee Anthony Thomas explained that people could still use cash to reload their Charlie Cards at a number of locations throughout the city, but that cash would no longer be an option for paying on buses. The idea is to reduce the long bus queues, resulting in faster routes.

“Our new fare system will get you moving faster,” said the MBTA. “It’ll also get our vehicles moving faster (by up to 10% according to some estimates).”

These changes would not be rolled out all at once, but would overlap with the current technologies available, some of them in place for over a decade. In this way, the MBTA hopes to have a seamless transition to the new system.

For more information about AFC 2.0 and to submit your feedback, visit afc2.mbta.com.

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MBTA Better Bus Kick-Off

MBTA Better Bus Kick-Off

Steve Poftak, who has been the MBTA General Manager for about a month, expresses his commitment to Chelsea during the inaugural Chelsea Transportation Task Force meeting at City Hall on Thursday, Jan. 24. The Task Force plans to continue meeting for the next six months regarding MBTA issues and the Better Buses program.

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Chelsea Transportation Task Force Inaugural Meeting: Driving the Discussion

Chelsea Transportation Task Force Inaugural Meeting: Driving the Discussion

The people of Chelsea are demanding increased frequency on the Silver Line, more reliability, and additional bus connections from the MBTA. Over the next two years there will be three major construction projects in Chelsea that will adversely impact bus traffic, and City leaders and residents are concerned that the already poor services will worsen.

“There have been big shifts in population and ridership, and the bus routes have stayed largely the same,” admitted Steve Poftak, the newly appointed MBTA General Manager. “The T is playing catch-up.”

On January 24, Poftak sat with locals and members of the City Council during the first inaugural Chelsea Transportation Task Force meeting at City Hall. The goal of the committee is to gather once a month for six months of interactive discussions with the community and Poftak to develop solutions.

“For a lot of us who live on both of the hills, buses are the only means of transportation,” commented a Bellingham Square resident. “Every year or two, they threaten to cut off both of the hills. That would leave us totally stranded, and I’m not having it.”

Many aren’t content with the massive traffic that builds with the 20 minute rising and 20 minute lowering of the Chelsea Street bridge, which slows bus travel. The MBTA noted that active discussions with the Coast Guard regarding the creation of a period of time during peak hours of commuting when the bridge does not open have been hindered by the government shutdown.

“We have limited control over the bridge. Maybe we could have some predictability with windows when we know the bridge will be active and when we know it won’t,” said Poftak.

The Better Bus Project is investigating the quality of the current bus network and working on cost-neutral proposals that will result in more frequent services for customers. Researchers have been speaking with riders to learn more about where people’s trips begin and end, the economic demographics of the area, and where jobs are located.

“We are advocating for fair mitigation,” expressed Council President Damali Vidot. “We’ve needed quality service for years and are working at a sub-par level. Chelsea was an afterthought in the Better Bus Project. We want to make sure we’re getting the service we deserve.”

The Better Bus Project has 47 proposals for changes in the MBTA bus system that will impact 63 out of the 180 routes in 35 of the 50 communities that are served. Proposals include removing bus routes with low ridership, and re-investing resources elsewhere.

The Transportation Task Force is suggesting more inspectors, less cancellations, and easier transfers between Chelsea and Lynn on the Commuter Rail.

“We are re-imagining the infrastructure on Broadway,” said City Manager Tom Ambrosino. “We will be presenting the City Council with alternatives that do away with two fast lanes to make travel safer. One idea is incorporating a dedicated bus lane.”

Gentrification has also forced many Chelsea residents to relocate to Lynn because of the high cost of rent. One Chelsea resident, who works in Lynn, voiced that it takes her up to two hours to commute from Lynn to Chelsea using public transportation. She commented that the only line that directly connects Chelsea to Everett is the 112 bus, and many avoid it due to the lifting of the bridge; and recommended that the 426 bus through Lynn could stop in Chelsea, as it already passes over the Tobin Bridge.

“In the overall bus network redesign, people on the north side of the city are particularly interested in going to Lynn and Malden,” Poftak concluded. Better Bus Project proposals will be available at www.MBTA.com with maps and data. The MBTA will also be providing riders with a warm place to view proposals at Haymarket Station, where they see the most response from Chelsea residents.

