Readville residents wonder: Can an apartment complex across from a commuter-rail station really be transit-oriented?

Proposed apartments at Readville intersection

Rough idea of what project could look like, as seen from Hyde Park Avenue from across Milton Street.

At first, it might seem like a ridiculous question. But as Readville residents told the prospective developer of 240 apartments across the Milton Street bridge from Readville station tonight, it begins to make sense if you actually try to commute from the station.

One woman, whose family goes back 100 years in the neighborhood, said she has been forced to drive downtown to work because the trains coming through Readville are so undependable - and often so crowded by the time they get to Readville that people on the platform cannot get on them. City Councilor Tim McCarthy, himself a lifelong Readvillite, said it's ridiculous that Readville is not in the T's 1A fare zone, which means riders there have to pay $6.25 to get downtown - compared to the $2.10 riders pay just down the line at Fairmount.

Developer Jan Steenbrugge has a purchase-and-sale agreement for the 2.7-acre parcel bounded by the bridge, Hyde Park Avenue and the Northeast Corridor train tracks. He told roughly 150 residents that the commuter-rail station is really the key to what he wants to do: Build apartments that would appeal to people who would rather take the train into work.

Steenbrugge agreed to hold the informal meeting - he has yet to file anything with the BRA - to get a sense of how residents felt. "We're very mindful of the fact that this is your neighborhood and not ours," his lawyer, Joe Hanley, told residents.

Residents told Steenbrugge they fell that if the train service is so bad, they will turn to their cars to commute - or, as McCarthy said, drive down to Fairmount station - which will only worsen the neighborhood's already horrendous traffic problems, which pretty much everybody in the auditorium agreed is the single biggest issue for the project. Steenbrugge, Hanley and his architect and transportation consultant readily agreed the traffic from Wolcott Square up past the Milton Street bridge sucks.

They proposed a variety of possible fixes, including traffic lights at either end of the bridge, replacing all the ancient traffic lights in Wolcott Square with newer, more efficient signals and making various "geometry" changes to several intersections, including the one at Industrial Drive and Milton Street. The project would also include new crosswalks in the area, which currently has none. And the land's current curb cut, near the bridge, would be moved down Hyde Park Avenue away from it.

Even after hearing that, skeptical residents were not buying it, noting Steenbrugge was initally proposing spaces for 400 cars. Residents said it already takes them ten minutes just to get from Wolcott Square to the Sprague Street bridge - a journey they could make in less time on foot, if only it were safe to do so, which it isn't.

One resident found it "disgusting" that the neighborhood has been complaining about the traffic problems for years and that the city has never done anything about them.

One Dedham resident complained the project would send more traffic into her town, which led to a mini-argument with McCarthy, who said somebody from Dedham is the last person to be talking about slopping traffic onto a neighboring community, given that Readville has to bear the brunt of traffic from industrial buildings on either side of the town line that Dedham won't let onto its roads.

McCarthy said he has not taken a position on the project, but cautioned that Readville residents - long isolated from the development pressures facing other parts of the city - need to realize that change is coming to their long sleepy neighborhood.

Hanley said that, of right, Steeenbrugge could put up an office building with "200,000 square feet of hipster space" on the property.

Architect David Chillinski showed preliminary plans with three main buildings and a five-deck parking garage - which would butt up against a neighboring industrial building, and serve as a buffer for residents. The buildings would rise as high as five stories, but he said that because the property slopes steeply down from Hyde Park Avenue, the buildings would not look that tall from the street. He added that the buildings would likely have special insulation and possibly triple-glazed windows on the railroad side to shield residents from the noise and vibrations of trains that can reach speeds of more than 100 m.p.h. as they pass by.

Hanley said most of the apartments would be rented at market rates - which he emphasized would be much lower in Readville than downtown, even though "quite frankly, it's a better neighborhood." Under BRA regulations, about 31 of the apartments would have to be rented at "affordable" rates to people making no more than 70% of the area's median household income.

Steenbrugge listens as Chillinski answers a resident's question:

Steenbrugge and Chillinski

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Comments

There are 2 stations at Readville

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I can't see why Readville residents couldn't just walk to the other side of the station area and hop a Fairmont train. Yes, it is still Zone 2 (an interesting complaint by McCarthy, but since the rates are set by distance, not too much that can be done) but you're guaranteed a seat since it is the first stop.

I love my industrial spaces, and I love creating new housing in the city, so I am torn.

(note, my original subject line reflected Adam putting the wrong photo with the article.)

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Depends on where they're going

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The fairmount trains go to south station, but not back bay, but the Franklin and providence line trains which stop at readville go to south station and back bay. So if you get on in readville and go to back bay (which a fair number of Hyde park, Dedham and Milton residents do) you don't get a seat and if the trains are delayed (which they are more often than not these days), sometimes you can't even get on the train.

That said, it would be nice if something could get built there and the area made more pedestrian friendly land less hectic to drive through, if any, or all, of that is possible!

