Week-in-Review 4/12/19 - Meet & Greet Tomorrow, Northland Updates, Labor Union Actions, Road Closures

by Irina Costache, Campaign Organizer

Candidate Meet & Greet tomorrow

This weekend, we have an opportunity for voters to meet and speak to Bill about the city issues they care about! Join us tomorrow, April 13, at 3pm for a wide-ranging discussion and Q&A on important Ward issues. The event is hosted by Susan Forrow at 86 Varick Rd. No donations are required to attend the event. Please email me (irina@billhumphrey.net) to RSVP. We hope to see you there!

Having finished knocking doors in precincts one and four this week, Bill began knocking doors in precinct 3, including the one Ward 5 turf located in West Newton. Once again, the top voiced concern was road repairs, but Bill also heard from multiple voters about parking, affordable housing, environmental action, and the importance of having young elected officials. He has now had over 500 conversations at the doors!

Northland Update from Land Use

There was another Northland hearing before the Land Use committee this past Tuesday night, this time focusing again on traffic and parking. Bill attended, sitting in the balcony, staying all the way through the public comments ending at 10:30 PM. It was a fairly chaotic session with audience members screaming things at random points, usually while someone was talking, sometimes at least partly in frustration about the sound system not reaching the balcony.

But here are a few new notes from the 3.5 hour session, which included a commentary by the Planning Department, then presentations by the developer team, an opposition group, and a proponent group, as well as finally members of the audience as a whole:

  • The Planning Department thinks ride share app trips (and therefore traffic) will increase if parking is reduced because people will order one car to get there and one car to leave.

  • The city’s peer reviewer has now studied Oak St exit options, because of neighborhood objections. These options were: 1) No exit or entry, 2) exit only, 3) entrance only, 4) left turn exit only (i.e. toward Needham St). They contend that there would be no change to Oak St traffic volume in either direction with or without an exit or entrance, and so the Planning Department recommends no change to that part of the plan but possibly a city council "look-back" provision on the point. Bill remains unconvinced that it is needed or that it would really have no adverse effect on Upper Falls.

  • Most of the scenarios show increases in traffic wait times of around 30 to 60 seconds, which is not too long, but some community members worry that will be enough to push a great deal more traffic onto diversionary streets when using GPS apps to choose the fastest route. That also speaks to a more systemic issue we need to deal with apart from this project specifically.

  • The Planning Department says they do not believe the petitioner projections for the shuttle usage are reasonable, citing long headway times and competition with MBTA service (59 bus) & ride share apps. The Planning Dept advises that the shuttle plan should be refocused to solve last/first mile access to existing T rail service rather than the grand plan currently proposed. It also should supplement 59 bus, not be redundant to it. The Planning Dept also wants to continue encouraging people to work for home (eliminating commute) based on ACS data showing this effect already at work in Newton among a sizable number of people working from home. The Planning Dept is also proposing an extensive set of compliance-in-perpetuity requirements for transit demand management to the site.

  • The Planning Dept also advises city should require one large upfront payment into an offsite transportation mitigation fund and a onetime payment for a city study on the issue. The Planners also have a huge laundry list of offsite capital improvements they hope to get as part of the deal which would also mitigate problems around it. They acknowledged that the full list costs $5-6 million.

  • The development team contends that their proposed project would generate 800+ fewer peak car trips than the by-right commercial development currently zoned on the space if they built that instead of the mixed use proposal they have offered.

  • If one actually accepts the idealized maximized shuttle usage Northland aspires to (which seems overly ambitious), there would be only 119 net new trips on weekday AM and PM peaks, and 209 net new trips on Saturdays, as measured from the driveway points of the project. These “net new” trip figures compare against the mostly vacant space now. Net new trips metric excludes the existing trips to the non vacant operations on the site now. Including those would be about double or so, per the peer review.

  • The 128 Business Council nonprofit shuttle team says they were happy to take on this project and stake their reputation to it because they were part of the project design process, rather than being brought in after the fact to try to fix a disaster already built. The shuttle would become operational at the beginning of the project not after it's finished to encourage prospective residents to decide to live there based on the shuttle. They acknowledge there is no other system they feel they can compare it to nationwide.

  • They have opted not to serve Newton Center with the shuttle, as floated sometimes before, in order to focus on Highlands and Newtonville service. The Boston Express service plan has been scaled back on weekdays but increased on weekends. The Cambridge route would serve Kendall Sq and Central Sq. It does not pass through Watertown. Needham service ideas seem to have been scaled back in the latest draft.

  • Shuttles would end service earlier in the evening than the Green Line service by a couple hours, which seems concerning, and would resume at 6 AM.