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MBTA, MassPort Seek Pilot for Chelsea Street Bridge Restrictions

MBTA, MassPort Seek Pilot for Chelsea Street Bridge Restrictions

There has been no shortage of colorful language used to express frustration for the often ill-timed Chelsea Street Bridge closures, and now the MBTA has joined the chorus in cursing the 250-foot vertical lift bridge – a bridge that far-too-often makes a lift in the dead of rush hour traffic.

At the MBTA Fiscal Management Control Board (FMCB) meeting on Monday, Kate Fichter – Assistant MassDOT Secretary for Policy Coordination – said that the Silver Line extension to Chelsea has been a great success, but the delays at the critical crossing of the Chelsea Street Bridge have stifled the new service.

A plan put in place to warn Silver Line drivers in advance of a bridge closure has not worked out very well, she said, and the Silver Line’s growth is believed to be hampered by people frustrated with the bridge delays.

“It impacts a lot of things and it’s been an issue a long time for Chelsea, East Boston and Revere,” said Fichter. “With the SL3, we had a plan in place that had a system for early warning with dispatch that we hoped would mitigate the issue. It hasn’t really turned out to work as well as we had hoped. It is a challenge to the Silver Line, the 116, the 117 and a lot of its other uses…The Silver Line usage has grown, and we believe if we can solve the delays at the bridge, ridership can grow even more.”

Fichter said they are working with MassPort and several other partners to propose a six-month pilot program to the Coast Guard’s Maritime Regulations on the bridge. Those regulations prioritize maritime travel over all other forms of transportation and often result in ships coming through at the worst times of the day. That has caused problems for MassPort workers trying to get to and from the employee parking garage in Chelsea from the airport, and it’s also caused problems for parents trying to get to Chelsea to pick up their children from school or day care. Likewise, it is a constant headache for commuters and commercial/industrial ventures when it goes up.

“We are going to apply with the Coast Guard in the next couple of months to propose a pilot program to those regulations that would last six months,” she said. “At this point, we’re proposing that the bridge would not open in the a.m. peak times or the p.m. peak times for a two-hour period at each time.”

The exception would be if a fully loaded petroleum tanker sought to come into the Chelsea Creek or there was an emergency situation. The purpose of the pilot program would be to collect data on MBTA delays, as well as delays for other users.

“I am cautiously optimistic about getting the pilot,” she said. “The situation is such that we have no real leverage. We can only ask.”

She said the goal would be for the multiple agencies to seek a permanent regulation change with the Coast Guard if the pilot shows improvements. That, she said, is a tough road to travel and would likely get resistance from maritime uses on Chelsea Creek.

“They see it as a maritime facility and we see it as the bottom of a road,” she said. “It’s no secret the users of the Creek and vessel operators are very opposed to this and I anticipate they will oppose the pilot program and would really oppose a permanent change. There are plenty of regulations that have changed across the country, but it’s a tough fight…My hope is there is a compromise position where everyone gives a little and we all get some relief.”

Fichter said they would be having public meetings in the new year at some point to get input from the community, and they are encouraging everyone to come out and voice their frustrations with the bridge as it is set up now. The more people that voice their opinions, the more likely it will be that the pilot would be put in place.

She said they would like to see any approved pilot program start in June 2019.

Chelsea Silver Line extension seeing major growth in weekday ridership

MBTA officials reported this week that Silver Line ridership for the new Chelsea service has been growing steadily since implementation last April.

Members of the MBTA’s Chelsea Task Force reported to the Fiscal Management Control Board (FMCB) on Monday that ridership on weekdays has grown by nearly 2,000 riders per month.

The service started with about 4,100 riders per month on weekday at the outset, and now boasts around 6,200 riders per month on weekdays. At other times, though, ridership has stayed flat.

On Saturdays, ridership started around 3,000, grew to nearly 4,000 riders and has now declined to about 3,200 riders.

On Sundays, ridership started at about 2,900 and surged to about 3,000 riders in August, but has now declined to about 3,800 riders per month.

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A Silver Line-ing: First Rides on the SL-3 Line Begin Saturday

A Silver Line-ing: First Rides on the SL-3 Line Begin Saturday

The MBTA is gearing up for the big rollout of its Silver Line SL-3 expansion on Saturday, April 21, as operations on the expansion of the bus rapid transit look to change the landscape, and the commute, of the City.CHEL_20180419_A1

For the first time ever, “can’t get there from here” territory like South Station will be only 27 minutes from the Mystic Mall on the new SL-3 buses, according to information from the MBTA.

