Category Archives: Transportation

Railroad to nowhere: another tunnel under Boston

Visions of sugarplums clog up public projects. Often they are promoted by gadflies who don’t have to make anything actually work–always to be paid with somebody else’s money. Lessons from childhood: “If it sounds to good to be true, then it isn’t true.”

Grand vision left disaster: In 1983, the second Dukakis administration, as led by a sometimes visionary Transportation Secretary Fred Salvucci, claimed that highway tunnels under Boston to replace the Fitzgerald Expressway would cost $2.35 billion, with Massachusetts paying only 15 percent and with the federal government funding the rest. “If it sounds too good to be true, then it isn’t true.”

Dukakis and Salvucci got federal funding for the Big Dig–over a veto from former Pres. Reagan–by a margin of one vote in the Senate. They did not manage the construction. Republican state administrations that managed the Big Dig and its aftermath of repairs–from Bill Weld through Mitt Romney–lied to the public about rapidly growing costs. Massachusetts taxpayers have been hit with at least 45 times the costs claimed in 1983.

So far, including interest, the financial disaster is at least $24 billion and counting–over two-thirds being paid by Massachusetts. As of 2006, about 80 percent of the state Department of Transportation and its routine projects were being funded with money borrowed for the Big Dig. The Democratic administration of Gov. Patrick straightened out budgets. However, while state government returned to pay-as-you-go, Big Dig debts are not scheduled to be retired until 2038–55 years after efforts began.

Railroad to nowhere: Many historic, congested cities–including London, Paris and New York City–have long-distance railroad stations outside a central district, connected by transit lines. Boston’s MBTA provides transit similar to the London Underground, Paris Metro and New York City subways. There is no unique need to link Boston’s North Station and South Station via a long-distance railroad track. It would become a railroad to nowhere.

Proposals for a long-distance railroad tunnel under Boston have circulated since the 1920s, when there was an elevated transit railway–closed in 1938 after lack of use and scrapped in 1942 for steel needed during World War II. Likely costs always outweighed likely benefits. The surface Union Freight Railroad along Atlantic Avenue, built in the 1870s, was abandoned in the late 1960s for lack of use. The surface Grand Junction Railroad through Cambridge and Somerville still connects between the Boston railroad stations. It is now owned by the MBTA and is used occasionally to transfer equipment between the north-side and south-side commuter-rail lines.

Atlantic Avenue Elevated and Union Freight Railroad
near South Station in Boston, c. 1915

BostonAtlanticAvenueElevated1915

Source: Wikimedia, copyright expired

For some local visionaries, practical issues don’t seem to matter. Former Gov. Dukakis, now Prof. Dukakis, apparently learned little from the Big Dig financial disaster. In 2014, he was touting yet another tunnel under Boston: the would-be railroad to nowhere. It would cost “as little as $2 billion” he claimed. We have heard the same line before from Prof. Dukakis, when it proved wrong by more than a factor of ten. For a public works project, governments rarely seek out designs and costs from lawyers or academics.

Former Transportation Secretary Salvucci, a Boston Latin and MIT grad who trained as a civil engineer, was not on board the Dukakis train. As quoted in 1992, he said a long-distance rail tunnel under Boston faced “any number of problems, each of which was fatal.” Although veteran observer Stephen Kaiser has called Salvucci’s tactics with state projects “Machiavellian,” he shows a clear instinct for self preservation.

$18-33 billion boondoggles: On June 18, 2018, a state-sponsored engineering analysis, performed by Arup Group of London, attached price tags to several plans for the railroad to nowhere, Depending on the plan, the designs, construction and equipment alone would cost from $12 billion to $22 billion–in the spending range of the Big Dig–according to the initial report.

Arup Group initial estimates were projected to mid-completion in 2028 and include new rolling stock and “investments to support increased service.” They do not include any interest on state bonds. If interest costs were comparable to the Big Dig, they would add around 50 percent to construction and equipment costs, resulting in total costs to taxpayers of about $18 billion to $33 billion.

According to Bruce Mohl, writing in Commonwealth, the House chair of the General Court’s Transportation Committee said the results show “how expensive and unnecessary the project really is…beyond the reach of any conceivable financing plan.” Final shoes will drop with release of a completed Arup Group analysis this fall, but as of mid-summer, 2018, the railroad to nowhere looks headed for scrap.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 28, 2018


Bruce Mohl, North-south rail link to cost at least $12.3 billion, Commonwealth, June 18, 2018

Adam Vaccaro, North-south rail link would cost $12 billion, maybe more, Boston Globe, June 18, 2018

North-South Rail Link Feasibility Reassessment, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, June 18, 2018 (See page 39 for combined estimates, excluding bond interest.)

Robert Huber, Michael Dukakis’s last stand, Boston Magazine, December 5, 2017

Mike Deehan, State House News, Dukakis teams with Weld to push rail link plan, Brookline (MA) Tab, November 10, 2014

Gil Propp, On and along the Grand Junction Railroad, Boston Streetcars, 2014

Eric Moskowitz, Add interest and Big Dig cost expected to top $24 billion, Boston Globe, July 11, 2012

Mark Bulger, Atlantic Avenue trains times two, Good Old Boston, December 12, 2011

John E. Petersen, The Big Bill, Governing, September 1, 2008

Sean P. Murphy, Big Dig’s red ink engulfs state, Boston Globe, July 17, 2008

Stephen H. Kaiser, History of transit policies and commitments relative to the Central Artery Project 1989-1992, Somerville (MA) Transportaton Equity Project, 2004 (See page 2 on Fred Salvucci abandoning a Boston rail tunnel.)

Alan Altshuler and David Luberoff, Mega-Projects, The Changing Politics of Urban Public Investment, Brookings Institution Press, 2003 (See page 95, note 41, on Salvucci and the Boston “rail link” project.)

Craig Bolon, Billion-dollar splurge: Connecticut expands Hartford commuter-rail service, Brookline Beacon, June 21, 2018

Billion-dollar splurge: Connecticut expands Hartford commuter-rail service

Borrowed locomotives decorated in Halloween orange and black. Rented coach cars lacking restrooms, with air conditioning that may not work. Nevertheless, some added commuter-rail service is operating on what Connecticut’s government calls the “Hartford Line”–in planning since 1994 with designs starting in 2003.

Gov. Malloy on June 15, 2018, in New Haven

GovMalloyNewHaven20180615

Source: Connecticut Governor’s Office

Plans versus progress: Plans in 2004 from the Connecticut Department of Transportation figured capital costs of the Hartford Line at about $260 million. Actual spending so far in Connecticut and Massachusetts totals about $800 million, over $500 million of that from the state of Connecticut. The program is not finished and could take $500 million more.

Since 2006, Connecticut spent about $503 million renovating former Hartford and New Haven Railroad facilities and equipment between New Haven, CT, and Springfield, MA. Massachusetts spent about $45 million to renovate the Springfield rail station. Springfield and the local transit agency put in $6 million. The federal government has contributed about $248 million to the combined projects. Amtrak continues to own most tracks and stations and continues to operate many of the trains.

The Railway Era: Founded in 1833, the Hartford and New Haven sold to the New York and New Haven in 1872. Afterward, although those owners acquired other lines, they operated as the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad–often called the “New Haven.” Its 4-track main line runs from Grand Central in New York City to New Haven–with early, main branches to Hartford, New London, Danbury and Waterbury. That main line is now owned by New York and Connecticut. It is jointly operated as Metro North.

