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Latest plans for Arborway bus yard include eight acres for housing or other community uses

The Jamaica Plain Gazette reports on the MBTA's latest iteration on its plans to turn the Arborway bus yard into a garage able to recharge and maintain the battery-powered buses the T is planning on buying. It's the latest proposal in more than 20 years of proposal for the facility.

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But it has had a lot of success as a real estate landlord.

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Actually, no, they stink at that too. They have tons of undeveloped stations all over Eastern MA with no commercial or residential development, just huge parking lots. That's about the poorest real estate management you could ask for.

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In the first two meetings, a lot of people were up in arms because the MBTA built a multi-story garage and with a salt pile for the DPM. This time, the T kept the new building to one story, and reserved some of the land for resident use.

Once built, the T would bring back Route 28 and 39 buses back to Arborway, and employ 60 foot buses for the 32.

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The T is severely cutting service on the 34 and 35/36 as part of the Network Redesign, compared to both today and pre-Covid.

This MBTA document (published Oct 2023) admits as much, if you scroll down to the page about Belgrade Avenue. During rush hour, there will be 6 trips/hour (currently 14), and for the whole day, there will be 88 total trips (currently 126, also according to the document).

The cuts to the 34/34E/40/50 aren't as bad but they're still cuts -- 130 total trips compared to 145 with today's schedules.

If the T is reducing service by more than 50%, they're never going to put 60-footers on the route, crowding or not. (And in any case, a regular 40-footer every 15 minutes is infinitely better than a 60-footer every 30+ minutes.)

It's also remarkable that there has been absolutely no discussion or coverage about this, even though the facts are there in plain sight. @Adam please do look into this!

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Wow - thanks for letting me know about this.

Belgrade Avenue is right near where I live, and in prior presentations they were going to increase services in that corridor. I didn't know that there were plans to reduce service! I removed my blurb about the 35/36 from my original post.

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Yes, they did say in the meetings that they were going to increase service on the 35/36 corridor. It’s embarrassing that it looks like they’re actually decreasing it since the combined ridership on the current 35/36/37 routes is really high per a TransitMatters report. Makes me even more convinced that there should be a big push for the Needham Line to be turned into the Orange Line.

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West Roxbury certainly isn't a transit desert - we have the 34, 34E, 37, 38 and 40 traveling in that area, plus the commuter rail. It's that in the beginning, the MBTA was going to give the Belgrade Avenue corridor more buses, and then when they did another analysis, they said, "nope, this area is good, scratch the increased service; we need to focus on another area that needs it."

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the recharging buses "building" calls for the vehicles to be outside, not enclosed, with some sort of overhead canopy. It will be open air. Also it will have a smaller enclosed building for repairs.

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It's too bad some neighbors complained about the multi-level bus garage. It would have contained the exhaust. With an open-air shed, they'll probably leave the buses running all night, and the exhaust goes straight out.

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The busses will be all electric. There won't be any exhaust

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Is there an enforceable guarantee that the T will never run diesel buses there in the future? What if they realize after a few years that battery buses are no good, the same way they decided to ditch the CNG buses that are there now?

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The T has been on this site for over 120 years while someone, let's call them Evan, who has been on Brookley Street for 2 after moving here from Seattle and before that Grand Forks.

The T wants to ensure greener transportation for a large chunk of the SW areas of Boston and Brookline for the future in an area with no other land alternatives this size. There are very limited options for other places.

Residents - How dare the T use this site for public transportation uses when Evan wants a park there next to the all the other parks.

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… John Costello, who after decades of living in dull lace curtain neighborhoods and attending Catholic School has a chronic case of Evan envy. And hemorrhoids.

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No lace curtain. Father wore a blue collar, mother a pink.

Catholic school for elementary only. Public school before and after.

Also, stop posting after midnight thinking about things you want to snack on.

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… hemorrhoids?

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The loss of indoor bus parking is unfortunate. Busses exposed to the weather when parked have a much shorter lifespan and break down more often than those properly stored. I wouldn't be surprised if the same is true for the charging equipment.

Also, bring on the 15 story buildings! Tall buildings along both Washington and centre/ South!

