“This is a city where people drive. It’s going to stay that way.” Heard from a #NewtonMA City Councilor at Zoning meeting tonight.
That’s not good enough for me. We can do much more to provide diverse transportation options for those who want them. #MApoli
— Bryan Barash (@bryanbarash) February 12, 2019
I spent Monday night in my kitchen watching the Washington Street presentation over Councilor Emily Norton’s shoulder.
Thanks to the Facebook feed of the live discussion, I had a chance to sit in even as I took care of dinner, and monitored homework while my wife headed off to her own meetings. I’m sure I’m not the only one who couldn’t make it thanks to family duties, but by the sounds of the clapping and cheering I heard during certain city council comments and questions, I could tell that the gallery was likely full. My guess (and if I’m wrong, someone please correct me) is that the audience skewed older and mostly white, as is borne out by broader statistical analysis of Boston-area public meetings.
I’m not going to comment on the proposal itself here, but the part that frightened me most was the same one that Bryan Barash noted on Twitter: “This is a city where people drive. It’s going to stay that way.”
That came from Councilor Lisle Baker and was met with cheers from the gallery. Yes, people were cheering that they can drive their cars.
We don’t have Millennials in Newton, but Somerville does. That’s the group currently working their way up the economic ladder. Somerville is seeing a drop in cars per worker in households. It’s also looking forward to the day when the Green Line comes through and 85% of the population is within .5 miles of the T, today that number is 65%.
I was at a panel discussion on Wednesday night in Somerville in which business people, property owners, and planners talked about the future of Union Square. When asked the number one issue it was clear: non-car transportation. The person representing Greentown Labs said that hey simply can’t have more parking, even as they continue to grow. Both economic development and commercial tax revenue depends on finding a solution to that problem. Expecting that everyone will drive is not a tenable solution. Another panelist, who leads a major employer in the area, noted simply that she doesn’t own a car, which received as much cheering there as Baker’s comments did in the Newton gallery.
The future of Newton is the people who don’t necessarily WANT to own a car. If we do not build for them then our city has no future. FULL STOP.
The through-the-windshield view on life isn’t limited to Newton, of course. On a recent War on Cars podcast, the hosts pointed out how one Mercedes Super Bowl ad laid out the driver fantasy that everything just happens at their whim. Want the light to go your way? Just say it. How many of us have been in traffic and just wished that everyone would go away, leaving us a clear, clean ride to our destination. This is what Councilor Baker described on Monday as he protested against a road diet. He wants the road from his house in Chestnut Hill to the stores in West Newton to be wide open for his personal convenience.
This isn’t reality, and creating roads that speed us through with as many lanes as possible doesn’t make for a pleasant way of life. Councilor Baker suggested that the solution for Washington Street may be to make it more like Route 9, pointing to the success of Chestnut Hill Square. I’m sure that many people find that area to be a compelling shopping experience, but it’s very different than, say, West Newton or Newtonville. From my perspective, the saddest thing about the Chestnut Hill shopping areas, in general, is that they turn their back on the T. Instead of creating walkable villages built around a nearby MBTA station (as is the case a single stop away in Newton Centre) they are car-based shopping concepts that create horrible walking experiences to and from the MBTA stop. This is especially upsetting when you realize how close “The Street” is to Boston College and the student population there. Instead of creating the vibrancy of Davis Square, we built a suburban shopping experience straight out of Paramus, New Jersey.
What happens when cars become more important than people? On Tuesday a student crossing at the corner of Albermarle and Crafts was hit by a slow-moving car, then the car left. A woman (who posted the story on Facebook) stopped to check on the kid who said he was OK, if a bit shaken. Later in the same comment thread the kids’ mom noted that this is the third time one of her children has been struck by a car while walking. This is not something we should accept. We owe our children more than that.
With Hello Washington Street we have a chance to build for the future. And while it’s true that we cannot rely on the MBTA to fix our public transportation woes, we will need Newton and the real estate developers to make transportation happen.
We need to plan on it.