In the aftermath of a 1902 train crash in the Park Avenue tunnel connecting to Grand Central, New York City banned coal-fired locomotives. The New Haven developed technology for its main line: the world’s first long-distance electric railroad. Through the 1920s, the New Haven spread into downstate New York, western Massachusetts and across Rhode Island into eastern Massachusetts, reaching Boston and Cape Cod.

New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, c. 1929

NewHavenRailroadMap1929

Source: Pechristener on Wikipedia

After financial reverses during the Great Depression, the New Haven again prospered during World War II and for several years afterward. However, automobiles began attracting many riders. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 [Public Law 84-627] funded new, toll-free interstate highways, soon erasing passenger rail from most of the United States.

Era of struggle: During the 1950s, U.S. passenger rail services plunged into deep decline. Services halted for lack of demand, and business failures began. New Haven management filed bankruptcy in 1961. At the start of 1969, as directed by Congress, the New Haven was taken over by the Penn Central, a brittle amalgam of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the New York Central. A year and a half later, the Penn Central was bankrupt.

In 1970, Congress authorized Amtrak: the National Railroad Passenger Corp. It made Amtrak the operator and prime custodian for the Northeast Corridor–between Boston, MA. and Washington, DC–under the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976. [Public Law 94-210] In the Northeast Corridor, more than vestiges of the Railway Era passenger services survive, and in recent years they once again prosper.

Initial Amtrak system map, 1971

AmtrakRouteMap1971

Dashed routes not then stabilized

Source: Brian Roman, Amtrak Archives

Amtrak acquired most former Hartford and New Haven property between New Haven and Springfield, operating a few trains in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Ownership of Northeast Corridor tracks and stations became divided between Amtrak and agencies of New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Those states supported commuter-rail services around New York City and Boston: major transit markets without sound alternatives.

New Haven-Springfield service: The initial Amtrak system offered passenger service between New Haven, CT, and Springfield, MA, but during the 1970s and 1980s it became as little as two trains each way on a weekday. The Bay State connected New Haven to Boston via Springfield and Worcester, while Bankers Express ran between Springfield and Washington, DC. In 1995, Boston service ended, and legacy trains were replaced by trains between Springfield and Washington as part of Northeast Direct services–later called Northeast Regional.

There has also been one Amtrak train a day each way using that route between Washington and northern Vermont, subsidized since 1995 by Vermont. The Springfield Shuttle–operated by Amtrak and subsidized by Connecticut–began in 1995, connecting between New Haven and Springfield via Hartford. That service continues today. It has varied between two and eight trains each way per weekday.

With the start of Connecticut’s Hartford Line commuter rail June 18, 2018–contracted with TransitAmerica Services and Alternate Concepts–the state also increased subsidies for the Springfield Shuttle. Amtrak now charges the same fares–as much as a 50-percent reduction–and accepts fares and tickets from new CTrail-branded service. There are 16 commuter trains each way on weekdays. However, only 10 travel the span between Hartford and Springfield, which continues to lack former double-track segments.

To cut its property taxes, during the 1970s Amtrak ripped out segments of former Hartford and New Haven tracks. It neglected maintenance of track equipment, bridges, crossings, platforms, signals and stations. The 1926 Springfield station was closed for over 40 years. The 1889 Hartford station, last renovated after a fire in 1914, is reached over an aging viaduct, reduced to a single-track platform when I-84 was built through Hartford during the 1960s.

Most federal support for the Hartford Line came from a so-called “high-speed rail” program touted by the Obama administration. Although rolling stock on the Hartford Line can reach speeds over 100 mph, tracks and signals do not sustain that. There are no express trains. The Hartford Line trains traversing the 62 rail miles between New Haven and Springfield stop at all of the nine current stations reached on their routes, except that Amtrak trains fail to stop at State Street in New Haven, a station Amtrak does not own. Their average scheduled speed is 39 mph.

So far, the Hartford Line commuter-rail program has reconstructed all but 23 miles of former double tracks between New Haven and Springfield, renovated or rebuilt several stations and put up a new station at State Street in New Haven. Four proposed new stations and several projects to renovate facilities and equipment have yet to start. There is no longer much federal assistance, and Gov. Malloy–a strong supporter of the program–did not run for another term in the November, 2018, state election.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 21, 2018


Initial Hartford Line schedule, Connecticut Department of Transportation, June 18, 2018

Initial Hartford Line fares, Connecticut Department of Transportation, June 18, 2018

Mary Ellen Godin, Launch of Hartford Line praised as exciting new chapter in transportation, New Haven (CT) Record Journal, June 15, 2018

Rebecca Lurye, Despite new commuter line, rail upgrades lag north of Hartford, Hartford (CT) Courant, June 12, 2018

Justin Schecker, Hartford Line passenger-rail launch rescheduled for June, NBC Connecticut (WVIT, West Hartford, CT), April 19, 2018

Nicole Ahn, Connecticut leases old rail cars for new Hartford Line, Yale Daily News (New Haven, CT), April 10, 2018

Gregory B. Hladky, 30-year-old rail cars Connecticut is leasing not worth repairing, Hartford (CT) Courant, April 6, 2018

Funding request for FY2019 and legislative report, Amtrak, February 15, 2018 (See Fig. 1, NEC ridership growth, and Fig. 2, Ticket revenue growth, FY1998-2017, p. 17)

Funding for New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail program, Connecticut Department of Transportation, 2018

Ana Radelat, Northeast rail plan stymied by lack of funding, concerns in Fairfield County, Connecticut Mirror (Hartford, CT), December 11, 2017

Jim Kinney, Springfield Union Station rehabilitation: where did the money come from, and how was it spent?, Springfield (MA) Republican, June 23, 2017

Amtrak Northeast Regional and former Northeast Direct passenger services, USA Rail Guide–Train Web, American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (La Plata, MO), 2017

Adam Burns, Serving the heart of New England: the New Haven Railroad, American Rails, 2016

I-84 Hartford project, Connecticut Department of Transportation, 2016

Andres Felipe Archila and Joseph Sussman, Amtrak’s productivity in the Northeast Corridor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2013

Don Stacom, Wheels slowly start turning on New Haven-Springfield rail improvements, Hartford (CT) Courant. December 31, 2012

James Redeker (Connecticut Department of Transportation), New Haven, Hartford and Springfield rail service, Legislative briefing, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Washington, DC, February 29, 2012

State rail plan, Connecticut Department of Transportation, 2012

Mark Samuels (producer), Park Avenue tunnel crash in 1902, U.S. Public Broadcasting System, 2008

Mike Ferner, Taken for a ride on the interstate highway system, CounterPunch, June 28, 2006

Wilbur Smith Associates, Recommended action, New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail implementation study, Connecticut Department of Transportaton, 2004

Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, U.S. General Accounting Office, April 13, 1995

John B. O’Mahoney, Railroad electrification a landmark, New York Times, May 16, 1982

Brian Roman, Initial Amtrak system map, Amtrak Archives, 1971

Railway map, New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, c. 1929

Renewables: inherit the wind

Some are furious at the cockroach President for blowing off the Paris climate treaty, but many expected that, since it had been one of the few stable goals of his lurching campaign. There is little the cockroach can actually do. Under the treaty’s terms, it remains in effect until at least the fall of 2020, and thus it is sure to become a strong factor in the next campaign. If the cockroach tries to run again, he looks likely to lose.

