A pattern of growing support for Mass. Ave.

Last week’s public hearing capped nearly four years in which public opinion slowly but steadily tilted in favor of the Mass. Ave. project.

Key events, hearings, and elections since 2009 tell a story of a community that has sorted through the facts and arguments and reached a conclusion.

  • An uncertain community, divided nearly evenly, confronted the project proposal in 2009.
  • At the June 2010 design meeting, residents voicing strong concerns about safety began to eclipse the increasingly bitter objections of outright opponents.
  • The score was 46-27 at the 2011 hearing, and last week speakers in support outnumbered opponents by nearly 4 to 1.
  • Support for anti-Mass. Ave candidates has steadily dropped in town elections.

The key ingredient to this growing consensus was the willingness of planners and local officials to engage with everyday citizens to explain, listen and, when possible, incorporate criticisms into the design.

To be sure, opposition remains, and many supporters will ruefully tell you of things they wish could be better. But the opposition is small and increasingly its own worst enemy, and the support is real even when qualified.

Then and Now
Perhaps 300 people attended a special hearing on the project sponsored by the Selectmen at the Hardy School in April of 2009. For many present, it was their first experience hearing directly from the project engineers.

Residents evaluated and helped to shape plans at many public events. Above, April 2012 open house.

Residents voiced several concerns. The engineers had released a preliminary draft in which the traffic signals at the Teel-Thorndike and Foster-Linwood intersections were removed to expedite traffic flow. Affected neighborhoods strongly opposed this change.

Furthermore, the draft had only one lane in both directions—save for the inbound stretch between Bates Rd. and Lake St., and numerous turning lanes. This in turn led to fears of lengthy delays and increased cut-through traffic on side streets.

What happened to all that skepticism? The Town changed the design and made a major effort to explain what was left. It sought, and won, state approval for the two endangered traffic signals. A 3-lane design, one lane outbound and two in, was introduced at the Hardy School meeting and approved by the Selectmen that August.

In other words, the system worked. People’s main concerns were met, leading to general acceptance of the project over time.

An early draft from February of 2008 had noly 2 lanes and no signal at Teel and Thorndike.

An early draft from February of 2009 was essentially dead on arrival but attracted a lot of attention. Detail above showing just 2 lanes (note left-turn lane) and no signal at Teel and Thorndike, both controversial features that were changed. Click for close up.

I think there is also an understanding that time is running out to do this project and that in a divided community the current design is the compromise we would probably get even were we to start over again.

Votes
Mass. Ave. was an issue in the most recent four town elections. Maria Romano, founder and chair of the anti-rebuild Concerned Citizens Committee, ran for selectman in 2010, 11, and 12, and is running again this year. She lost all of those elections and her share of the vote has dwindled each year both town-wide and in East Arlington.

Concerned Citizens Committee candidates for Town Meeting have won uncontested seats but lost contested Town Meeting elections in East Arlington precincts 3 and 4. Town Meeting votes on the project have been lopsidedly in favor.

Clear Pattern
It’s possible to explain away any of these examples as anomalous or unrepresentative, and one should not blow them out of proportion.

However, the overall pattern is one of slowly consolidating support for the project and a growing consensus that it should go forward.

New drawings were on display at the meeting

Drawings  on display at the June 2010 design meeting.

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