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chicken & egg

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There is a chicken and an egg problem with the service levels. If full trains mean no new riders then they will never have the impetus to add trains/frequency. Adding riders to already full trains should (in a world with competent management) change the frequency/size of trains. Did they say if they have worked with the T/Keolis about potentially improving service if the project is approved?

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There's more than one project.

I think there's one right next to the Fairmount station. Given the loads from both of these projects (and future ones sure to be proposed) they will need more cars.

Those double deckers seem to give a lot of bang for the buck.

The day of an F40 pulling three dead buddliners, each with its own unique livery, is long gone.

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Lewis Chemical

Before that, a tannery. I know they did some remediation work in the eighties or nineties, but I think if you start digging for foundations you will hit a hundred years of 'really bad stuff' from the tannery days.

Not sure anyone wants to stir it up.

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I understand it's set by

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I understand it's set by distance, but it's frankly ridiculous that there are neighborhoods of the city of Boston paying 6$ for crappy commuter trains when far flung suburbs like Malden have real rapid transit. Especially when the MBTA justifies not providing real, reliable, and FREQUENT service to these neighborhoods by pointing at the CR. Anywhere in the city should be 1A, no exceptions.

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Using Park St as the hub of the transit system...

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It gets a bit more ridculous when one considers that Malden is 4.8 miles from Park St and Readville is 8.9 miles from Park St. Arbitrary municipal bounds notwithstanding, it is Hyde Park that is the far flung suburb.

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The whole conversation is

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The whole conversation is ridiculous because neither is far-flung by any stretch of the term.

When can we annex everything inside of 128 and make that all Zone 1A across all modes?

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It's not the BTA

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It's the MBTA, not the BTA. There's no logical reason against non-Boston communities paying less for rides than some Boston communities, especially if the Boston community in question is almost twice as far as Park Street Station as the non-Boston community in question.

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The article mentions

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that it isn't safe to walk to the Fairmont station. I'm not familiar with the area, but that certainly seems like a problem someone (cough BTD cough) should be fixing.

And the problems with Dedham just bring up ongoing issues about regional not city planning. It will never happen, as long as businesses can play towns off against each other, but it would certainly be better for most people.

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The developer's traffic

The developer's traffic engineer showed a pretty good plan to address traffic and pedestrian safety around Readville station. He missed the need for a pedestrian crossing of Hyde Park Ave, but otherwise I thought it was spot on. They couldn't explain how the changes were going to get implemented (ie who pays), but the plan was good. The neighborhood booed the traffic plan, though. Presumably because adding two stoplights would ruin their lives?

IMAGE(http://i.imgur.com/3i98an3.jpg)

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I don't know this spot at all but

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this seems like a perfect example of what needs to happen to move forward on untangling this Gordian knot of not enough housing, too many cars, and getting people happily and comfortably on foot or on the train. I know I join in anti-car rants here frequently but this is exactly the problem--if people don't feel safe walking to a spot ten minutes away or they have to pay $12.50 a day to get to work, who can blame them? We need some dedicated transport/planning geeks to get together on something like this and find a way to make it work.

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It's industrial zoned.

Very industrial. Where the bus company is used to be the New Haven car barns. It was a huge repair facility. It was a lumber yard after that. All along the ave was industrial exposures.
Granted, no one will propose another asphalt plant, but they could.
This type of housing is the wave of the future. Energy efficient, close to transportation, it does tie it all together.

I think the big picture for the future would be to improve the commuter rail. Maybe some local trains, run the suburban, full trains to Back Bay/South Station and run local trains that start in Readville. There must be plenty of storage in the Wolcott Sq yards. I guess. Maybe longer trains with improved stations.

Now that the proposal is out there, figure out what the problems are and solve them.

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And most recently, a broom company

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Which is neither here nor there, but I used to like the "Atlantic Broom Co." signs. Part of the charm, right up there with the giant tire and Grandma's Coffee Cake (which has a retail outlet, which I always imagine being like the ice-cream place in Roslindale: You can't buy anything smaller than a 25-lb slab of coffee cake or something).

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Grandma's

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Hey! They DO sell scratch and dent cakes! They ahve some good deals there - you should check it out. One of their big customers is Henry Winkler (Fonzie).

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This type of housing is the

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This type of housing is the wave of the future.

Except for the proposal for more than more than 1.5 parking spaces for each housing unit. Cut the number of parking spaces from 400 to 240 and we're on to something.

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Your comments on this article

Your comments on this article and the earlier one on the industrial character of Hyde Park Ave aren't lost on the residents. Several people spoke up that they had fought to keep that stretch zoned for light industry and want to keep it so.

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Ayup!

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Like the guy from CPR (Committee to Preserve Readville, I think?). Not everybody wants to work in a cube downtown.

