Making Melnea Cass Boulevard the highway it was always destined to be

The city Transportation Department holds a meeting Wednesday evening to discuss making Melnea Cass Boulevard more "pedestrian friendly" in plans that call for adding two extra traffic lanes to it. The hearing starts at 6 p.m. at the BWSC building on Melnea Cass.

Melnea Cass was built atop the bulldozed remains of the right of way for the I-695 Inner Belt - swaths of the neighborhood were destroyed before the highway was canceled (along with the I-95 extension from the south).

The Walking Bostonian makes the case against widening the road to add dedicated bus lanes for an Urban Ring that may never happen:

If BTD really wants to show its dedication to "Complete Streets" then they will take two of the existing travel lanes, and convert them into dedicated bus lanes.

Some might argue the old trope that this will cause "gridlock" and traffic jams as drivers senselessly pile into one another without thought. That's nonsense. If the corridor is going to be reimagined and reinvented, then it will also change the way people travel along the corridor just as radically. People respond to their environment. If you want to have a highway, then by all means, keep the road wide. But if you want it to be a walkable place to build a neighborhood around, then you'll want to keep the lane count down.

Friends and Neighbors of Melnea Cass Boulevard explain their opposition.



Free tagging: 


Here's a better idea, GET RID

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Here's a better idea, GET RID OF THE DAMN THING ENTIRELY! The area was once as dense as the South End and Lower Roxbury deserves better than a surface highway feeding I-93.

Then what?

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Expect everyone who uses it to bike home?

I have to get from my home in Boston to Quincy for work every day. I have biked, ridden the T, but mostly I drive, and the Melnea Cass Blvd is one of the routes.

If the public transportation system were better, I would probably drive less. But I don't expect the MBTA to ever improve, so the thing that will really force me out of my car is to make the drive worse.

Eliminating the Casey Overpass at Forest Hills? Yep that's on the chopping block, though the "at grade" solution wasn't my first choice, I can live with it. It's the many years of construction that will make the intersection a 'no go' zone. Next up... The Melnea Cass Boulevard. For it's size I can't understand why it's so slow. A lot of the problem is the connection with Tremont and the timing of the lights around Ruggles. But let's tear it up and fix it. I could support dedicated lanes for bikes and buses, seriously.

So I don't know what the answer is, but I will defend my choice to drive until the transit system can overcome some basic limitations. There are many, many thousands of people with jobs in Boston (or with a reverse commute like me) who need to get to work, and do it in a car. The MBTA does not have the capacity, flexibility, coverage or maintenance plan to handle that kind of increase.

I grew up knowing I could get anywhere I wanted to on public transportation, or on my bike. Boston just doesn't make that possible.

OK, but what about all the commuters?

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I like cozy neighborhoods with small streets and local shops as an option, it sounds a beautiful place. The streets are paved with.. oh wait, I'm getting off the point...

But what do we do with all the people that work in the Longwood Medical Area who live outside the city and drive up 93n to the MCB to get to work. Or go to school at NU, Wentworth, Mass Art, etc. who do not live on campus (or up on Mission Hill).

Are all these drivers just SOL?


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How will that work with the last 30 years of growth?

Have you ever driven down Center St. in JP at 5pm?

If you want to eliminate cars from Boston, you have to provide a realistic option. I know that making the neighborhood impassable would be easy, and it's been dome before with good effect in other cities. Maybe the frustration of all those drivers would force them to the MBTA, or maybe they would look for jobs closer to home. People are flexible that way. I just don't see that the alternatives (like the T) have been developed. If anything the system is crumbling and there is little public will to prop it up any longer.

Now we are a bio-tech magnet

No good. Now we are a bio-tech magnet that we were not 35 years ago. The Mayor and Governor want more bio-tech growth, so removing transportation infrastructure hurts that goal.

There is a state law that prohibits diminishing state highways. The current interpretation is that it means lanes can be removed, but not the land holdings. Problematic to sell the land to developers as a result.

Melnea Cass Bvd. commuters

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Just think, would you like THAT in your neighborhood?
I live here. And I don't want a highway in my back yard!
Do unto others as you would have them do to you...

Obsession with lane counts

I'm all for walkable cities ... but I have walked all over certain walkable cities where they don't have this complete obsession with keeping lane counts down. There are a lot of things that cities like Paris do to make places easily walkable and neighborhoods welcoming, while giving traffic a place to sit and honk at itself.

It isn't the lane counts that matter. It is the building in of pedestrian facilities that put pedestrian (and cycling) needs front and center. Designs that don't build the highway with minimally narrow sidewalks that get littered with light poles and utility boxes, then stick in a crosswalk as an afterthought.