Some political corruption from pandering by the cockroach President will be thwarted by economics. In many places, coal power is no longer cost-competitive, and in some places wind power does not need new subsidies to thrive. The five leading wind-power states–Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma and North Dakota–all voted for the cockroach, but they are not aligned with his hostile views on renewable energy. Many people in those states now earn their livings from it, while few there are sustained by the coal-power industry.

Growth of renewables: The growth of renewables in the U.S. energy supply is a trend decades long. It began with hydroelectric power heavily funded by the federal government during the 1930s. The next surge was wood-fired power from the late 1970s through the early 1980s. Despite later being labeled “carbon neutral,” that has fallen out of favor. Toxic emissions are difficult and costly to control. Outputs have been gradually dropping over the past 30 years.

Renewables in the U.S. energy supply

UsRenewableEnergy
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

There are now four major U.S. renewable energy sources: hydro, biofuel, wood and wind–in declining current amounts. As of 2016, each one contributed about 2.0 to 2.5 quadrillion Btu per year. Sources still gaining are biofuel–taking off around 2002–and wind–climbing around 2007. Led by ethanol, biofuel is mostly used for transportation. The other renewable sources are mostly or entirely used to generate electricity.

Two other substantial renewable sources are solar power and waste burning, both around 0.5 quadrillion Btu per year. Solar began to climb around 2013 and is still in early stages of growth. Waste burning has seen little growth since the 1980s. It spreads toxic pollutants–worse than wood. Renewable sources now provide over a tenth of U.S. total energy use: for 2016 about 10.2 out of 97.4 quadrillion Btu.

Although prevailing customs do not count nuclear power among the renewables, it emits hardly any greenhouse gases. For 2016, the U.S. reported 8.4 quadrillion Btu. It is in decline, with older plants closing and new plants rarely opening. When combined with renewable sources, the United States is now getting about 19 percent of total energy consumption from sources that emit little or no greenhouse gases.

Sustainable progress: The dominant influences on renewable energy are now state regulations and local initiatives, not federal programs. They will provide sustainable progress despite the cockroach President, although federal programs could improve outcomes. The most important among the state regulations are renewable energy portfolios for electricity, now enforced in 29 states and the District of Columbia.

Renewable energy portfolios by states

RenewablePortfolioStates
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Laggard states are in the Deep South and the Mountain West, plus the coal-mining states Kentucky and West Virginia. Standards vary widely. Those in Hawaii and Connecticut are among the most demanding, requiring 30 and 27 percent renewable energy in 2020. Stronger states limit qualifying sources to new wind, solar and geothermal plants. Other states accept hydropower, nuclear power and waste burning. Pennsylvania accepts burning so-called “waste coal.” Ohio accepts burning so-called “clean coal.”

Governors of several states recently announced they had formed a new organization called U.S. Climate Alliance, intended to promote and organize renewable energy standards. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative–organized in 2003 by New England states, New York, New Jersey and Delaware, and more recently joined by Maryland and Virginia–has provided a durable model for effective state coordination.

Worldwide energy use trends

WorldEnergySources
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Despite struggles, the United States continues to maintain a strong record in energy sourcing. As compared with 19 percent of U.S. total energy from sources that emit little or no greenhouse gases, for 1990 through 2012–the latest comprehensive data–worldwide performance remained stuck at 15 to 16 percent. Progress with renewables has been swamped by growth in coal burning by countries of southeast Asia, led by China.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 3, 2017


Matt Viser, Kerry says Trump’s decision was ‘a day of craven ignorance’, Boston Globe, June 2, 2017

Jeremy Bloom, Trump will pull U.S. out of Paris Agreement–in 4 years, Clean Technica (Honolulu, HI), June 2, 2017

David Abel, Massachusetts joins other states to fulfill U.S. pledges on carbon, Boston Globe, June 2, 2017

John Flesher, Associated Press, States and cities pledge action on climate without Trump, WTOP (Washington, DC), June 1, 2017

Valerie Volcovici and Jeff Mason, Trump says U.S. to withdraw from Paris climate accord, Reuters (UK), June 1, 2017

Associated Press (Berlin), As Europe talks tough on climate, data show emissions rose, WTOP (Washington, DC), June 1, 2017

Emma Gilchrist, Trump won’t stop the renewable energy revolution, Clean Technica (Honolulu, HI), March 31, 2017

Monthly Energy Review, U.S. Energy Information Administration, May, 2017 (20 MB)

State renewable portfolio standards and goals, National Conference of State Legislatures, 2017

Program Design, Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, 2017

David Abel, Suit faults Massachusetts record in cutting emissions, Boston Globe, January 3, 2016

International energy outlook, U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2016

Renewable portfolio standards, U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 2015

Matthew L. Wald, Power plants try burning wood with coal to cut carbon emissions, November 3, 2013

Craig Bolon, Surfing a vortex: energy and climate, Brookline Beacon, February 12, 2017

Craig Bolon, Third-generation nuclear power: uncertain progress, Brookline Beacon, September 6, 2016

Craig Bolon, New gas pipelines spurned: no subsidies from electricity rates, Brookline Beacon, August 17, 2016

Craig Bolon, Greenhouse gases: passing the buck, Brookline Beacon, January 11, 2016

Craig Bolon, Losing steam: U.S. nuclear power-plants, Brookline Beacon, September 19, 2015

Craig Bolon, Renewable energy: New England experience, Brookline Beacon, August 15, 2015

Craig Bolon, U.S. energy for 2014: a year of gradual progress, Brookline Beacon, March 10, 2015

Craig Bolon, New England energy: wobbly progress, Brookline Beacon, January 12, 2015

Craig Bolon, Some “green energy” reminds us of leprechauns, Brookline Beacon, April 8, 2014

Bugle Taps for “West Station”

A so-called “West Station” project has looked to be the last spray of transit sparkle from the former Patrick administration. The state transportation project list still shows a huge “sleeper” project. Like many other state Web sites, that one is also fouled with mold: years out of date. It estimates a total project cost of about $434 million.

The most recent online data for DOT project no. 606475, from the spring of 2011, called for “replacement of the elevated viaduct, realignment of I-90 (the Massachusetts Turnpike), reconstruction of (the Allston) interchange and connecting ramps, reconstruction of Cambridge Street, reconstruction of Beacon Park Yard to accommodate an MBTA commuter rail layover facility and construction of West Station.”

Flack work: As recently as the fall of 2014, state publicity flacks were blaring trumpets. Nicole Dungca, a press-release parakeet for the Boston Globe, wrote, “A $25 million transit station…is meant to help overhaul the huge swath of land near the Allston-Brighton tolls…nimble, self-propelled cars…would mimic trolley or subway service.” The first time we heard Buddliners called “nimble.” However, her story cautioned, “There is currently no timeline….” She might have added, “There is also no money.”

In the spring of 2014. a more experienced Globe reporter, Martine Powers, had written, “A MassDOT official announced that the cost of constructing a new rail station would not be part of the $260 million budget” for the Allston interchange project. Other than canning a “$25 million” rail station, there has still been no news saying how a “$434 million” project in 2011 might cost only “$260 million” in 2014. Big Dig in reverse gear?

