What a difference a year makes

A year ago tonight, hundreds of Arlington residents gathered for what seemed like the umpteenth hearing on the Mass. Ave. Project.


The view from the back of the hall at the February 26 hearing (2013).

A year later, the sturm und drang have receded. The Commonwealth is quietly checking the credentials of constructions firms who have bid to break ground on the project this spring.

The hearing, held by Mass Highway at the insistence of the Federal Highway Administration, seemed at the time to be merely another expression of how support for the project had slowly built since the uncertain days of 2009.

Residents at the hearing described several nonfatal automobile-pedestrian collisions in the pedestrian crossing at Orvis Road. This testimony gained extra poignancy on December 19 of last year, when a North Cambridge woman using a walker died after being struck by a car in the same crosswalk.

Although skeptics and critics remain, opposition to the project suffered its most public setback at the hearing, as fewer than 15 people testified against the plan.

A Missed Opportunity?
In retrospect, however, it is interesting to note what did not happen at the hearing. There was no mention of the changes that had been made to the design in early 2012 that removed many of the pedestrian-safety features from the area near Walgreen’s at the western end of the project.

Wyman Before: Safer crossing

After: No island, extra lane to cross

Although the Town held an open house to describe the new design in 2012, it never fully explained the purpose of those changes. (Here’s a partial, unofficial explanation.) A similar set of changes in the Milton St. area was reversed later that year.

Furthermore, at one point Federal Highway had cited the need for a public hearing on those changes as the primary reason for the hearing, which the Town and Mass Highway originally resisted. The standoff, which Mass. Highway lost, delayed final approval of the project and pushed the start of construction back until 2014.

It is hard not to think of this hearing as a missed opportunity to set the record straight, Mass. Ave. fatigue notwithstanding.

Hearing Highlights
At the hearing, a new urgency about funding emerged, with Senator Ken Donnelly warning that any further delays would “very likely” lose the Town $6.8 million of state and federal funds. (His testimony begins on page 33 of the transcript of the hearing.)

The video (6 min.) and others in this report are excerpted with permission from ACMI’s recording of the meeting.

Also at the meeting, Kevin Greeley (4 min.) supported the project on behalf of the Board of Selectmen (Transcript p. 38).

Greeley would go on to win reelection to the Board later that spring by a wide margin, running on a strong pro–Mass. Ave. platform. (A nonbinding resolution critical of some aspects of the new design won a narrow victory in the same election, but the Selectmen subsequently moved forward and the project won final approval last fall.)

Mass. Ave. opponent Eric Berger, speaking as a Town Meeting representative from Precinct 6, began his remarks by announcing that he would not yield the microphone at the end of his 3 minutes, and spent a good bit of his time arguing about that rather than making his points.

After 4 minutes, however, Berger was was repeatedly interrupted by loud applause and yielded after 5-1/2 minutes to the next speaker. The applause begins at about minute 4.

This reaction was as polite as anything might have been under the circumstances—there was no jeering—but it was decidedly not supportive.

The ACMI recording does not capture the intensity of the applause but shows something that I did not see at the time from my seat in the audience on the other side of the hall.

At about 4:20, a woman seated next to the microphone took the mic in her hand and held it until Berger stepped away a minute later.

To me this incident is emblematic of the strange undercurrents of victimhood and entitlement that seem to gird the hard-core opposition to this project.

The rest of Berger’s remarks, involving vague conspiracy theories and a special entitlement to represent “the 98%,” are similarly instructive. There’s very little actual design critique.

Berger’s claims to represent the vast majority of of Arlington residents, similarly cast as victims, seem almost deliberately out of touch.

The use of applause expresses a community’s nuanced response to a kind of bullying. It respects Mr. Berger’s rights while holding him to the same rules that others follow. His testimony begins on page 51 of the transcript.

Video excerpts are courtesy of Arlington Community Media.


2 comments so far

  1. Tim on

    The woman who grabbed the microphone broke it. The rest of the night only two microphones worked and she caused long lines for everyone. Truly an emblematic act.

    • Adam Auster on

      Ha! See what you miss sitting just a few seats away.

      Thanks Tim.

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