This past week I happened to be at a networking event talking with someone who has worked with the MBTA and knows Newton well. In fact, this person lived in Newton and spent part of his life commuting to Boston through one of the three commuter rail stops we have.
He posed a very interesting question and one that we need to consider: why should the MBTA keep those stations open if we, the City of Newton, don’t supply enough ridership to justify the stations?
When I flip through the comments on the Washington Street vision plan I see a lot of concern about increased density in the village centers with the fear that this will change our city. I also speak with people in Newton who say that the MBTA needs to make the commuter rail better BEFORE we increase our density.
So let’s just ask ourselves what if we stand still? What if Auburndale, West Newton, and Newtonville remain at this population density for the next two decades? And what if a city like Natick builds and increases its density? Where should the MBTA put its resources? Why should a train stop in Newtonville when it can speed more people from Natick into South Station? Why should the MBTA include Newton in a regional rail plan at all? The commuter rail doesn’t have an express track through Newton, so the only way to create express trains from farther out of Boston is to skip (or close) stations.
In that scenario, what happens to all the people who currently take the commuter rail to work? What does that do to our traffic? Worse, most of our villages exist BECAUSE of the train stops. If those trains disappear, what does that do to the very existence of our villages?
I read comments on the Washington Street redesign saying that they don’t want to change the village centers, that what we have is great and we shouldn’t change. But if we don’t change ourselves, the MBTA may do it for us.