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Thread: Justifying downtown commuter rail platform in Massachusetts

  1. #1

    Justifying downtown commuter rail platform in Massachusetts

    In the town I serve as a planner for in Massachusetts (Ayer), we are facing a curious but predictable situation. We have a commuter rail platform that is over a century old and was the reason the town was founded in the first place. Due to a requirement by the transit authority that we add a dedicated parking facility for commuters, a disagreement has erupted among residents split between those who wish to keep the platform in the (small but viable) downtown area and those who wish to move it out into a suburban location (some of these people have financial interests). The current platform serves over 400 riders per day including a significant walk up population. A suburban platform would be greenfield development and pave wetlands.

    The task force looking to protect this (smart growth oriented) historical platform is hoping to find technical justifications and policy positions that favor in-town commuter rail platforms over new greenfield sites. We seek any siting criteria for commuter rail stations particularly state or federal criteria that would be based on
    a smart growth or sustainability model. Do forum participants know of any such
    information? I also am looking for studies that relate stations for commuter rail to economic or fiscal impact, both current and projected.

    Finally, while it is a shot in the dark, the Town is holding a workshop/charette on May 5 (Saturday) and seeks any transportation planners or engineers who might be interested in participating as technical resources for break out groups or might even be interested to serve as group facilitators. Barring that, any advice or data you could provide our small community to save a downtown platform would be appreciated. You can contact me, Chris Ryan, at dpd@ayer.ma.us and thanks...

  2. #2
    Quote Originally posted by DPD Director CJR View post
    In the town I serve as a planner for in Massachusetts (Ayer), we are facing a curious but predictable situation. We have a commuter rail platform that is over a century old and was the reason the town was founded in the first place. Due to a requirement by the transit authority that we add a dedicated parking facility for commuters, a disagreement has erupted among residents split between those who wish to keep the platform in the (small but viable) downtown area and those who wish to move it out into a suburban location (some of these people have financial interests). The current platform serves over 400 riders per day including a significant walk up population. A suburban platform would be greenfield development and pave wetlands.

    The task force looking to protect this (smart growth oriented) historical platform is hoping to find technical justifications and policy positions that favor in-town commuter rail platforms over new greenfield sites. We seek any siting criteria for commuter rail stations particularly state or federal criteria that would be based on
    a smart growth or sustainability model. Do forum participants know of any such
    information? I also am looking for studies that relate stations for commuter rail to economic or fiscal impact, both current and projected.

    Finally, while it is a shot in the dark, the Town is holding a workshop/charette on May 5 (Saturday) and seeks any transportation planners or engineers who might be interested in participating as technical resources for break out groups or might even be interested to serve as group facilitators. Barring that, any advice or data you could provide our small community to save a downtown platform would be appreciated. You can contact me, Chris Ryan, at dpd@ayer.ma.us and thanks...
    Just from the sound of it, I bet an EIS would disfavor the relocation to greenfields, and a study of potential ridership would support keeping it in the town.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Greenescapist's avatar
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    Have the users of the current location been reached out to? If many of them walk there, I bet they want it to stay in its current location. It would be a shame to move the platform.

    You could also hope the Conservation Commission gets involved if a new location would be wetlands... you could probably help influence their judgment by talking to them or wording a staff memo in the right way.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    One thing you likely have on your side is your own Comprehensive Plan and the State's plan which surely promote redevelopment of historic downtowns rather than greenfield redevelopment - but I know some people don't care about that sort of thing. There are plenty of examples of suburban T stops to illustrate how everyone has to drive there (South Attleboro). The extra parking might benefit downtown businesses just by being there.

    Would MBTA say "no" to the new greenfield station anyway? If so your battle would be won for you.

