The reality of the Riverside MBTA development project in Newton
It’s time to face reality on Riverside: the neighbors have dictated the volume of traffic they are going to accept. And, they are not all wrong.
It’s tantalizing to think abstractly of what is possible at the intersection of 128, the turnpike, and the Green line. But, the promise of the intersection rests on the slight foundation of Grove Street, which is inadequate to the vision. Grove Street is not scaled to handle the burden; there is no street grid. Compare Grove Street to Washington Street, one exit south. Washington Street has more capacity and Beacon Street as an outlet. Grove Street is much more narrow, without any outlets.
That doesn’t mean that the latest Riverside proposal is good. It isn’t. Chuck Eisenberg is absolutely right in his TAB opinion article: the Riverside site ought to be a “textbook example of smart growth planning.” For all the progress the developers have made, they have yet to offer a proposal that would create an integrated, walkable, environmentally sustainable community. The three major uses — retail, residential, and office — are not integrated at all — what Alderperson Deb Crossley refers to as cafeteria-tray separation. There’s too little development. And, as a result, the amount of revenue the site will generate for the city is much less than the site could bear.
The only realistic* way that this site is going to get any better is if the MBTA and the developer radically reduce or eliminate the commuter parking demand. The immediately prior version of the Riverside plan had 129K more sq. ft. of office space. At one parking space
per 250 sq. ft. of office space (as zoning requires) per 400 sq. ft. (as the developers have planned), the grand bargain reduces parking by about 500 325 spaces.
The city and region would be much better off with more office space than more commuter parking. The traffic generated by
500 325 spaces of office parking is roughly equivalent to the traffic generated by 500 325 spaces of long-term, commuter parking. Trade commuter parking for more office space and get:
- More tax revenue for the city. (Oddly, Chuck doesn’t spell this out. The revenue lost to the city between the prior proposal and this one is likely between $700,000 and 1,000,000 per annum.)
- More workers in the development, buying lunch and otherwise patronizing the retail in the development
- More office space directly accessible by T, which translates to more workers using the T to get to work (reverse commuting, using available capacity)
- A much smaller garage, which would open up opportunities for a more integrated development
The only advantage of the garage accrues to the T: the fees from the spaces. (I’ll address the green-ness of the commuter parking in another post.)
If the neighborhood has spoken about the intensity of use on the site (as measured by traffic generated), it’s time to think harder about the mix of uses. More office space, less commuter parking.
*It would be wonderful, and create a lot fewer constraints, if the MBTA were to dedicate as much of the site as possible to Smart Growth. Chuck has proposed that the MBTA stop using the site for storage (reasonable) and maintenance (almost certainly a non-starter).