“SL3 will make commuting to the Airport, Seaport, or South Station better for anyone who rides bus routes 111, 112, 114, 116, 117, anyone travelling on the Blue Line, or anyone who is driving,” read information materials from the T. “Right now, your commute might be pretty complicated. If you’re going to the South Station area, you probably start out on a bus, and then make a few transfers to get to the Red Line. If you drive, you deal with a lot of traffic, and pay for tolls, and parking.”

On Wednesday, MBTA General Manager Luis Ramirez was out to Chelsea to get a sneak peek of the new service, taking the SL-3 from Airport Station through to the new Chelsea Station. Deputy City Manager Ned Keefe accompanied him, as well as several MBTA officials.

The new SL-3 service will operate in Chelsea between the hours of

5 a.m. (Monday through Friday) to 12:55 a.m. On Saturdays, it opens at 5:30 a.m. and Sundays at 6:30 a.m.

Service will run every 10 minutes at peak periods, which are between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., and 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Service runs every 12 to 15 minutes in off-peak and weekend times.

It will operate in Chelsea out of three brand new, heated stations – complete with covered bike racks at each. The stations are:

  • Chelsea Station – 174 Everett Ave.
  • Bellingham Station – 225 Arlington St.
  • Box District Station – 200 Highland St.
  • Eastern Avenue Station – 40 Eastern Ave.

As part of the project as well, the 111 bus will be enhanced.

It is expected that of the 11,700 riders of the 111 bus, some 2,000 will switch to the SL-3 service, reducing the crowds on the 111 somewhat.

Additionally, the MBTA plans to work with the City of Chelsea to improve the 111 bus with potential dedicated bus lanes and signal optimization.

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New Early Morning MBTA Bus Routes Started this Week

New Early Morning MBTA Bus Routes Started this Week

New, early morning bus routes on several area MBTA lines began on Sunday, April 1, for a one-year early morning pilot program on the routes.

The pilot will be on the MBTA’s busiest key bus routes serving neighborhoods within the immediate Boston core traveling to downtown Boston, the Seaport, and key stops in between beginning as early as 3:20 a.m. Serving residents who start their work day before many people’s alarms ring, the new routes are part of the MBTA’s continued commitment to expanding offerings for those riders who need them most.

There are nine routes on the pilot, and four of them serve the areas of Everett, Chelsea, Revere, East Boston and downtown Boston. Those routes in this area include:

  • Route 104 – Lynn Street Revere via Broadway Everett to Sullivan Square.
  • Route 109 – serving Broadway Everett.
  • Route 117 – serving Wonderland Revere to East Boston, via Revere, Chelsea and Eastie.
  • Route 455 – Salem to Wonderland Revere.

“The T’s expansion into early morning bus service will provide an important opportunity for the changing needs of Massachusetts’ workforce,” said Governor Charlie Baker. “Throughout this one-year pilot, the MBTA will be able to gather important information about changes in bus ridership and analyze that data to better inform future transportation plans around the Greater Boston area.”

“The launch of early morning service demonstrates that the MBTA is acting on its top priority to put the needs of its customers first,” said Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack. “This new transit option will serve workers who must start their day earlier than most. Other commuters and city residents depend upon these essential workers and the MBTA’s ability to get them to their work places safely and on time.”

The changes also include additional service on existing routes during pre-dawn hours. Some routes will extend beyond their normal end points during the early morning to provide direct service to downtown Boston and Logan Airport, allowing customers to reach those destinations even before trains start running. Early morning service is already a part of the MBTA’s bus service on several routes, but these added services represent earlier and/or extended routes on several bus lines. This expansion is the result of a year-long ridership study and planning initiative at the T, which resulted in the identification of key routes where early morning demand is heaviest.

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Silver Line Stations Come Together, Service to Begin in April 2018

Silver Line Stations Come Together, Service to Begin in April 2018

By Seth Daniel

The new Chelsea Station behind the Market Basket on Everett Avenue is nearly completed now, with a goal of opening up service at the four new stations on the new SL3 line in April.

The new Chelsea Station behind the Market Basket on Everett Avenue is nearly completed now, with a goal of opening up service at the four new stations on the new SL3 line in April.