  • Under the latest concept, Newton Highlands would now have 31 round trip runs on weekdays. 10 to Newtonville. Newton Local would run 30 trips on weekends.

  • Fare proposals: $2.50 trip fare for Newton trips or $7 fare for Boston and Cambridge routes. Remains an open question how many people would really pay $7 to go to either destination, whether for the weekend or for regular commuting, particularly compared to other potential options.

Newton Teachers

On Wednesday morning, Bill joined the Newton Teachers Association at Newton North High School for a 7 AM standout demonstration in support of the union’s bargaining efforts on their new contract. They are seeking cost-of-living adjustments that keep up with rising regional housing expenses, modernized parental leave arrangements reflective of a variety of family structures, and more hours for educational aides to undertake professional development and coordination with classroom teachers to better assist their students with special learning requirements. All of these requests will strengthen the learning environment and experience of Newton public schools students.

Bill had a great chance to re-connect at the demonstration with a teacher who used to be one of the advisers to the student government at Newton South High School when Bill was part of it.

Waban Area Council

Bill attended the monthly WAC meeting as usual this Thursday. Unfortunately, the developers of a possible retail marijuana store in Four Corners canceled their presentation last-minute; so, there are no updates on that front. There was a community discussion among abutters to the traffic island at Waban Ave, Alban Rd, and the southern part of Varick Rd about a proposal by one neighbor for a small play structure for nearby families to walk to. This would need to be approved by Parks & Rec (which had a representative present) but would be privately funded. It would require some small changes to the island, including improved drainage, some small safety fencing, and some slight traffic pattern adjustments around the island. Some neighbors spoke in support and some neighbors spoke against. Currently the island has a park bench and is used by dirt-biker kids for practice. As there was some uncertainty about the approval process, since it is not technically a public project despite being on public land, Bill suggested sending out straw poll ballots by mail to abutters (who had received notification by mail about the meeting this week) with an explanation of the project and arguments for and against, which audience members on both sides (and the Parks rep) seemed to think was a reasonable idea, but the Area Council ultimately did not adopt this suggestion. It is unclear what will happen now.

Temporary Road Closures

  • Boston Marathon closure information from the Mayor: The road closures and parking restrictions along the route begin at 8:00 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. on Monday morning: Washington Street at the Wellesley line to Beacon Street will close at 8:30 a.m. Washington Street at Beacon Street to Commonwealth Avenue will close at 8:00 a.m. Commonwealth Avenue to the Boston line will close at 8:00 a.m. Parking restrictions will also be in place along Commonwealth Avenue and the carriage lanes, and along sections of the streets that feed into the Marathon route along Commonwealth Avenue. Roads are expected to re-open at approximately 6:00 p.m.

  • TV filming is nearly done for the project in Cold Spring Park. A previously scheduled temporary road closure of Plymouth Road between Cochituate Rd and Kingston Rd may still happen on Tuesday (April 16) from 7 AM to 8 PM, but we are not sure if that is still happening or not. According to Mayor Fuller, the City of Newton received $20,000 for trails improvement in the park from the production studio as a fee for using the area for filming, which is great news for Ward 5.

Reminders: Store strike, D Line work, Volunteer opportunities

  • Stop & Shop workers across New England walked off the job on Thursday to strike against the company’s proposed contract (the old one expired in February), which would severely affect wages, pensions, and health insurance, while cutting human staff in favor of automation (but not sharing any profit gains from automation in the form of worker compensation). Stop & Shop is based in Massachusetts but owned by a Dutch company that has experienced huge recent profits, benefited from U.S. tax breaks, and last week gave shareholders a big increase in dividend payouts at the expense of workers. We talked to the union to find out more. There is one brand-new Stop & Shop location in Ward 5, on Needham St, which the union contends is part of the same contract as older locations, but which the corporate side contends is under a different contract for a subsidiary, thereby blocking a strike there for the moment. Nevertheless, we urge everyone to respect the union and workers by not shopping at Stop & Shop during the strike, even if you don’t see picketers at that location in Ward 5.

  • D Line track replacement project under way: The track replacement and signal upgrade project on the D Line resumed this week at Waban Station. Noisy work will be conducted overnight most weeks Monday through Friday between 8:30 PM (later on Red Sox game nights) and 5 AM. Replacement shuttles run during night construction (during normal operating hours), but in daytime hours most days, light rail service will continue normally. More info is available on the project website at mbta.com/GreenLineD. You can also call a 24/7 noise hotline at: 508-676-3550. And you can email the project team at DBranchInfo@MBTA.com

  • Friends of Hemlock Gorge annual cleanup day is April 27: http://www.hemlockgorge.org/ & Don’t forget to sign up for Newton Serves Day projects (April 28): http://www.newtoncommunitypride.org/NewtonSERVES.html