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For buses with internal combustion engines, unless there is a violent collision the potentially "explosive stuff" is quite well isolated and safe.

Not true with electrically powered buses carrying their own "fuel" [as opposed to the old-style trolley buses which are perfectly safe when they are "Off"]. Lithium-based battery powered buses have a nasty habit of self-ignition resulting in a fire which is very hard to extinguish.

The current recommendation: Electric Buses should be parked no closer than about 50 feet from other vehicles or structures.

From TCRP E-14 [Pending] "Lithium-Ion Battery Transit Bus Fire Prevention and Risk Management" -- a research project initiated by the Transportation Research Board of The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
https://apps.trb.org/cmsfeed/TRBNetProjectDisplay.asp?ProjectID=5258
with my highlight [bold]

BACKGROUND

The risk of lithium-ion battery fires is a concern for transit agencies that are considering whether to electrify their bus fleets. The transit industry has largely addressed lithium-ion battery fire risk by incorporating rigorous early detection and protection protocols in battery management systems that prevent thermal runaway when the battery pack is physically compromised through improper use or external impact. At current zero-emission bus (ZEB) fleet scales, the magnitude of these risks is relatively small; there is, however, no widespread understanding of how lithium-ion battery fire risks will be magnified when fleet size increases. Damaged cells in a lithium-ion battery can lead to thermal runaway, a phenomenon in which a failure in the architecture of a battery cell (e.g., a short) causes the heat of the battery to rapidly increase, releasing flammable gas which then ignites, triggering similar events in adjacent cells. The ensuing fires are difficult to extinguish and must be addressed with significant quantities of specialized fire suppressants. There are also documented instances of stranded energy remaining after a lithium-ion battery fire is extinguished, causing batteries to reignite after the fires have been initially suppressed by first responders.

Hence, park your buses outside in an open lot with wide spacing -- not the best environment for doing maintenance. Better stick with diesel buses until the fire situation is better understood.
Law of unintended consequences in action

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To build a small bus maintenance facility and outdoor canopies?

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A city official said a salt pile is the best use of part of the property because otherwise salt trucks would have to make long round trips from Hyde Park or West Roxbury to serve JP.

It's about 4 miles from the southern edge of those neighborhoods to Forest Hills. Do we really need giant salt piles spaced every 4 miles? Do other cities plan this way? And are there no other industrial properties suitable for this anywhere in southern Boston, besides this prime site near a subway station?

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Nothing vehicle-oriented should be on walkable/transit-oriented land. Buses and maintenance vehicles should be stored on land outside the city that requires a motor vehicle to access anyway. Same with things like salt piles and businesses (like most of the ones in the Newmarket area) that are accessed exclusively with motor vehicles. Put them in areas that are already car-centric, and free up the walkable land for people and businesses who want to use a city like a city.

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Related: we may be using way, way too much road salt. Chicago uses a fraction as much, in part to reduce salty runoff into the lake, and their roads are perfectly drivable in the winter. I bet all the metal and concrete around here would last longer too if we used less salt.

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Proposals proposals proposals. That bus yard and Bromley Heath are JP's heavy brass bookends that real estate brokers don't mention when trying to market places to live in both locations .

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This is the wrong place to put a bus yard, but the state, the T, the City and the neighborhood all sort of work together to make it the only place to put a bus yard.

It's the wrong place to put a bus yard because bus yards are 24/7 facilities that no one really wants in their backyard, and a large site next to a transit node is a great place for a lot of people to have their backyard. The T will say "we need it here so that buses are near their routes" which is not entirely wrong, but really, they need it nearby, and there's a site which is as good if not better down on American Legion Highway which is currently home to a bunch of mulch piles. It's about halfway in between the JP/Rozzie/Hyde Park/Westie routes and the Dorchester/Mattapan routes that this garage would serve, so just as well-sited. And also not near anyone's home. This is owned by the state, which would have to initiate an internal land transfer, and that would require someone a bit higher up the chain to be interested, which they aren't.