Then again, many of these cities will actually jail drivers if they ever hit a cyclist or a pedestrian, use cameras to bust drivers who can't be bothered to drive the speed limits and stop for red lights, and force people with bad driving records off the road. Perhaps that bit of our culture needs some work, too.

Don't forget that in a lot of

Don't forget that in a lot of those cities, the reverse is also true. I don't know about Paris, but I've heard that in Germany, a jaywalker who is hit by a car has to pay for damage to the car. In Amsterdam, if you step off the curb at the wrong time or in the wrong place, you will be jelly on the front of a streetcar. The number of societal factors that would have to change to ever accomplish something like "walkability" in the city of Boston is mind-boggling.

"Lane count" is a synonym for width here

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The Melnea Cass Blvd right-of-way is 120' wide. Since BTD seems to be insisting that ordinary travel lanes are 11.5' wide (and bus lanes are 12'), there is a direct correspondence between lane count and width.

With parking that leaves about 20' spare to fit the sidewalks, bike tracks and landscaping for both sides of the street. So I am worried about, as you say, minimally narrow sidewalks littered with utility boxes -- the typical Boston design.

I am also worried about crosswalks in excess of 50'-55' long which even BTD tends to shy away from introducing without some sort of midway safe point. I don't think the bus lanes make for a good safety zone, they're travel lanes too.

Another issue is that the blocks created by urban renewal are too long for decent permeability, they seem to be on the order of 500' long, which is about 2-3 times longer than ideal. That means, presuming there is real development around there, people will feel cut off from the other side of the street. You could help fix that with mid-block crossings (or new cross-streets). But that's unlikely to happen when the roadway widens.

You are right, it is possible to do a better job, even with a wide road in place. Some places have wide streets and nothing much can be done about that. The decision was made centuries ago and they have to make do. The best answer, however, is to avoid the problem in the first place.

Design for Jaywalking

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Narrowing roads and putting in central median strips - which waste enormous amounts of space and give drivers the idea that they are on a limited access road - is design for jaywalking.

People insist on this dated crap because they have never seen an urban street scape where pedestrian crossing is anything but a "lets see how little stoppage time we can get away with regarless of the number of pedestrians" afterthought.

We need to stop feeding the median strip stupdity, and start doing things more thoughtfully. That means not worrying about how long cars have to wait in areas with heavy pedestrian traffic. That, and start expecting people to obey the traffic laws regardless of mode.

I'm no fan of median strips

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But the wider the road, the more parallel lanes of cars you have to keep an eye on, the more difficult it is to cross.

It's one thing where the neighborhood grew up a long time ago and became established enough. But Melnea Cass Blvd is starting over, at a huge disadvantage, and this ain't helping.

The Haussmann boulevards through Paris, BTW, were an urban renewal project which displaced and destroyed neighborhoods much like the urban renewal projects of the 60s here. It just happened a long time ago, before cars, and the victims have been forgotten. And the architects of that era didn't suck, so it looks nice now. But it could have gone either way in the 20th century, and as I'm sure you're aware, there's been a concerted effort over there to make it walkable.

Maybe the real damage from the Haussmann boulevards comes from the copycats all over the world who believe that they too can replicate the Champs-Élysées on every street. There's an unfortunate obsession with "boulevard-building" which usually turns into a wide nasty highway-building in practice.

I'm not a fan with this obsession on prosecuting "jaywalking" which is an invented crime created to clear the streets for high speed traffic. American streets were laid out with the intention of being public spaces not segregated spaces. If you look at old pictures and even videos from the early 20th century, you can see that.

For walkability you want frequent crossings, or frequent cut-throughs, or you could call it good connectivity. People don't like being treated like cars on a looping highway ramp, or making 3 turns instead of 1. If you try to block off those paths, then people will try to take them anyway. You can accuse them of "jaywalking" all you want, but it doesn't change the need.

Think back to your experience of Paris, or other old cities. The old blocks are small, very permeable. They were laid out at a time when the primary mode was walking, and small blocks favor walking the most. Even the wider avenues that were created later have plenty of crossing opportunities.

MCB has a long way to go to try and restore the urban fabric that was lost. It may never get anywhere close. But this project is starting things off on the wrong foot.

Many urban street scapes in Toronto, Portland, Seattle

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Go jaywalk there, Matthew - see what happens.

Bring bail money for when you mouth off about how everyone owns the street zones and why it is an "invented" crime.

Jaywalking is a dangerous nuisance, especially for cyclists who have to deal with people who don't even look where they are going. It is part and parcel of the scofflaw jungle that is our road system. You can't expect people to follow traffic laws if they can't even master stop, look and listen.