And as mentioned last night, there are some projects coming in - the M.S. Walker liquor facility at the old Stop&Shop property (in another one of those stupid Dedham/Boston things - the facility sits in Dedham, so they get all the tax money, minus the tax break they gave Walker, even though all the traffic will come through Boston), and the Readville Yards project aimed at small, "maker" companies down past the train station.

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In my notes, it was "Citizens

In my notes, it was "Citizens for the Protection of Readville," but Google has no results for that, so I'm probably wrong.

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CPR

Committee for the Preservation of Readville, I think.

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Put 'em all together, and you

Put 'em all together, and you get "citizens for the preservation of readville," which DOES have some Google results.

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Committee...

...does show up in stuff from 2009, but later references favor Citizens.

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You are correct in saying

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You are correct in saying that the residents of Readville want to keep this parcel as a light industrial zone. This proposal with the apartment complex is totally unreasonable and unsafe for the residents of Readville.

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Why unsafe?

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Not sure I get it--why would an apartment building make anyone unsafe?

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McCarthy on traffic

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Since he is up for reelection is would be great if he could make traffic in his district a main item!

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Transit Pricing

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This got me thinking of transit pricing, don't we have it backwards?

Shouldn't the pricing in the city core be 6.25, and the pricing at the edges be cheapest to influence people to use it more for what it's best at, moving people from the edges to the city core? High pricing in the core likewise might make some people think twice and you know, walk instead of using their connection from park state street, to park street, to DTX and clogging up the major connections.

Maybe someone more transit oriented can say why this is a bad idea. Seems to me in conjunction with congestion pricing, it be smaht.

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Interesting idea.

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Though I'm still staggered--$2.10 to $6.25 seems like a crazy leap--where's the intermediate $4 fare zone?

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uh...

One issue that would create is that the people who use use the most of the service then pay the least to do so.

And wouldn't that encourage sprawl as well by rewarding people who move out to the outer 'burbs?

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Is sprawl a problem in Boston's case?

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With Boston's issue with affordable housing, I would think getting people to move farther out would help alleviate some of the pressure in high density areas. I could see it being problematic if these people commuted with cars but if they were mostly coming through on public transportation wouldn't create as much of a negative impact.

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But how do they get to work?

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That was the issue that struck me last night (obviously, since I went with a headline that on its face sounds absurd).

Hyde Park, parts of Roslindale and much of West Roxbury are pretty sprawly when compared to other parts of the city. And as we saw last night, people out this way can have issues with public transportation - even when there's a train station right there, possibly enough to get them into their cars, which, of course, defeats the purpose of transit-oriented development.

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At the margins, commuter rail

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At the margins, commuter rail is effectively priced like that. From Newtonville, it costs $5.75 to go to Yawkey/Back Bay/South Station and... $5.75 to go to Worcester. Within 1A, you have the $2.10 fare, but that's as much because the 1A stops are viable destinations for commuters/students from the suburbs or places where you can change to subway.

Readville could be rezoned to 1A if Franklin Line and Providence/Stoughton Line trains no longer stopped there (leaving just Fairmount service); or at least stopped only to handle transfers to/from the Fairmount line. Inner stops on long commuter lines are pricey because they decrease the value of the service to the longer-distance (and thus more valuable) riders in two ways: coming out of Boston, they make it harder for the long-distance riders to get seats and in both directions, the very fact that they're stopping at Readville adds about 90 seconds to the train's time. Essentially, every n passengers to/from Readville (especially if they're from/to Back Bay or South Station; reversed traffic is somewhat different) means one fewer passenger past 128/495.

Of course, if the buses and commuter rail were better integrated with transfers and scheduling/dispatching, taking a bus to a 1A commuter rail station would be viable. That sort of integration is just a management and/or software problem: it should be easier to fix than something that requires steel/concrete, but the MBTA isn't much/any better at fixing management/software than steel/concrete...

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NO

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Shouldn't the pricing in the city core be 6.25, and the pricing at the edges be cheapest to influence people to use it more for what it's best at, moving people from the edges to the city core?

Most particularly in the core, you want people to use transit rather than drive or take taxis/Uber/Lyft in order to relieve automobile congestion on downtown streets. (For that reason, it is sometimes argued by transit experts that transit should be entirely free in the core, although that is unlikely to happen for a bunch of reasons.)

To the extent that trains are crowded in the core, the cause isn't congestion -- too many trains, not enough rail -- but not enough trains.

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The T could implement

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The T could implement congestion (rush hour) pricing to alleviate crowding and raise more revenue. The DC Metro uses congestion pricing.

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We have a serious housing

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We have a serious housing shortage.

We should be building 3- to 5-story apartment buildings like crazy. That's the only way to keep rents from spiraling out of control.

The best place to build these buildings is near transit stations and neighborhood downtowns. A commuter rail station isn't a perfect spot, due to the terrible schedule and high fares. But it's better than giant apartment complex in the woods a mile from a Route 128 exit, where everyone will have to get in a car just to leave the property.

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Location