As mentioned above, the T is also in the "it's always been used for transit" camp, which is true, but doesn't mean it always has to be used for transit. Heck, they sold off the Lechmere site for housing after GLX, and moved the old Bartlett Garage site in Roxbury which precipitated this whole ordeal. The T doesn't seem to buy into the fact that if there were a lot of people who lived there many would be T riders and pay fares and that those tokens (well, taps) would add up over time, because it's easier to just do what they've always done. (There was a button people wore in MassDOT at the end of the Patrick admin which had the phrase "we've always done it that way" with a big red "x" over it but that seemed to disappear when Baker came in.)

The City could be the kingmaker here to force them to look at a different site, but the only reason that would make sense would be if it would then allow the city to build a lot of housing on the Arborway and from what I've heard, the city is worried that they would spend a lot of political capital with the T to get them to make changes only to have the neighborhood come in and NIMBY any housing down to like 35 units because reasons and then they City would have egg on its face. This is sort of the City's fault: they could try to be more proactive and say "we are zoning this for 2500 units, deal with it" but mostly the neighborhood, because the neighbors don't have a great track record. (Heck, in the OP story there's one resident saying "That’s just what we want: 15 stories of housing with 951 units in it where we pack people into it, which was done in the past, and those people have suffered for it." Because we all know that people in tall buildings suffer. Unless they're rich people, in which case they are selfish. Or something.)

So, onto the neighbors. Back in 2014, someone proposed pretty much this solution. It got some momentum: Stony Brook supported it, a Globe columnist suggested it had more value as housing and the then-recent viaduct removal made the land more valuable. Even the DCR, which doesn't own the land there but has some control over it, was amenable (yeah, I know!).

But the neighborhood got in the way. What neighborhood adjacent to American Legion Highway? Somehow, Roslindale. Sure, sure, you can point out that technically that site is in Mattapan, and closer to JP, Roxbury and Dorchester than it is to Rozzie. And that there are no houses in Rozzie closer than 1/4 mile, and that's only a couple of dozen houses off of Walk Hill next to the cemetery on Paine Street, and that most of Rozzie is a mile away, and what do they actually care? Yancey was outraged that there had not been more consultation with Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan but the real culprits seemed to be the Karens who showed up from Rozzie with "Ask Roslindale" stickers worried about their "quality of life" of a bus yard being build in place of a mulch pile in a different neighborhood and no one had anything coherent to say about why, just that the white people in Roslindale had opinions and how dare they not be considered?!

Now, we can't entirely blame them because—back to the T here—windbag extraordinaire Joe P said:

“The MBTA has invested a lot of time and money over the years on designing a new bus facility for the 500 Arborway site,” he said. “To go back to square one and start all over with a new site, new community, new engineering and site concerns will cause a major delay in the project and will increase the cost to construct this project.”

And that's the same excuse you'd get today. I mean, sure, okay, that was 9 years ago, and 14 years into the project, and it sure seems like the only thing that has changed since then is the price tag. But the T decided it was to go there in 1999, and once there was an ounce of disagreement thanks to some folks who lived a mile away (Lisa Beatman, quoted in the article, lives on the other side of Mount Hope Cemetery, about 4500' from the American Legion Site) it was all they needed to say "look, the neighborhood disagrees we want to build it here."

So here we are, 9 years later, the T does their drawings, the City won't move its salt pile (come on, JFH) and we get a few hundred apartments along the site of the site instead of more (good thing there's not a housing crisis or anything) because everyone is afraid of their shadow. Imagine if the "Ask Rozzie" people had kept their yaps shut in 2014 and the City, DCR, State and T had all rowed in the same direction. On 18 acres there would be room for, say, 2000 apartment units, a proper grocery store (plugging a huge grocery store hole, the nearest grocery store is more than a mile away; imagine the housing built around/above a Trader Joe's or Market Basket or Rochies) and perhaps even the functions they want to retain at the Shattuck but closer to the T, which would allow the Shattuck site to be re-parkland-ified since it was originally part of Franklin Park.

This is a twenty-five year case study in "why we can't have nice things" and why we wind up with lipstick on a pig like this.