Contacts at the transportation department continue to say that plans for an Allston rail station remain on the dead-letter heap. According to a report from December, 2015, “Toll revenues can not be used” for such a station. No other funds are cited. What happened to a project feature claimed to “transform” the Allston area?

Intervening opportunities: For many decades, the Cambridge Street and Lincoln Street part of Allston has been industrial and low-rent residential: some two-family houses and three-story brick apartments, a couple of auto repair shops, a rail yard, a bearing distributor and a warehouse for used furniture. A steel warehouse gave way to a speculative Internet connection hub–never finished and now vacant 15 years. Seemingly perennial Allston Food & Sprits–home of “frog legs”–has flipped since 2007. No more venison, geese or frog legs.

Brighton on the south side of the Turnpike is a different scene, more like rags to riches. New Balance, hero of that story, tore down the former Honeywell factory on Life Street, built a new headquarters office and is replacing dilapidated warehouses with new office buildings, housing and retail shops. New Balance is also paying the whole tab for a new station on the former main line of the Boston & Albany Railroad, now the MBTA Worcester commuter-rail line. Most Allston neighborhoods are closer to that station–adjacent to the Everett Street overpass–than to the rear of the former rail yard. No funding problems. Now a so-called “West Station”–less than a mile to the east–no longer matters.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, July 14, 2016


Peter B. Kingman, Buddliner awaiting disposal next to Fitchburg Line in Cambridge, New England Railroad Photo Archive, 1989

Mass. Highway project no. 606475, in online descriptions of state projects, last update 2011

Martine Powers, Allston rail station plan scrapped for now, Boston Globe, May 26, 2014

Nicole Dungca, New transit station could transform Allston area, Boston Globe, September 30, 2014

Jessica Geller, New Balance opens new world headquarters at Boston Landing. Boston Globe, September 17, 2015

I-90 Allston Interchange, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, December, 2015 (8 MB)

Nicole Dungca, New Balance, MBTA break ground on Allston-Brighton station, Boston Globe, May 12, 2016

Town meeting: parks and schools

Warm controversies at this year’s fall town meeting cooled quickly in a flurry of surprises and compromises. In the afternoon before the first session on Tuesday, November 17, town staff learned that Brookline was no longer in line for a major state grant to assist with Larz Anderson Park. We are too rich a town to qualify.

Article 6: Rejection of the state grant application quashed a dispute over Article 6 on the town meeting warrant, seeking matching funds to improve Larz Anderson Park. To qualify for up to $400,000 in additional state aid, the town meeting would have to restrict Larz Anderson to recreation and conservation uses only, invoking Article 97 of the Massachusetts constitution.

A few weeks earlier, consultants hired by the Board of Selectmen had named Larz Anderson as a potential site for a new elementary school. The 1949 will of Isabella Weld Anderson, leaving the land to the town, required that it be used for educational, recreational or charitable purposes. Agreeing to the state’s conditions would abandon potential uses involving two of those three categories. The town meeting took no action.

Political chatter also started to call out Larz Anderson as a potential site for high-school expansion. Never mind that the park is remote from centers of population and not well served by streets and transit. Park, recreation and conservation enthusiasts sounded flustered, to say the least.

Open space: Over the past 150 years, since the Civil War, the town acquired about 475 acres of usable open space–not counting the traffic islands and cemeteries. The 53 major sites, totaling about three-quarters of a square mile, represent about 11 percent of the town. Only about a tenth of that space is part of school sites. The rest provides recreation facilities, pedestrian parks and conservation areas.

The distribution of usable, public open space became grossly unequal. Each precinct in the town has nearly the same population. However, Precinct 15 has 257 acres of usable, public open space–over half the total. The average amount of usable, public open space is only about 30 acres per precinct. Precincts 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 have less than 10 acres each. Precinct 13, snaking along the Brighton line, has none.

 

Brookline’s usable, public open space

Year Acres Precinct Source Site name
2011 10.0 14 purchase Fisher Hill Reservoir Park
1977 1.6 1 taking Amory Woods Conservation Area
1975 3.5 1 taking Halls Pond Conservation Area
1972 0.5 4 purchase Billy Ward Playground
1970 4.2 5 purchase Lincoln School Playground
1967 0.4 5 taking Juniper Street Playground
1961 25.0 16 bequest Blakely Hoar Conservation Area
1961 1.1 9 purchase Lawton Playground
1960 9.5 15 purchase Soule Center
1953 17.2 15 purchase Dane Park
1951 2.4 7 purchase Pierce School Playground
1948 61.1 15 bequest Larz Anderson Park
1946 1.1 12 purchase Schick Park
1945 30.2 15 purchase Lost Pond Conservation Area
1945 15.2 15 purchase Skyline Park
1944 11.1 14 purchase Warren Field
1941 1.3 15 purchase Baldwin School Playground
1939 2.4 5 donation Robinson Playground
1935 11.3 16 donation Baker School Playground
1915 0.5 4 purchase Murphy Playground
1914 8.7 5 purchase Downes Field
1913 0.8 14 purchase Eliot Little Field Park
1913 1.7 5 purchase Clark Playground
1910 4.0 11 purchase Driscoll School Playground
1907 2.1 6 purchase Emerson Garden
1907 119.9 15 purchase Putterham Meadows Golf Course
1905 1.7 9 purchase Coolidge Playground
1903 8.3 1 purchase Amory Playground
1903 3.1 12 purchase Runkle School Playground
1902 32.2 14 donation Brookline Reservoir Park
1902 2.6 1 donation Longwood Mall
1902 2.8 1 donation Knyvet Square
1902 1.1 1 donation Mason Square
1902 1.9 2 purchase Winthrop Square
1902 6.5 14 purchase Heath School Playground
1901 5.6 14 purchase Waldstein Playground
1901 0.3 5 purchase Philbrick Square
1901 3.3 10 donation Griggs Park
1900 13.8 1,3 purchase Riverway Park
1900 4.2 11 purchase Corey Hill Park
1899 0.3 4 donation Linden Park
1897 0.4 10 donation Saint Mark’s Square
1895 0.2 4 donation Linden Square
1894 12.9 4,5 purchase Olmsted Park
1891 6.7 8 purchase Devotion School Playground
1891 5.0 3 purchase Longwood Playground
1890 2.8 15 purchase Singletree Hill Reservoir
1871 4.1 4 purchase Brookline Avenue Playground
1871 5.2 6 purchase Cypress Street Playground
1871 2.0 4 purchase Town Hall Square
1868 1.2 6 purchase Boylston Street Playground
1864 0.2 1 purchase Monmouth Street Park
1827 0.2 5 donation Town Green

Source: Open space plan, Town of Brookline, MA, January, 2011

 

Social justice: Surely Precinct 15–with its giant legacy of usable, public open space–can spare a little for a school site. There are at least three obvious, well qualified candidates:

• Putterham Meadows Golf Course, at 120 acres–a conspicuous luxury. Five acres carved from a corner of this cradle of riches would capably house a three-section elementary school.

• Soule Recreation Center, at 10 acres, a site perennially looking for a gainful occupation. Its rapid churn of personnel has become a community scandal.

• Dane Park, at 17 acres, by far the least used of Brookline’s major parks.

