Monday, April 13, 2015

An instructive and dispositive juxtaposition on the question of the Casey Overpass

It's been a long time coming: the Casey Overpass at Forest Hills is finally coming down in the very, very near future. Of course, nothing touching the public realm in any meaningful way in this country is ever easy or fast (so badly have we collectively treated that public realm and sown distrust and fear of change - Casey itself being part of that legacy). But Casey occupies a category of its own by virtue of the substantial ramping up of opposition to its demolition and replacement with an at-grade boulevard configuration after MassDOT, the commonwealth's state transportation agency, announced the decision over three years ago.

For those who haven't been following this, I will note briefly that the Casey Overpass is an elevated roadway that puts the Arborway/Route 203/Morton Street above ground in the area of the Forest Hills Orange Line/Commuter Rail station -- an area which lies at the intersection of several neighborhoods including Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, Hyde Park, Dorchester, and Mattapan. The demolition decision came after an extended public process during which MassDOT considered, with community input and a citizens' working advisory group, whether to replace what was already a badly deteriorated eyesore with a new overpass or remove the overpass completely in favor of an at-grade facility. Your humble blogspondent lives about a mile and a half from Forest Hills down in Roslindale (a.k.a,, God's Country), and though I pass through Forest Hills a couple of times each day, it is typically while on the Commuter Rail. That is not to say, however, that I don't sometimes access the Orange Line at Forest Hills station or the businesses right in the vicinity by car, by bus or by bicycle, and even sometimes by foot. I do, but my experience and therefore my strong support lies with the at-grade solution that MassDOT has chosen. Whether the judgment of history will be on our side and Casey is therefore truly a "relic" of an era best forgotten remains to be seen, I guess, but in my view, with the opportunity presented, Casey comes down because it reflects a mindset that puts a premium on moving automobile traffic as quickly as possible at the expense of all other modes and without regard for what elevated facilities such as these do to the areas immediately abutting them. As such, replacing Casey with a new overpass would require that we, as a commonwealth, spend inordinate amounts of money to construct and then maintain, over the long-term, an elevated structure that perpetuates what I view as a fundamentally flawed prioritization of people in cars over people on foot, on bikes, or on transit, that is reflected in Casey's very existence and in countless other decisions made over the last several decades. Further, the lower cost of going for an at-grade solution when compared to a new overpass allows for much more to be done to enhance the pedestrian and bicycle experience through the area. It's a clear win-win.

And so, as the day of reckoning for Casey draws ever closer, we have a final point-counterpoint from the two sides of the debate in the community. Chris Lovett, of the Boston Neighborhood Network's News show, had Clay Harper of Arborway Matters on as the pro at-grade voice, and Kevin Moloney of Bridging Forest Hills as the anti at-grade voice, at the end of March/beginning of April. The videos have been posted to youtube and can be viewed here (h/t to Clay, who, not surprisingly, posted this on his blog as well). Draw your own conclusions -- you already know where I stand:

Clay Harper - Pro At-Grade

Kevin Moloney - Anti At-Grade

Blog Post No. 2015-4.