A projected 19 minute ride with no transfers from downtown Chelsea to the Seaport in Boston is but months away as the MBTA puts the finishing touches on four stations and the dedicated busway in Chelsea’s new Silver Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line – which will be known as SL3.

Already, a great amount of excitement has built throughout the community as the stations begin to look like finished products and the lettering denoting ‘Eastern Avenue’ and ‘Chelsea’ have been affixed to those stations. A spokesman for the MBTA said the T is excited to start service in April.

“The MBTA and MassDOT are very excited to be just months away from introducing Bur Rapid Transit service for customers traveling to and from Chelsea,” said Joe Pesaturo, for the MBTA. “The MBTA anticipates beginning Silver Line Gateway service in the early spring of next year. The existing Silver Line in Boston has been very popular since its launch because of the frequent levels of service and increased capacity. MBTA General Manager Luis Ramirez is looking forward to a celebration in the spring in Chelsea to mark the start of service.”

The completion of the four new BRT stations and the dedicated busway will conclude Phase 1 of the Silver Line Gateway expansion project – which has essentially brought the Silver Line from Logan Airport over to Chelsea. The new Chelsea service, however, will not go to the airport and the SL3 line will bypass the airport with a stop at the Blue Line Train Station where airport shuttles can be taken to terminals.

In documents presented to the MBTA Board last summer, the new service expects to have a total daily ridership of 8,730 people, with new transit trips being 2,500 (meaning people that will use the service who now do not use the MBTA).

At peak, it is estimated there will be 22 BRT buses on all three Silver Line routes, and that the SL3 Chelsea wait times will be around 10-12 minutes at peak times and 12-15 minutes at off-peak times.

MBTA estimates show that currently to get to the World Trade Center stop in the Seaport from downtown Chelsea takes 37 minutes and requires two transfers. That would be paired down to 19 minutes and no transfers on the new SL3 line.

To go from the airport to the World Trade Center station now takes 20 minutes with one transfer. The SL3 line would take seven minutes and no transfers.

The entire first phase of the Silver Line Gateway project cost $46.5 million and included rebuilding the Washington Avenue bridge, constructing a 1.1 mile dedicated busway, a half-mile shared-use path and the four new stations.

A second phase has been fully funded at about $29 million and includes building the Chelsea Intermodal Center, which includes a new Commuter Rail Station and a new railroad signaling system to improve traffic flow in Chelsea. The new station, unlike the existing station, will be fully accessible. The MBTA expects to solicit construction bids for Phase 2 this winter, with work beginning next summer.

One of the key initiatives for MBTA General Manager Ramirez, he said, is to get a comprehensive strategy for marketing a promoting the new service well in advance of the launch. Many of the new service options introduced by the MBTA in recent years suffer from low ridership due in many cases to people having little information about the new service.

The MBTA right now is working to select a qualified firm to handle the jobs of:

•Advertise the new service to existing and prospective customers.

•Highlight the benefits of Silver Line Gateway service relative to existing bus services in the area, including dedicated lanes and limited stops.

•Promote the ongoing work the MBTA is doing to improve its transportation offerings.

“The firm will work with the MBTA to develop well-rounded marketing and communications strategies that achieve the goals, including but not limited to market research, specifying target audiences, generating message concepts, proposing an effective mix of media, and partnering with local community organizations as part of the public outreach strategy,” said Pesaturo.

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MBTA Adds Additional North Shore Shuttle Service

MBTA Adds Additional North Shore Shuttle Service

The MBTA has announced additional bus service for passengers impacted by the construction on the Newburyport/Rockport Commuter Rail this summer. This new schedule is the result of collaboration with and feedback from passengers, community leaders and elected officials. Alternate weekend shuttle bus service along the Newburyport/Rockport Lines will make stops at all stations (including Chelsea, Lynn, and Swampscott) during federally mandated Positive Train Control (PTC) installation during weekends beginning July 8 through September 30. The MBTA will also provide alternate weekday shuttle bus service along the Newburyport/Rockport Lines to each station north of Salem during Beverly Drawbridge construction beginning July 17 through August 13.