The town has not commissioned a new school site since Baker in 1935. The new Lincoln School, opened in 1994, took over the old, private Park School site–after that school moved away to Goddard Ave. It would take a coldly rigid, greedy set of park, recreation and conservation enthusiasts to find that there is no adequate space they could possibly spare from Precinct 15.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 4, 2015


Open Space Plan, Town of Brookline, MA, January, 2011 (8 MB, uses obsolete precinct numbers)

Precinct Map, Town of Brookline, MA, February, 2012 (1 MB)

Craig Bolon, School building wonder: mishegoss from moxie, Brookline Beacon, October 25, 2015

Advisory Committee: don’t lock up town land, Brookline Beacon, October 3, 2015

State transportation project: Carlton St. footbridge

On Wednesday evening, November 4, state transportation staff held a hearing on plans to renovate the Carlton St. footbridge, starting at 7 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The state is now managing a project that Brookline began in 1998.

Tracks and bridges: The footbridge was built in the 1890s over rail tracks–then part of the Boston & Albany Rail Road–running beside the Muddy River in Brookline, near the Longwood neighborhoods. From there, the river flows into the Back Bay Fens, one of the “public grounds” designed by Frederick Law Olmsted for the Boston park department. In an 1883 report, Olmsted resisted calling the facilities “parks.” He wrote that instead they were landscaped “drainage works.”

Site of the Carlton St. footbridge, 1887

MuddyRiverFensFootbridgeSite
Source: National Park Service

The arrow in the figure points to the site of the Carlton St. footbridge–near the intersection of Carlton St., coming south from Beacon St., with Colchester St. On the 1887 map from the Boston park department, the rail tracks are crossed by bridges at Longwood Ave. and at Park Dr., as the latter is now known. A footpath appears to connect a “flag stop” along the rail tracks with one of the circulation paths.

The tracks were originally built for the Boston & Worcester Railroad and Charles River Branch Railroad between Boston and Newton. From the 1850s through the 1870s, the railroad–through extensions, mergers and name changes–carried millions of tons of gravel from Newton and Needham into Boston to fill the Back Bay salt marsh, creating dry land for neighborhoods that continue to use the Back Bay name today.

In the 1870s, as the Back Bay landfill project wound down, the Boston & Albany (B&A) Rail Road took over the tracks running through Brookline and Allston into Boston, transporting both passengers and freight. There was a B&A terminal on Station St. in Brookline. Over tracks near the intersection of Carlton and Colchester Sts. the town built a pedestrian bridge–giving access from Longwood neighborhoods to the B&A “flag stop.”

Carlton St. footbridge, c. 1896

CarltonStreetBridge1896Mono
Source: Public Library of Brookline

Alexis H. French. Brookline’s first town engineer, oversaw construction of the bridge, built in the summer of 1894. It is a utilitarian steel “pony truss” design, with riveted beams and cross members. The main span is about 75 ft, and the overall length including staircases at each end is about 110 ft. Originally there were steel circles mounted along the sides, the only ornamentation.

Records now known show no involvement by Olmsted or his firm in building the Carlton St. footbridge. According to Prof. Charles Beveridge of American University, unpublished archives from 1892 showed it as a late addition to Riverway plans. For over 80 years, the bridge provided an alternate entrance to the Riverway segment that Olmsted and his firm designed–giving it historical context and significance.

Changes and decline: In 1958, the B&A notified the state that it was going to discontinue passenger service on the rail line. Massachusetts acquired interests in the route and contracted with Perini Corp. of Framingham to install electrical wiring and redirect the Boston end underground, to connect with trolley services at Kenmore Square. Perini completed the work in about a year.

Electrically powered service started in 1959 on what became the MTA Highland line–now known as the D branch of the MBTA Green Line. That introduced a new hazard for the Carlton St. footbridge: proximity to 600 volt, high current wires. Its 1894 state permit had called for a 15 ft height. The span was barely above the trolley wires, and the structure was in decline.

Indifferent maintenance, including use of road salt in the winter, led to weakening of stair treads, cross members and braces. By the 1970s, corrosion had become severe, and the bridge was a safety hazard. In the fall of 1975, both ends were blocked with chain-link fencing. Brookline looked into removing the structure but delayed doing anything because of costs and dangers from working around an active transit line.

By the 1990s, deterioration of the fenced-off, rusting structure had become so advanced that ordinary repairs had become impractical. The wood decking and smaller metal elements were stripped away, so they would not fall onto the trolley tracks. Only the original main steel columns and beams were sturdy enough to stay in place near the tracks.

Controversy and revival: Some neighbors hoped that the footbridge would be reopened. For example, the late Henry Kohn, a former Precinct 1 town meeting member, had used it almost every day. Dr. Kohn walked between his home on Monmouth Ct. and his office at Shields Warren Laboratory in the medical area. Others neighbors were wary of vagabonds known to collect in secluded parts of the Riverway, and they opposed reopening the bridge.

For several years, neighborhood opposition gained the upper hand, ousting many of the conservation-oriented Precinct 1 town meeting members who had supported efforts to reopen the footbridge. Starting in 2006, trends changed, and over the next few years the opposition contingent gave way to a new generation in Precinct 1 that supported efforts to reopen the footbridge.

Cathleen Cavell, a Precinct 1 town meeting member and Hugh Mattison, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, began organizing to restore the footbridge in the late 1980s and formed Friends of the Carlton St. Footbridge in the late 1990s. They attracted support from the Brookline GreenSpace Alliance, a membership group founded in 1987 to advocate and educate around open space issues. However, interest remained low and progress slow.

A lingering storm in October, 1996 helped the fortunes of the footbridge. About 8 to 12 inches of rain fell over three days. The Muddy River quickly flooded, and floodwaters flowed down Green Line tracks into the Kenmore Square station. From there, the flood spread into the trolley tunnel toward downtown Boston, under Boylston St. Damages to property and to the transit system ran to around $100 million, in current value. The Green Line repairs took about two years, with frequent interruptions and breakdowns.

In the aftermath, Boston and Brookline began closer cooperation on planning flood control for the Riverway and Fenway. A four-party plan developed, seeking assistance from the state and from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. During the Swift administration in 2002, Ellen Herzfelder, who was then the state secretary of environmental affairs, made restoring the Carlton St. footbridge a component of the Muddy River flood control project, pressuring Brookline to provide funds and coordinate efforts to renovate the footbridge.

After years of planning and disputes, the fall town meeting of 2009 finally provided project funds. Article 5 allocated $1.4 million for design and restoration, passed by a 194-24 roll-call vote. By that time, political changes in Precinct 1 had developed and settled. Every town meeting member from the precinct voted in favor of funds to restore the footbridge.

Project underway: At the November 4 hearing, Margaret Walsh and William Chi of the state highway department described the current $2.7 million project to renovate the Carlton St. footbridge. The largest amount of the cost is expected to be paid from federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality funds. If realized, Brookline and the state would each pay about $270,000 of the total. Brookline would be able to reclaim nearly $1 million from its 2009 appropriation, to use for other purposes.

Andre Martecchini of Kleinfelder SEA in Cambridge described the current design, for which Brookline paid the initial costs. It is intended to satisfy handicapped access requirements by attaching ramps at both ends of the span, just inside the staircases. Each ramp extends eastward toward Kenmore Sq. and loops back to the foot of its staircase. Original materials for the main steel beams are to be reused; most other parts will be new materials. Decking for the span is be Ipe hardwood, with an estimated 75-year service life.

