Gridlock: A Case for Alternative Transportation Improvements in the Seaport District Update


By Matthew M. Robare


Layersjpg

Above: A rendering of the $900 million, 1.3-million-square-foot Echelon Seaport mixed-use development, unveiling early 2020 in the Seaport District.


Boston’s Seaport Innovation District continues to be one of the hottest, most rapidly-developing neighborhoods in Boston, a successful, multi-phased initiative that has stretched the neighborhood’s transportation infrastructure to the limit years from full completion. The many cars heading to the Seaport consistently clog the neighborhood’s roads, and traffic frequently slows buses and private shuttles.


Improving transportation in the Seaport is clearly a must for the City of Boston at large, including developers, businesses, residents and tourists. With millions of square feet of new development coming to the Seaport over the coming years, it is essential that we construct higher capacity, more frequent public transit to accommodate the influx of thousands of new residents, workers and pedestrians. Moreover, the workers of today and the near future are very interested in having public transportation options. An Urban Land Institute poll of young professionals in Boston in 2015 found that having a work place close to public transit was very important to 78 percent, and 80 percent said that living near public transit was very important.  


Above: An aerial rendering of the multi-phased 7.7-million-square-foot Seaport Square development, located at the heart of the Seaport District, upon completion.


Currently, the Seaport is served by two Silver Line bus rapid transit branches: SL1, which goes to Logan Airport, and SL2, which goes to the Boston Design Center and The Innovation and Design Building, home to influential companies such as Autodesk, MassChallenge and Reebok. Bus Routes Four, Seven and 11 also serve the neighborhood; Route Four connects the Seaport to North Station, and Routes Seven and 11 connect the neighborhood to South Boston’s residential sections.


1jpg

Above: A rendering of the new Reebok headquarters in the Seaport District, which will open this Fall and house 700 employees.


One idea for new high-capacity transportation infrastructure in the Seaport that recently got some press is reactivating Track 61, a former freight line that runs from Cabot Yard along the South Boston Bypass Road and MassPort Haul Road, terminating at Boston Design Center. Part of the line is being reactivated to test the new Red Line cars being built in Springfield, which has prompted speculation. A few years ago, when Deval Patrick was governor, his administration looked into using Track 61 to run diesel multiple units from Back Bay Station to the Seaport and back, but that plan never went anywhere, and the line sits dormant to this day.


Ultimately, the biggest problem with Track 61 is that it lacks a direct connection to other lines. Connecting Track 61 to South Station or the Framingham-Worcester Line, which runs parallel to the Massachusetts Turnpike and is served by Back Bay Station, would require the track to meander through busy Cabot Yard. Furthermore, Track 61 lacks a second track, making scheduling problematic. Track 61’s route takes it near to Broadway Station and the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, but doesn’t get closer to the developments on Summer Street or around District Hall than South Station is. Another issue is that Track 61 has three at-grade crossings, which could be problematic given the Seaport’s high traffic volume.


Above: A map of formerly proposed diesel multiple unit service between Back Bay Station and the Seaport via Track 61.


While Track 61 is somewhat impractical and would likely cost millions to bring to fruition, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other steps that can be taken to reduce the Seaport’s auto dependency and introduce new public transit options. As MassPort nears completion of the South Boston Waterfront Transportation Center, a new 1,550-space parking garage near the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, and the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) constructs a 550-space expansion of an existing garage at the Raymond Flynn Marine Industrial Garage, it is essential that we expand the Seaport’s public transit infrastructure to provide a space-efficient, environmentally-friendly alternative to driving. Otherwise, the extra spaces will likely just bring more people to the area by car, worsening traffic.


SBWTCJPG

Above: A rendering of the upcoming South Boston Waterfront Transportation Center, a 1,550-space parking garage located next to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.


Transportation improvements in the Seaport should start with the Silver Line, which runs through a tunnel from South Station to World Trade Center then operates in mixed traffic to Logan Airport and The Innovation and Design Building. Where Silver Line Way meets D Street, emerging out of the tunnel, there is a long traffic light that results in regular delays for the Silver Line. According to Ari Ofsevit, giving the Silver Line buses signal priority at this light would allow the MBTA to add three additional round trips at rush hour without increasing costs, a major capacity improvement.


2560px-Silver_Line_Way_station2C_March_2016JPG

Above: Silver Line buses at Silver Line Way station in the Seaport District. (Photo courtesy Pi.1415926535/Wikipedia via Creative Commons)


Additional capacity gains would come, as former state transportation secretary Jim Aloisi has noted, from dedicated, enforced bus lanes on Northern Avenue for the SL2 and Airport Road for the SL1; both roads are sufficiently wide to support a bus lane. Similarly, Summer Street could support bus lanes and signal priority for the Four and Seven routes.