  5. #5

    Timing and Momemtum

    All of your comments thus far are correct. The problem is that the task force studying the issue is on a fast track and momentum has swung to the greenfielders due to amateur politics and bad press. There are several limiting warrant articles upcoming at TM and most see the need to resolve issue in short term and don't want to "waste" time studying esoterics like:

    1. Ridership
    2. Economic Impact Analysis
    3. Parking Study

    Naysayers are not driven by facts but instead are familiar anti-progressives that scream about taxes and liberals. This is a classic newcomer vs. oldtimer issue and inexplicably, the oldtimers want to deep six their own past. My hope is that we can find support in federal transit policy and state and regional policy to support our Comp Plan.

    Thanks...

  6. #6
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    I would echo Brandon, who said paving a wetland will trigger EIS woes. Mitigation at that site alone may cost a lot more than retrofitting the current one. Of course, this depends on one's definition of wetlands impacts and without site visits or knowledge of how FTA/FHWA works in MA I can't say for sure.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  7. #7
    Cyburbian GeogPlanner's avatar
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    Look at the recently completed Commonwealth of Massachusetts Long-Range Transportation Plan. Its core policies include:
    • Fix-It-First: emphasis on preserving existing infrastruture
    • Smart Growth: 'nuff said?
    • Communities: investment and development should preserve and enchance community character

    The plan is online at http://www.eot.state.ma.us/default.a...dex&sid=level2

    I've got the executive summary as an example of what a long range statewide plan is. I would suspect that its policies would support the existing platform and building capacity around it. The whole thing is about 400+ pages.
    Information necessitating a change of design will be conveyed to the designer after and only after the design is complete. (Often called the 'Now They Tell Us' Law) - Fyfe's First Law of Revision

    We don't believe in planners and deciders making the decisions on behalf of Americans. -- George W. Bush , Scranton, PA -- 09/06/2000

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Greenescapist's avatar
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    Good luck with this. You could always hope any greenfield/wetland development would be scoped for a lengthy MEPA review... which, as you know, would be expensive and would be subject to public comments. Organizations like The Trust for Public Land, Mass. Audubon, etc, could be reached out to.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DPD Director CJR View post
    In the town I serve as a planner for in Massachusetts (Ayer), we are facing a curious but predictable situation. We have a commuter rail platform that is over a century old and was the reason the town was founded in the first place. Due to a requirement by the transit authority that we add a dedicated parking facility for commuters, a disagreement has erupted among residents split between those who wish to keep the platform in the (small but viable) downtown area and those who wish to move it out into a suburban location (some of these people have financial interests).
    I worked on the Ayer Comprehensive Plan with your predecessor and we encountered the same issues. I remember that the residents were mostly in favor of keeping the current downtown station, but there were a few very vocal opponents. You may want to reference the plan. It is clearly in favor of maintaining and improving the current station location and it was completed with extensive public input.

    Other arguments in favor of the downtown location:
    1. Connectivity with the rail trail
    2. Dense, walkable housing and commercial areas nearby reduce pressure on streets and parking facilities
    3. Rail access to public facilities (town hall, courthouse, library, etc.)
    4. Eligibility to apply for various smart growth grants to improve downtown based on proximity to MBTA station

    P.S. I would like to hear more about this MBTA "requirement" for the town to add parking. Sounds a little strange to me.

  10. #10

    Responses to most recent on Train Station

    Incorporating EOT stuff was excellent. Master plan has been mined significantly. Yes, those in opposition were initially small but vocal but are now larger and more vocal. And again, they do not respond to facts or data very well. Our PR tasks are very important. EIS will be an issue but will only be relevant after a site has been selected so it does not help now. We just need a final push with transportation planning theory/criteria from academia or STPP (or the like) that supports in-town locations versus new development...

    Again, many thanks all

  11. #11
    I think that the City of Lawrence, MA just built a new rail platform in their downtown within the last couple of years. I'm sure that they could speak to the economic impacts that they've seen. I don't know anyone there specifically that you could talk to however. You might check with the transportation planners at the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission as that community is in their region. I'll PM you some contact info.

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