Construction plans are to detach the staircases, lift the span and station it in a tent nearby. It will be renovated on-site, while ramps are built and staircases are rebuilt off-site. New foundations will raise the span about a foot and shift its location about a yard into the park, avoiding existing trees. When the structures are all ready, the span will be lifted back into place and the bridge reassembled, adding the new ramps and installing security screening along the span.

The current design is rated about 25 percent complete. It does not include any bridge or park lighting. The next part of the project is to produce working specifications and advertise for bids. The remaining project duration is estimated at around two years. Green Line service will be replaced with bus service for two weekends when the span is being lifted out and back, a significant part of project costs.

Comments and questions: Six town meeting members from Precinct 1 spoke in support of the project: Cathleen Cavell, James Franco, Neil Gordon, Sean Lynn-Jones, Robert Schram and Robert Sloane. None were opposed. Ms. Cavell, who started efforts that led to the project, said she had been “longing to see the bridge renovated and reopened.” Benjamin Franco, a former Precinct 1 resident and current member of the Board of Selectmen, said the project will “restore the Olmsted vision.”

Mr. Lynn-Jones, who chairs the Advisory Committee, asked about colors. Like the original, the renovated bridge will be mostly painted steel. Mr. Martecchini of Kleinfelder said the security screening will be black but “the rest will have some color,” not yet chosen. The original bridge was painted black, although what remains is heavily rusted.

Precinct 5 town meeting members Robert Daves, Betsy Shure Gross and Hugh Mattison and Precinct 6 town meeting member Thomas Vitolo spoke in favor of project plans. Mr. Mattison said they were the result of a “town-wide effort.” Arlene Mattison of Pond Ave, president of the Brookline GreenSpace Alliance, and Frances Shedd-Fisher of Walnut St., a former Precinct 5 town meeting member, echoed those sentiments.

Starting in 2006, Dr. Vitolo–a recent transplant from Precinct 1–became a figure in replacing a former Precinct 1 contingent that opposed reopening the bridge. He said he looked forward to bicycle crossings using the new ramps, expecting them to relieve congestion at the Longwood MBTA stop. New bicycle ramps on the Riverway, at the Route 9 intersection, will open at about the same time, he said, and should also help.

Others favoring the plans included Gilbert Hoy of Reservoir Rd., a former member of the Board of Selectmen who chaired Brookline’s project committee for the footbridge, Frances Gershwin of Glenoe Rd., who chairs the Oversight Committee for the Muddy River flood control project, Elton Elperin of Monmouth St., a member of the Preservation Commission, and John Dempsey of Brington Rd., a member of the Bicycle Advisory Committee.

Three former Precinct 1 town meeting members continued to oppose the project: Pamela Zelnick of Carlton St., a member of the Transportation Board, Frederick Lebow of Colchester St., chair of the Naming Committee, and Melvin Clouse of Monmouth St. Ms. Zelnick called the project “a total waste of taxpayer money.” Mr. Lebow recalled hearing “when that bridge was open, there was a higher crime rate.”

Anthony Raynes of Carlton St. echoed the opposition, saying the new “design is excellent” but claiming that the “bridge was closed because of crime.” With more bicycle traffic encouraged by a renovated bridge with ramps, Dr. Raynes said Carlton St. will become “total mayhem…the accident rate will be terrible.” Dr. Clouse said very few Brookline pedestrians would likely use the bridge, calling it a “bridge to nowhere.”

Opponents of renovating the Carlton St. footbridge, by now heavily outnumbered by supporters of the bridge, sounded unlikely to derail the project. Mr. Elperin of the Preservation Commission, an architect, said he “never expected the project would take this long or cost this much.” He commended the designers for “great care taken to make the ramps as light as possible” and observed that over time a steel bridge would be seen as “more valuable by being a rare feature of an Olmsted park.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, November 9, 2015

– Updated November 11, 2015, with letter from Prof. Charles Beveridge


Design public hearing for project 606316, proposal B-27-016, Highway Division, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, November 4, 2015

Transportation project funding, Massachusetts Department of Transportation, 2015

Priority evaluations, highway projects FY2016, Massachusetts Department of Transportaton, 2015

FY2013 Capital improvement program, Town of Brookline, MA, 2012, See $1,254,000 bond fund for 10 years for Carlton St. footbridge.

Minutes, Brookline Preservation Commission, April 12, 2011

Roll-call vote, Article 5, November 17, 2009, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Warrant report for November 17, 2009, town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA

Hugh Mattison, The Muddy River restoration project, Brookline GreenSpace Alliance, 2009

William A. Newman and Wilfred F. Holton, Back Bay: The Story of America’s Greatest Nineteenth-Century Landfill Project, Northeastern University Press, 2006

David O. Mendelsohn, Muddy River project facilitation, in Robert L. France, ed., Facilitating Watershed Management, Rowman & Littlefield, 2005, pp. 55-58

Bridge to nowhere, Carlton Street Footbridge, 2003

Letter to Gilbert Hoy, Board of Selectmen, from Charles E. Beveridge, American University, re Carlton St. footbridge plans, September 25, 2001 (obtained from Cathleen Cavell)

Report of the town engineer, in Annual Report of Town Officers, Town of Brookline, MA, 1906, p. 157

Bridge over Boston & Albany Railroad at Carlton Street in Brookline, May 4, 1894, in Annual Report, Massachusetts Board of Railway Commissioners, 1895, p. 193

Report of the landscape architect, 1883, and Map for the Back Bay Fens, 1887, in Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, Vol. 8: The Early Boston Years, reprinted by National Association for Olmsted Parks, 2010

Conservation Commission: will Muddy River flooding be controlled?, Brookline Beacon, July 16, 2014

Craig Bolon, Hazards of rail transport, Brookline Beacon, May 1, 2014

Housing Advisory Board: “smart growth,” $35,000 consultant

A meeting of Brookline’s Housing Advisory Board on Wednesday, June 24, started at 7:30 pm in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall. All the current members except Kathy Spiegelman were on hand. Board members heard a presentation on Chapter 40R “smart growth” development and joined with Planning Board members in a continued review of Chapter 40B regulations, as asked at the town meeting in May. They are considering a consultant study estimated to cost $35,000.

Smart growth: Chapter 40R of Massachusetts General Laws and companion Chapter 40S are legacies from waning years of the Romney administration, trying to promote so-called “smart growth.” The catch-phrase mainly means development near public transit, reducing needs for automobiles. In the classic Massachusetts traditions, our hydra of state government grew a new tendril. It is currently headed by William E. “Bill” Reyelt, who is a Precinct 5 town meeting member in Brookline.

Mr. Reyelt illustrated his description of Chapter 40R to the housing board with computerized slides. The state is offering tiny incentives to communities that set up special “smart growth” zoning districts and approve housing development permits. They mainly amount to one-time payments of $1,000 to $3,000 per housing unit for each unit built beyond standard zoning.

Sergio Modigliani, a Planning Board member, observed that the cost of educating a student in Brookline schools averages around $18,000 a year. At that rate, state payments would be eaten up in at most a few months, while Brookline taxpayers would be exposed to uncompensated costs for at least a century. Maybe not so “smart.”

All Mr. Reyelt could offer was that Brookline might become “eligible” for partial compensation under a Chapter 40S program, but there is “no guarantee” of state funding. All the communities participating in Chapter 40R turned out to be smaller cities, far suburbs and rural towns. None are among the towns Brookline typically regards as peers, including Arlington, Belmont, Lexington and Winchester.