•Weekend Service for July 8 through September 30

From Saturday, July 8, through Sunday, September 30, weekend Newburyport/Rockport Line Commuter Rail service will be unavailable and replaced with alternate shuttle bus service making stops at all stations (including Chelsea, Lynn, and Swampscott Stations) on the line between Boston and Newburyport as well as Boston and Rockport. Roundtrip fare on the alternate weekend shuttle bus will be $10 with Zone 3 monthly passes accepted to and from all stations. Weekend shuttle bus schedules and more information are available at HYPERLINK “http://www.mbta.com/uploadedfiles/Riding_the_T/Landing_Pages/Newburyport.Rockport%20Weekend%20Schedule%207.8%20to%209.30.pdf”mbta.com.

•Weekday Service for July 17 through August 13

From Monday, July 17, through Sunday, August 13, weekday Newburyport/Rockport Line Commuter Rail service will be unavailable north of Salem Station to allow for the Beverly Drawbridge replacement project. Bus shuttles will replace Commuter Rail service between Salem and Newburyport and Salem and Rockport, making stops at each station. Weekday shuttle bus service is free with Zone 3 monthly passes accepted at all stations north of Salem Station for the months of July and August. Weekday shuttle bus schedules and more information are available at HYPERLINK “http://www.mbta.com/uploadedfiles/Riding_the_T/Landing_Pages/Newburyport.Rockport%20Weekday%20Schedule%207.17%20to%208.13.pdf”mbta.com.

Weekday and weekend shuttle buses will include free WiFi and restroom facilities. Bicycles, including folding bikes, are prohibited on all shuttle buses during all service hours.

Parking will be free at all available station lots north of Beverly Depot Station (North Beverly, Hamilton/Wenham, Ipswich, Rowley, Newburyport, Montserrat, Beverly Farms, Manchester, West Gloucester, Gloucester, and Rockport).” Passengers should not drive to and/or park in Salem, as station parking is very constrained. Parking will be strictly enforced in downtown and neighborhood areas.

For more information on PTC installation, the Beverly Drawbridge Replacement Project, and shuttle bus service, please visit HYPERLINK “http://www.mbta.com/about_the_mbta/?id=6442458158″http://www.mbta.com/about_the_mbta/?id=6442458158.

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Outlandishness:Ambrosino,Neighbors Question Seriousness of Forbes Plan

By Seth Daniel

There was nothing rough around the edges about the presentation by Yihe Forbes LLC at Tuesday’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meeting on Tuesday night.

In fact, the polished attorneys, architects, engineers and consultants were pretty much the best team that money could buy in Boston.

Even so, neighbors and elected officials said over and over again there was such an outlandishness to the 534-unit, 253-room hotel with 25,000 sq. ft. of retail space – all coming in over one small bridge and through the Mill Hill neighborhood – that many simply laughed the proposal away or began to think about possible conspiracy theories.

“I was waiting for Ashton Kutcher to come out and the MTV camera crews to tell us all we’d been ‘Punked,’” said Councillor Dan Cortell, referring to the popular practical joke television show. “The proposal sounds like Station Landing and Assembly Row stuffed into one spot, but with only one entrance and exit. They were taking notes during all the comments the whole way through, but at some point you just have to highlight the whole book. The City Manager asked for a second or alternate egress as a conversation starter and they had nothing to offer. How surprised could they have been by what was said?”

Said neighbor Betty Richards of Hooper Street, a normally very vocal voice at ZBA meetings, “I can’t even speak words about how bad this is. This is so asinine and stupid and I don’t know know what planet this is coming from.”

City Manager Tom Ambrosino lent the strongest voice against the plan, calling for it to be dispatched at the earliest point possible. He said he has worked with the architects, attorneys and consultants on the Waterfront Square project in Revere Beach from when he was the Revere mayor, and was surprised at their conduct on this project.

“These are great folks on the team,” he said. “I’ve worked with them before and we had meetings with the developer and the City for four years before we even got to a hearing at the ZBA. There’s none of that with this proposal. I’ve been in this business a long time. That’s how it’s done. When a project is proposed without any of that, I question the seriousness of it. I urge you to shoot this down at the earliest point possible and they can go back to the drawing board because they are capable. Then, they can engage us.”

Very importantly, Fire Deputy Chief Paul Giancola said the CFD is absolutely against the plan because they can’t handle it and have issues with the access.