Another measure recommended by Aloisi, among others, is repairing and reopening the Northern Avenue bridge, which has been closed since December 2014, as one for pedestrians and cyclists. Adding more bicycle infrastructure to the Seaport will allow more people to bike to the area, taking additional strain off of the neighborhood’s roads and public transit. Accordingly, protected bike lanes should be added to the neighborhood’s major roads, including Summer Street, Northern Avenue, Seaport Boulevard, World Trade Center Avenue, A Street and D Street, in order to encourage biking. Currently, the City plans to add protected bike lanes in Fort Point according to the Crossroads plan, but other projects are anticipated over the next 15 years in the Go Boston 2030 plan, and will compete with the rest of the City for funding.


1200px-USA-Old_Northern_Avenue_Bridgejpg

The Northern Avenue Bridge, now closed. (Photo courtesy Ingfbruno/Wikipedia via Creative Commons)


According to The Boston Globe, developers building in East Boston, along with some elected officials, want to see ferry service between the Seaport and East Boston, while the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority has studied service between the Seaport and Lovejoy Wharf. Wynn Boston Harbor, the casino resort being built in Everett, has also jumped on the ferry train, and intends to run service from the World Trade Center in the Seaport to their cove on the Mystic River.


Moakley_Courthouse_and_Boston_Harborwalk_02JPG

The Seaport Harborwalk next to the Moakley Courthouse. (Photo courtesy NewtonCourt/Wikipedia via Creative Commons)


Expanding ferry service, however, is probably not a great option for the MBTA. Ferries combine high operating costs, low capacity and infrequency with a high ticket cost. For many years, the MBTA Advisory Board has urged that the Authority’s existing ferry operations be transferred to MassPort, citing the aforementioned cons. While buses and bikes aren’t as sexy as trains and ferries, they get the job done simply and relatively affordably, helping reduce auto dependency and improving cities’ space and energy efficiency.

Related News

Bullfinch crossing
Bulfinch Crossing in Boston
Jan 23, 2019 - State Street Corporation announced today tha...
Mgh expansion project 275 cambridge street beacon hill boston ma
MGH Expansion Project in Boston
Jan 23, 2019 - Massachusetts General Hospital has announced...
100 hood park drive proposed parking garage concert venue charlestown ma
100 Hood Park Drive in Boston
Jan 23, 2019 - Site Work Underway for 100 Hood Park Drive
270 dorchester avenue the chandlery south boston southie broadway village residential retail mbta red line proposed development
The Chandlery in Boston
Jan 23, 2019 - Navem Partners have acquired the property at...
Harvard university artlab proposed western avenue north beacon street allston boston ma education real estate development
Harvard ArtLab in Boston
Jan 22, 2019 - Construction Nearly Complete for Harvard's A...
One beachmont 205 revere beach parkway apartments gate residential development callahan construction managers
One Beachmont in Revere
Jan 22, 2019 - One Beachmont Welcomes First Residents
Maynard crossing
Maynard Crossing in Maynard
Jan 22, 2019 - Capital Group Properties and SRS Real Estate...
455 harvard street coolidge corner brookline apartments retail proposed building development the danesh group
455 Harvard Street in Brookline
Jan 22, 2019 - Core Climbing for 455 Harvard Street in Broo...
202 southampton street dorchester boston foreign motors automotive dealership
202 Southampton Street in Boston
Jan 20, 2019 - Boston Foreign Motors has acquired the prope...
Blvd at revere beach 322 revere beach blvd revere ma
BLVD at Revere Beach in Revere
Jan 18, 2019 - Capital One has provided $35.3 million in co...
21 35 west 2nd street south boston boston ma
21-35 West 2nd Street in Boston
Jan 18, 2019 - BPDA Approves 55 Unit Project in South Bosto...
60 kilmarnock street fenway boston ma
60 Kilmarnock Street in Boston
Jan 18, 2019 - 435 Unit Kilmarnock Street Development Appro...
775 morton street
775 Morton Street in Boston
Jan 18, 2019 - BPDA Approves 27 Unit Project in Mattapan
Amrheins 80 w broadway south boston boston ma
80 West Broadway in Boston
Jan 18, 2019 - The property at 80 W Broadway in South Bosto...
Block 5b assembly row office space retail somerville mbta orange line federal realty jacobs
455 Grand Union Blvd​ in Somerville
Jan 18, 2019 - PUMA Leases 150K SF in Upcoming Phase 3 of A...
Screen shot 2018 09 20 at 10.22.13 am
31 North Beacon Street in Boston
Jan 18, 2019 - Exterior Work Ongoing for 31 North Beacon in...
Harvard university science and engineering complex western avenue allston behnisch architekten
Harvard University Science and Engine... in Boston
Jan 18, 2019 - Interior and Exterior Work Ongoing for Harva...
50 symphony road fenway condominiums gfc development urbanica residential new construction
The Henry in Boston
Jan 18, 2019 - Core in Place for The Henry in the Fenway
191 sumner st %28grace apartments%29 graceapt v maverick lo res 2
187 Sumner St (Grace Apartments) in Boston
Jan 18, 2019 - The Grace Apartments at 187 Sumner Street in...
Chestnut park apartments 10 chestnut street springfield ma
Chestnut Park Apartments in Springfield
Jan 17, 2019 - MassHousing has provided $50 million in fina...