Chapter 40B regulations: As proposed by the Advisory Committee, last May’s annual town meeting referred a proposal to change Chapter 40B law and regulations to the Housing Advisory Board and the Planning Board, asking for a “plan for Brookline to work with other mature, built-out communities…to achieve a temporary ‘safe harbor’ status” from disruptive development, such as one proposed at Hancock Village. As the Advisory Committee wrote in its recommendation, that will take changes to state regulations.

Despite town meeting’s directions, the Housing Advisory Board looks to have taken off on a tangent. Instead of working on changing state regulations, members are considering a consultant study for a “housing production plan” to counter 40B development under current regulations.

Brookline already has such a plan, produced in 2005. Little of significance has changed since then. To satisfy current regulations, Brookline would have to develop more than 250 housing units a year that are subsidized to Chapter 40B levels. For the past 15 years, Brookline has averaged less than 10 such units a year.

Housing Advisory Board members estimated spending about $35,000 on a consultant study for a new housing production plan. However, they had not contacted any potential consultants. Instead, board member Karen Kepler, a lawyer, noted that a contract under $35,000 would be exempt from state public bidding requirements.

Virginia Bullock, one of the town’s housing project planners, said Brookline had a good chance of getting $15,000 from a new state grant called “planning assistance toward housing.” Board members speculated about how to wheedle money out of the Advisory Committee or how to bleed Housing Trust funds. Those are set aside to support subsidized housing units, not to stuff the pockets of consultants.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 25, 2015


Matthew J. Lawlor, Chapter 40R: a good law made better finally starts showing results, Congress of the New Urbanism, October, 2006

Planning assistance toward housing (PATH), Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development, 2015

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B conditions, Brookline Beacon, January 6, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, getting to Yes, Brookline Beacon, November 4, 2014

Transportation Board: tone deaf

When the Transportation Board held a public review of a recent proposal to rip out all 66 of the public parking spaces on the east side of Babcock Street, between Fire Station No. 5 and Commonwealth Avenue, on Thursday, June 18, it held back. No action was taken, but the proposal from the Bicycle Advisory Committee, appointed by this board, remains on the books and could still be implemented.

Over 60 Brookline residents came to the meeting, despite the onset of summer vacations and the competing Devotion School “Carnivale”–the former spring fair on steroids–drawing hundreds from the school district plus many others town-wide. About 30 residents spoke at the Transportation meeting, even after board chair Joshua Safer tried to shoo them away–saying the board “got it.”

Threat and insult: So far, the board did not “get it.” Most of its members live in suburban settings. They obviously fail to understand the urban settings of North Brookline and Brookline Center, where nearly half the town’s population lives, and some apparently don’t care. They said nothing.

The board’s Bicycle Advisory Committee threatened and insulted the Babcock Street neighborhoods. On June 1, without consulting any neighborhood people or visiting the neighborhoods, they proposed a plan to remove all 66 public parking spaces on the east side of Babcock Street, between Fire Station No. 5 and Commonwealth Avenue, plus 16 potential spaces currently marked “no parking,” to install a bicycle lane.

One committee member, Tommy Vitolo, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, dissented. Dr. Vitolo argued against disruption of the Babcock Street neighborhoods. However, he was unable to persuade any other member of this neighborhood-hostile committee. The other members opted to invade Babcock Street neighborhoods with bulldozers, ordering people around and destroying key parts of the Babcock Street social and physical environments.

Remedies: Well in advance of the Transportation Board Meeting, Andrew Pappastergion, the commissioner of public works, agreed with Precinct 8 town meeting members to defer work on Babcock Street to next summer. However, no public participation is guaranteed, and so far none has been arranged. A Precinct 8 town meeting member has asked the Board of Selectmen to appoint a project review and monitoring committee.

The only long-term remedy likely to prevent a recurrence of this abuse is to dissolve the narrowly focused and irresponsible Bicycle Advisory Committee. Instead of a single-interest group, the community needs a Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Committee. It would represent the main, human-powered transportation alternatives that need protection from operators of motor vehicles.

On June 18, it was not clear that Transportation Board members heard the cadence or the melody. Instead, they appointed a person who came across as yet another bicycle “groupie” to the Bicycle Advisory Committee. The neighborhoods have been patient. They will wait months but not years. They are looking for clear and positive, decisive action. If that does not happen, people will likely say other adjustments are needed.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 19, 2015


Craig Bolon, Conflicts of interest: state treasurer and transportation board member, Brookline Beacon, June 10, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Village Street Fair, trash metering

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, June 9, started at 7:10 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board had invited Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, to present plans for a trash metering system, replacing Brookline’s partly unstructured, fixed-fee approach to collecting solid waste from households and businesses.

Some board members had attended a “visioning” session conducted at Town Hall the previous evening for the Economic Development Advisory Committee. According to Neil Wishinsky, the chair, it focused on “medium-scale commercial parcels.” Board member Nancy Daly commented that “most projects would require rezoning.” Zoning changes take two-thirds votes at town meetings and have become difficult to achieve. Ms. Daly said there would need to be “neighborhood involvement and dialog.” So far there has been none of either.

Public affairs: Andy Martineau, an economic development planner, reported on the Brookline Village Street Fair, a new event to occur on Harvard St. from noon to 4 pm Sunday, June 14 (not June 15 as in the meeting agenda). Best known among similar events nearby may be the annual Allston Village Street Fair, usually held on a September Sunday. Mr. Martineau’s plans sounded somewhat more commercial, with about 40 merchants involved. Performances are planned by Vanessa Trien and the Jumping Monkeys, a favorite of young children, Ten Tumbao, Afro-Latin-Caribbean music, and the Muddy River Ramblers, bluegrass.

Richard Segan, from the Brookline Sister City Project, asked the board to approve a proclamation for Brookline Sister City Week, to be October 18-24. Cornelia “Kea” van der Ziel, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, and Peter Moyer, a Brookline resident, had visited Quezalguaque, Nicaragua, the third week in May. Drs. van der Ziel and Moyer described their visit and future plans. The board approved the proclamation.

The two Brookline physicians have mainly been concerned with atypical chronic kidney disease, a longstanding and severe problem in Quezalguaque–also common in Costa Rica and El Salvador. Unlike similar maladies in the United States, mainly found in older people, in Central America the disease strikes people as early as their twenties. Every year thousands die. Although environmental and occupational factors are suspected, no cause is known. Those working with the Sister City Project plan to extend epidemiological efforts, hoping to associate the disease with locations, occupations, water supplies, agricultural chemicals and other potential influences.

Trash metering: Andrew Pappastergion, Brookline’s commissioner of public works, presented the first detailed plans for trash metering. Programs known by that trademarked term–coined by WasteZero of Raleigh, NC, a contractor for Brookline–aim to improve on antiquated and simplistic “pay as you throw” efforts through automation, public education and convenience.

The City of Gloucester achieved a 30 percent reduction in waste disposal costs during the first full year of such a program, according to the Gloucester Times of March 7, 2010. However, Gloucester previously had a poor recycling record, while Brookline began curbside recycling in 1973 and has operated an increasingly advanced program since 1990.

Six Massachusetts towns with populations above 30,000 have some form of solid waste limit: Plymouth, Taunton, Amherst, Shrewsbury, Dartmouth and Natick. None of them are among the more urbanized and sophisticated towns Brookline typically regards as peer communities–including Arlington, Belmont, Lexington and Winchester. There is strong evidence that in urbanized and sophisticated communities public education has been more effective than trash metering at reducing solid waste. Although Brookline has a Solid Waste Advisory Committee, so far its members have been passive, performing no public outreach. Those are hurdles for Mr. Pappastergion’s plans.