“We oppose this project totally,” he said. “It’s unacceptable. We can’t handle it…You can’t have one bridge to get in and out. The second bridge you have on the plans for emergency access says it’s a pedestrian bridge…We just don’t have the manpower to handle this, and the 27-story building is just too high.”

The plan by the Chinese company – which looks to spend in the ballpark of $500 million to make the project on the old Forbes Industrial site a reality – is very ambitious and has drawn attention since last summer when it was submitted due to the large number of units and the 27-story skyscraper that is the centerpiece of the project.

While the density is an overriding concern, a more critical concern has been access to the site. Right now, the only access is via Crescent Avenue off of Eastern Avenue – taking a small bridge over to the island-like spit of the vacant, 18-acre former home to the world-famous Forbes printing company.

City Manager Tom Ambrosino has told the developers that a good starting place would be to develop an alternative access point that doesn’t travel through Mill Hill. He has been a proponent of tying into Rt. 1A via a small bridge that would span the Creek and lead to Railroad Avenue in Revere.

However, project Attorney Paul Feldman said they had explored the idea of putting a bridge across the Creek with the MBTA and it was shot down.

“We have done some exploration of alternative access,” he said. “I can say to you that alternative access doesn’t work. We have to be straight up and transparent. We can’t tell you there is an alternative access that is available, but what we can do is make the site work. We have enough confidence to invest a half million dollars that this will work without an alternative access.”

It wasn’t good enough for Ambrosino.

“There was just an appalling lack of attention to the desperate need for an alternative access,” he said. “I really don’t think there was sufficient energy spent to explore alternative accesses to the site.”

He said though it presented problems and expense, it’s what major developers do to move along big developments like the Forbes.

Strike One.

The developers also proposed that there would be no traffic in the neighborhoods off of Crescent Avenue, zeroing out any traffic impacts on streets like Clinton Street and others.

“When Eastern Avenue gets backed up like it always does, everyone is going to go on the side streets,” said Clinton Street resident Christine Barnes.

“That’s unrealistic,” added City Planner John DePriest.

Strike Two.

And as a bone thrown to the neighbors (which turned out to be a rotten tomato), Feldman proposed completely rehabilitating Crescent Avenue – replacing the water mains, building sidewalks where there are none and reconstructing the street. Within that plan, they proposed taking away parking from the western side of the street to widen the road. Instead, the developer would create two neighborhood parking lots on property he owns by the Burke Complex and the entry way to Forbes. There would be 32 street spaces lost, but 40 spaces in the parking lots gained. Unfortunately, that plan would call for long-time neighbors to not be able to park in front of their homes any longer.

“These are people’s homes and many of them have lived there a long time and they want to say we can’t park in front of our homes anymore,” she Richards. “They want us to walk all the way down the street now and park in a lot they’re going to provide for us so they can have their development.”

Strike Three.

Prior to the big whiff by Yihe Forbes, Feldman and the team – who have put together projects such as the Cambridgeside Galleria and Patriot Place – presented a spectacular presentation regarding the plans for the site. It included the massive amounts of residential apartments and condos built in five phases with seven acres of waterfront open space for everyone to enjoy. There was far more parking than required in a garage deck that would sit under a large, raised plaza – with the hotel and retail portions being right at the entrance to the site. The plan was drawn up using the City’s 2004 Planning Document with its recommendations for 500 units on the Forbes site, Feldman said. He also added that the project when fully built would result in $6 million per year in property taxes – a hefty sum for a small City like Chelsea.

There were plans for 20,000 sq. ft. of landscaped roofing, car sharing services on site, fine restaurants, a shuttle service and, perhaps even, an ice cream shop for neighbors to frequent as they perched on the waterfront for a picnic lunch.

Sounded great, but it was just a little too far-fetched for most neighbors to take seriously – and the seriousness of the project was probably the greatest critique during the meeting, which stretched on until almost midnight.

Councillor Matt Frank urged the ZBA to dispatch the plan immediately.

“You can put $500 million on the table and if it blows the community apart, then it’s really not worth it,” he said. “If the MBTA can say ‘no,’ and the MassDOT can say ‘no,’ then the City of Chelsea can also say ‘no.’”

Added Council President Leo Robinson, “We don’t need to jump at the first thing thrown at us. We should be able to control what goes there. Something significant is obviously going to go there, but we can sit down and get a better deal than this.”

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