Segregated roadways can be a big mistake

By on urban areas. Perhaps there's some streets where it's unavoidable. But it shouldn't be the goal.

I just got done watching a very interesting video from the Somerville-by-design workshop, go check it out.

The whole video is interesting, but check out around 58:36 where he starts talking about examples of shared spaces, particularly the traditional examples, and also how it's been imported and used to improve spaces in the USA.

Jaywalking is a GOOD thing

A street where people feel free to cross anywhere they want (example: Elm Street in Davis Square) is a street that promotes walkability. The aim should be to make every street a safely jaywalkable street.


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Not buying it.

Not when I have to dodge people who then scream at me because I'm on a bike and they can't be arsed to look where they are going.

Not when we have so many demands on the space.

Elm street in Davis? How are you not dead yet, exactly? Not that cars shouldn't be expected to stop for the multiple crosswalks, but ... peds should use the crosswalks, too!

I'll use crosswalks

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When you cyclists start using the street instead of the sidewalk and obey red lights. So never.

Such BS

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I bike every day and I can't recall the last time I saw a cyclist over the age of seven biking on the sidewalk. But that's a great attitude, btw. How about I start obeying the cycling laws when I start seeing drivers signaling, stopping at red lights, driving the speed limit, acknowledging bikes and pedestrians, not texting while they drive and generally acting like clueless jerks. So never. Are we good now?


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It's not BS. I see it every day in my neighborhood.
I also daily see: cyclists using bike lanes, runners using bike lanes, cyclists not using bike lanes, cyclists failing to stop at red lights and stop signs and almost hitting pedestrians in crosswalks, vehicles failing to stop at red lights and stop signs and almost hitting pedestrians in crosswalks, idiots driving cars, trucks and cabs intimidating cyclists and pedestrians who are doing nothing wrong, pedestrians texting while crossing the street without looking, etc., etc. Point being: how about everyone just start using their brains and follow the rules of the road regardless of whether or not someone else is doing the same.
When a dbag in a car guns it for me when I'm legally crossing in a sidewalk, I don't then get in my car and do the same thing to another pedestrian. That's asinine.

It's hard to tell who's posting what

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with all this Anon business, but doesn't your post directly contradict the point of the poster above me, who seems to blame cyclists for all the ills of Boston's streets and then say that hey--it's then fine for him to do whatever?

And btw

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I was being sarcastic about not following the rules. IMHO, cyclists who don't obey common sense laws are not only making the rest of us look bad, but they're also more likely to end up dead or mangled AND then to have a posthumous UHub thread devoted to what selfish, thoughtless jerks they were who pretty much deserved to die.I'd really prefer to avoid all that.

There's a difference between

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There's a difference between regular jaywalking and walking into the street without looking where you're going or if there is traffic oncoming.

Given the frequency with which I have almost hit people both in my car and on my bike where those people are looking in the opposite direction of oncoming traffic, I'd say the last thing the Boston area needs is the promotion of more jaywalking. People here just don't look to see if cars or bikes are coming.

Jaywalking is good and bad

Jaywalking is good when traffic speeds are higher so pedestrians consider their own safety before walking into the road. They wait for a gap in traffic, then cross to a median, and do it again.

When vehicle speeds are too low, pedestrians are more likely to step in front of a vehicle and act on faith that the driver will stop in time. Low speeds also present more income opportunities for pedestrians seeking insurance fraud, since the MBTA reduced them with all the cameras now.

Crosswalks invite pedestrians to act on faith. They assume everyone can see them, even wearing all dark clothing at night. Its safer for pedestrians to not assume everyone will stop for them. Jaywalking and high vehicle speeds reduce the dangerous, faith-based crossing activity.


Crosswalks invite pedestrians to act on faith. They assume everyone can see them, even wearing all dark clothing at night. Its safer for pedestrians to not assume everyone will stop for them. Jaywalking and high vehicle speeds reduce the dangerous, faith-based crossing activity.

How can anyone possibly expect me to drive my vehicle properly and give a shit about following rules and not killing people with it and looking where I'm going???? I'M IN A CAR AND THAT MAKES ME ULTRA SUPER SPECIAL AND LAZY AT THE SAME TIME! LOOK OUT FOR MEEEEEEEEEE!

your sarcasm is so helpful...

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I drive carefully with the experience of having commuted for years on a bike.

There are times when you can be a responsible driver and still have an accident. About a month ago I had one night when two people darted out in front of me. Both wore dark clothes and were no where a crosswalk or a streetlight. I have to believe that they didn't look when they started out across the street, because they probably would have seen my headlights. We were all lucky that I caught sight of them and was able to avoid killing them. Believe me when I say that hitting pedestrians is no ones idea of fun.