Mr. Pappastergion presented a slide show to the board. It included a review of Massachusetts information organized by the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. State officials remain focused on antiquated and simplistic “pay as you throw” efforts, so far found mostly in smaller rural or suburban towns.

Mr. Pappastergion presented data unavailable to the public: recycling rates for communities using municipally supplied bins. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has collected recycling rate data since 1997, but after 2008 state officials stopped releasing them to the public. It appeared that no Massachusetts town with a population above 30,000 operates a program comparable to the one Mr. Pappastergion proposes.

Mr. Pappastergion proposes that Brookline supply to each of about 13,000 customers now using municipal refuse services a 35-gallon bin with wheels, similar in construction to the 64-gallon bins already supplied for recycling. Brookline would reduce the number of collection trucks from six to four and equip those trucks with automated bin-handlers like the ones now used for recycling bins.

Households would continue to pay the current $200 per year fee to have one 35-gallon refuse bin and one 64-gallon recycling bin collected each week. Extra refuse bags would be available at stores and town offices. They would have 30-gallon capacity and cost $2.00 each. For fees yet to be stated, Brookline would supply extra bins collected each week. Mr. Pappastergion estimated that 35-gallon bins would hold, on average, 40 lb of refuse, while 30-gallon bags would hold 25 lb.

Based on his estimates, Mr. Pappastergion might be proposing that Brookline violate state law by charging more than the cost of service for refuse bags. He estimated a cost of container and disposal at $1.15, as compared with a $2.00 fee. However, he did not include costs of collection and transfer. He provided no estimates for likely quantities of bags or extra bins.

In the proposed program, current practices for collecting bulky items, yard waste and metals would not change. Combining personnel, supplies, contractual services and capital equipment, Mr. Pappastergion estimated savings of about $0.1 million for fiscal 2017, the first full operating year, rising to about $0.4 million per year for fiscal 2022 and later years–including allowances for inflation.

Members of the board reacted with a diffuse scatter of comments. Mr. Wishinsky said the refuse bin on display looked “awful small” and asked about 48-gallon bins. Mr. Pappastergion said 35-gallon bins were important “to achieve goals of this program.” Board member Bernard Greene, in contrast, said he was “surprised at how large” the 35-gallon bin was. “We’d have room to rent out space.” Ms. Daly asked whether people would use compactors to overstuff the bins. Mr. Pappastergion doubted that would occur.

There were several questions about storage space and handling, to which Mr. Pappastergion responded by citing four years’ experience with the larger, single-stream recycling bins. The introduction of those elements led to increasing Brookline’s recycling rate from 30 to 37 percent, he said, but during the past two years progress has stalled. The department has yet to stimulate recycling through public outreach. It is not clear whether the department has the talent or the willingness to try.

Personnel, contracts and finances: Sara Slymon, the library director, won approval to hire three librarians, turning current interim positions into permanent ones, thanks in part to the tax override passed by voters in May. Mr. Greene and board member Ben Franco asked how the positions would be advertised. Ms. Slymon replied that union contracts restricted the library to internal posting unless a qualified candidate could not be found. She said all the current employees were well qualified for their positions.

Linda Golburgh, the assistant town clerk, asked for approval to hire an administrative assistant. The position is becoming vacant because of a retirement. It marks the third recent change in personnel at a small agency. Ms. Daly remembered that the current employee previously worked in the office of the Board of Selectmen. The board approved, with Mr. Wishinsky asking Ms. Golburgh to seek help from Lloyd Gellineau, the chief diversity officer, and Sandra DeBow, the human resources director, to insure a diverse candidate pool.

Peter Ditto, the engineering director, asked for approval of a $0.07 million increase in the contract to renovate Warren Field. The contractor is New England Landscape and Masonry (NELM) of Carver, MA. The board asked whether the project was staying within budget limits. Mr. Ditto said that it was and that the project was about to conclude. The board approved the change order.

Mr. Ditto also asked for approval of a $1.07 million contract with Newport Construction of Nashua, NH, to reconstruct Fisher Ave. It is this year’s largest street project. The other bidder, Mario Susi & Son of Dorchester, which is working on other Brookline projects, proposed a substantially higher price. The board approved the contract.

The board also approved several smaller financial transactions. Among them was accepting a $0.06 million state grant, using federal funds, to hire a transportation coordinator based at the Senior Center on Winchester St. Ruthann Dobek, director for the Council on Aging, described an innovative program aimed at helping older people adjust to living without automobiles. Board members asked how the program would operate in future years.

Frank Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member and a member of the Age-Friendly Cities Committee, responded that such a program had already begun with volunteers and would continue that way if necessary. However, Dr. Caro said, the program needed planning and coordination. Even a year of staffing, he contended, would move the program to better levels of service.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, June 12, 2015


Celebrate Brookline Village, The Village Fair, 2015

Cause of CKD epidemic in Sister City remains a mystery, Brookline Sister City Project, 2010

Miguel Almaguer, Raúl Herrera and Carlos M. Orantes, Chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology in agricultural communities, MEDICC Review 16(2):9-15, Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba, 2014

Board of Selectmen: new members and leadership, Brookline Beacon, May 13, 2015

Town elections: tax override for schools passes, Brookline Beacon, May 5, 2015

Trash metering, WasteZero (Raleigh, NC), 2010

Solid Waste Advisory Committee: recycling and trash metering, Brookline Beacon, September 3, 2014

Craig Bolon, Recycling makes more progress without trash metering, Brookline Beacon, April 11, 2014

Conflicts of interest: state treasurer and transportation board member

Conflicts of interest abound in government: duties to represent citizens, as opposed to private interests. Few political officeholders are immune. Locally and recently, we have seen Brookline residents involved.

Deborah Goldberg, a former chair of the Brookline Board of Selectmen who is now the Massachusetts state treasurer, recently disclosed a potential conflict involving her husband, Michael Winter, a J.P. Morgan executive. His firm was awarded contracts to market $100 million in state bonds. Mr. Winter, however, does not work in the company division responsible for government bond marketing.

In a local context, Christopher Dempsey of 43 Brington Rd., a Transportation Board member, has an apparent personal interest in a proposal submitted to his board by the Bicycle Advisory Committee, on which his father, John P. Dempsey of 43 Brington Rd., now serves. At an evening meeting on Monday, July 1, the elder Mr. Dempsey argued and voted in favor of a proposal to remove all parking from the east side of Babcock St., from Fire Station No. 5 at 49 Babcock St. to the town line at 1010 Commonwealth Ave., in order to install a lane marked exclusively for bicycle use.

That part of Babcock St. now has a total of 66 available parking spaces along a street with many apartment buildings that have no parking. The Bicycle Advisory Committee proposal is scheduled to be reviewed by the Transportation Board at a June 18 meeting. On Monday, June 8, town meeting members from Precinct 8 agreed with Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, that work on Babcock St. would be deferred until 2016, avoiding near-term confrontations on the issue.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 10, 2015


Matt Stout, Treasurer hubby’s firm got $100M in bonds, Boston Herald, June 10, 2015

Brookline Transportation Board, Agenda for June 18, 2015, See item 7