An aside: my guess as to why the bus charging has been moved under a canopy is that the electric buses are prone to, you know, blowing up. The cost to put fire suppression in a building is super-expensive for this kind of thing, so they will park them under a canopy which is sort of a happy medium (no word on exactly how they'll do fire suppression, but the regulations are probably less if it's not "indoors"). It's probably also a function of cost: buses have extremely high per-axle loads, so building a multi-story facility for them requires a lot more steel and concrete than a single-story facility, which adds a lot to the cost (since the walls and roof of a facility are not very expensive since they don't have to hold much up).

BTW: "ESH" is "Everybody Sucks Here" from Reddit AITA posts if you don't know.

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Simple As That.

Your proposals shove it down other people's throats.

That's not fair and frankly is snobbish as hell.

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But really, did you read the comment above? Did you click on any of the links? Or just want to troll.

JP Can Share The Transit Burden

Are you secretly Charles Yancey? The American Legion site is on the JP-Mattapan border (as defined by the City). Also, if a bus garage is a burden, then JP is shouldering all of the burden, because there is no bus yard in Hyde Park, Rozzie, Westie, Roxbury or Mattapan.

The real burden is that a pretty simple land swap between government agencies could create 1000 more units of housing, so everyone shares the burden of those units not being built. But it won't happen precisely because of people like you.

Your proposals shove it down other people's throats.

Literally actually whose throat? Type "450 American Legion Highway, Boston, MA" into Google Maps, see what comes back, and let me know who is going to have what shoved down their throat. Does anyone live near there?

That's not fair and frankly is snobbish as hell.

Again, I don't know what's not fair but this proposal would take something that no one wants next to their house and put it in a place where it's not next to anyone's house. I really don't know how it's snobbish.

Now in your next comment:

There is a Stop and Shop off Centre Street. There is a Stop and Shop in Grove Hall. There is a Stop and Shop on American Legion Highway. There is a Price Rite on American Legion Highway. There is a Whole Foods smack in the middle of JP.

I actually went and mapped all the grocery stores so you can see that from that site there isn't a grocery store nearby. Your comment makes this point: you can go a mile-and-a-half in any direction from Forest Hills before you hit a grocery store. You could have clicked on the clicky, so if you want to, here's another chance.

The Coop failed in Forest Hills because no one went. There was your grocery store. You failed it.

Harvest failed because it was bad at being a coop. Without going too far into it, they overexpanded, they had poor selection and not-so-great-prices, and they asked their members to only shop there. Having spent time in the Twin Cities, the coops there are successful because they compete on service, quality and price, which is easier because the grocery stores there are by-and-large expensive or crappy. i.e. there's no Market Basket.

You are not special. There are supermarkets open nearby. Use your cargo bike. Use Peapod.

There aren't, which means that people wind up having to drive, and people without cars have less access. See above.

Green transportation usurps your need to skip down from your apartment and grab a kumquat.

Good green transportation is putting people near transportation, not what fuel the bus happens to run on.

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As someone else who really wants a grocery store on that site and also thinks putting the bus yard in the ample room we have where it would be in fewer or zero backyards (but *gasp* it might be a half mile from some) is preferable to the status quo, this explains why the city can't move on a no-brainer. Indeed sucks that we can't have nice things. I'd support a ballot initiative that neuters the ability of local NIMBYs to block things like this.

If we want to move it minimally, I propose putting the bus yard at the present Shattuck site. Would suck for Franklin Park but trading the Shattuck for a TJ's is something I could get behind.

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Electric buses blowing up is another great reason to have them stored a half-mile away from a transit hub and housing density.

We desperately need a large grocery store in this neighborhood - I recall at one point there was a movie theater planned for this parcel, which seemed ludicrous.

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No movie theatre was planned for this parcel. Ever.

There is a Stop and Shop off Centre Street. There is a Stop and Shop in Grove Hall. There is a Stop and Shop on American Legion Highway. There is a Price Rite on American Legion Highway. There is a Whole Foods smack in the middle of JP.

The Coop failed in Forest Hills because no one went. There was your grocery store. You failed it.

You are not special. There are supermarkets open nearby. Use your cargo bike. Use Peapod.

Green transportation usurps your need to skip down from your apartment and grab a kumquat.

Also, if you think a half mile is close to an exploding bus, you must have going to the hysterical Hingham Mommy meeting on the gas transfer station in Weymouth opposition forum.

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