I guess the car is king again in Boston

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So they want to widen Melnea Cass to make it feed more cars into the revamped I-93 system. Then, roads that feed Melnea Highway will need to be widened. And so on. This is not how to make a more liveable walkable city.
Melnea Cass is a horrible barrier as it is, making it even more so by widening it is ridiculous.

The state had said no more highway expansion, as a cost issue and an environmental/smart growth issue. I'm not surprised Menino is all in for more dumb growth (as long as its not in his neighborhood) but I am surprised the state has already flip flopped.

Menino and development

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He was actually in favor of what would have been the largest residential development in Boston in decades - turning the old Stop & Shop warehouse site in Readville into a giant new community. Almost happened, except Dedham decided at the last minute it wanted more money to cede its half of the parcel to Boston and the developer backed out.

thats my point, he is in

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thats my point, he is in favor of good development near him (Readville) but here in Roxbury he is in favor of widening a road into a highway, which will further prevent it from being a nice walkable community as the one he was in favor of near to him.
When has he been in favor of shortening sidewalks in his neighborhood to encourage more cars to pass through?

Melnea Cass Blvd. is an ugly

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Melnea Cass Blvd. is an ugly nightmare already. Based on the evening gridlock, I sometimes think it mainly serves as a conduit for surburbanites coming into Fenway Park on game nights.

I live in the city. I avoid it as much as possible.

Not to mention

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The sidewalks/bike path there are horrible, poorly maintained. Seems like an urban design person's dream project--how to make MC work for cars and for the neighborhood.

Nobody wants to walk there

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The Walking Bostonian should go there sometime and count the pedestrians on the already-ample sidewalks. Nobody walks along Melnea Cass Blvd. There are few destinations for walkers. Same with the bus lane idea. There are no through bus routes here. Several buses use the road, but each route turns left and right; a bus lane would be useless.

I use the bike path sometimes, but I'm one of very few. This road exists to get people to and from the Southeast Expressway and that's about it. And what is wrong with that? If you clog it up by taking away lanes, or "get rid of it", most of those cars will end up on neighborhood streets, trying to avoid traffic jams, wasting gas and adding to pollution. No matter how nice you make the T or how wide you make the sidewalks, a lot of people will still need to get to I-93.

Nobody walks there because

Nobody walks there because nothings there! There are development plans for the Dudley Sq side of MCB which would hopefully invite people to walk down the street.

As for a buslane, I think the point is to allow busses to get down MCB without getting stuck in the horrendous traffic. There are tons of bus lanes going to/from Dudley Sq.

Same goes for the bikepath, but for different reasons... it doesn't go anywhere! I used to ride it between dot and NEU and it just ends at the hotel on Mass. It's like the Minuteman Bikeway, without any of the scenery...

MCB development shouldn't be based on current usage, but rather a comprehensive plan to increase future usage. This seems like the case with the money going to Dudley Sq and the new developments along MCB.

Snatch A Lane usually bad

Yesterday the Boston MPO (Metro planning Org) announced availability of a study on HOV lanes. Basically, when a road is congested, making any sort of preferential lane for buses or high occupancy vehicles (they needed to include bike lanes also!) produces overall transportation loss. The recommendation is to only add preferential lanes on congested roads by widening roadway.

Science favors widening for congested roads.

One question

Are they counting vehicles that move through the lane?

Or are they counting PEOPLE that move through the lane?

Because it isn't a "loss" if it means fewer vehicles but more people - that is a win.

People do this thing called "carpooling" you know ... in the era of skype and instant messaging, it is all very easy to do!

Counting vehicles

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He's talking about this study I believe.

It was released in December but mentioned in yesterday's TRANSREPORT.

It mostly favors extension of zipper lanes or creation of median "specialized, separate lanes" for HOV/bus traffic.

This is all it has to say about taking an existing lane and designating it for HOV, one paragraph:

It is sometimes suggested that an HOV lane could be implemented by converting a general-purpose lane for the exclusive use of HOVs. Since it is assumed that any preferential lane eligibility rules would result in fewer vehicles in the preferential lane than in the general-purpose lanes, the result would be a reduction in total expressway capacity. Reducing the capacity of a congested expressway would seriously worsen congestion and queuing within and leading to the capacity-reduced corridor, as well as on nearby surface roadways.

The criteria is vehicles/lane-hour and that is also used for all other analysis. It also assumes that an HOV lane would be limited to 1500 vehicles/hour and general lanes can accommodate 2200 vehicles/hour. That's the basis of the reasoning in the above paragraph.