Infill Stations: Attainable Catalysts for Transformative Transit-Oriented Development
By Matthew M. Robare
The new Boston Landing station, which opened in late May.
It’s natural that extensions of rapid transit or commuter rail lines would draw the most attention. However, in many cases, the most attainable way to expand transit service, and spur real estate investment, is simply to add a station to an existing line. Many active passenger lines pass through areas without rapid transit service, but do not stop. Extensions of existing service are generally very expensive to construct, and as a result are few and far between. Infill stations along existing lines, such as the recently opened Boston Landing commuter rail station in Brighton, will likely be a key component of future service expansion. Such stations fully leverage our existing capable infrastructure, thereby catalyzing real estate investment, providing an environmentally-friendly alternative to driving and improving transit access equity at a lower price than outright service expansion.
Several infill stations have been built in the greater Boston area in recent years, enabling the creation of new mixed-use neighborhoods. In Somerville, the Assembly Square station on the Orange Line, which opened in 2014, was Boston’s first new rapid transit station since Alewife on the Red Line opened in 1985. The Assembly station is a key component of Assembly Row, a 45-acre, multi-phased, mixed-use development containing office, retail and residential space.
A rendering of Block 8, a new residential building with ground-floor retail that will be built at Assembly Row steps from the Orange Line station.
In the Fenway neighborhood, Yawkey Station on the MBTA’s Framingham/Worcester commuter rail line was originally built in 1988. An upgraded Yawkey Station opened in 2014 as part of Fenway Center, an upcoming 1.1-million-square-foot air-rights development that will extend across the Massachusetts Turnpike, connecting Brookline Avenue and Beacon Street with five new buildings, including a 27-story tower, in addition to public space.
A rendering of the upcoming Fenway Center development.
The new Fairmount Line stops at Newmarket, Four Corners/Geneva and Talbot Avenue in Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury opened in 2012, bringing new transit service to neighborhoods that active passenger trains passed through for years. Construction on another Fairmount Line station near Mattapan Square, Blue Hill Avenue, broke ground this month on Monday, June 5th.
The new Fairmount Line stations have spurred a number of new development projects, activating long-vacant sites with new housing and commercial space in addition to expanded public open space. As part of the Fairmount Line expansion, fares on existing Fairmount Line stops, including Uphams Corner and Morton Street, were reduced to rapid transit prices, providing Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury with affordable rail service for the first time since the end of streetcar service there in the 1950s.
Indigo Block, an approved $37 million, 125,400-square-foot mixed-use development featuring apartments, retail and light industrial space located steps from Uphams Corner Station on the Fairmount Line.
Two stations on opposite sides of the MBTA rapid transit system have been floated for rapid transit service. On the Orange Line, a station in Malden tentatively called River’s Edge has been proposed by the Everett Transit Action Plan. River’s Edge Station would be located between the Wellington and Malden Stations on River’s Edge Drive, near the River’s Edge park and 30-acre residential, office and retail development. The proposed station would serve residents of Everett, who lost their Orange Line service when the Charlestown Elevated, which terminated in Everett near the future Wynn Casino site, was torn down in 1975.
An Orange Line station at the elevated Everett station during the final years of service.
Like Boston Landing, River’s Edge Station would be built with a public-private partnership, the private partner in this case being Wynn Resorts, developer of the upcoming Wynn Boston Harbor casino in Everett. A pedestrian and bicycle bridge would also be built spanning the Malden River, connecting the station, which would be located in Malden just across the border with Medford, to Everett.
A River’s Edge station could conceivably spur more residential development in East Medford and across the river in Everett, but there are already two stations, Malden Center and Wellington, close by, and trains would have to travel at slower speeds between the two stations in order to stop at River’s Edge. Neither Malden Center nor Wellington are far enough away from the putative site to significantly change the dynamics of the area should a new Orange Line station be introduced. Improved bike and pedestrian connections between the River’s Edge area and Wellington, the southernmost of the two stations, would be cheaper and would accomplish many of the same goals.
A map from the Everett Transit Action Plan showing the location of a proposed River’s Edge Station in Malden.
The stretch of the Braintree branch of the Red Line between JFK/UMass and North Quincy is the longest in the MBTA system without a station. While the Ashmont branch, with stops at Savin Hill and Fields Corner, parallels the Braintree branch part of the way, a large section of southeast Boston, namely the Neponset/Port Norfolk neighborhood of Dorchester, remains with an active train line yet no service. Furthermore, the neighborhood is bisected by William T. Morrissey Boulevard and Interstate 93, the latter of which separates Pope’s Hill from Boston Harbor.
A possible location for a Neponset Red Line station.
A Neponset Station located near Neponset Circle could help knit the neighborhood back together, reduce traffic on Interstate 93 & William T. Morrissey Boulevard and spur development on the neighborhood’s parking lots and brownfield sites. The Neponset River waterfront would be particularly attractive to luxury developers, with several acres of undeveloped property and green amenities including the Neponset Trail and Pope John Paul II Park.
Unlike other parts of Dorchester, such as nearby Fields Corner or Adams Village, the houses of Neponset aren’t all set very close to one another, meaning redevelopment could be simpler because variances for setbacks or open space would not be violated. Unlike River’s Edge, however, a Neponset Station hasn’t been formally proposed. A recent petition to build a Neponset Station attracted nearly 200 supporters.
There are currently two early-stage development projects that would be well served by a Neponset Station. The first, City Point Capital’s 330,000-square-foot Neponset Wharf, would construct 150 residences, a 25-room hotel and ground-floor retail on nearly eight waterfront acres. The second, 780 Morrissey Boulevard, is in its’ early stages, with the owner actively seeking a partner to develop the site.
An aerial view of Neponset Wharf, where developer City Point Capital has proposed a 330,000-square-foot development.
Another infill station in the works is West Station, which would be built as part of the Massachusetts Turnpike realignment project in Allston. The surrounding property, known as Allston Landing and comprising a CSX rail yard and 91 acres of former railroad maintenance land, is owned by Harvard University.
A preliminary development master plan for Allston Landing.
While the site holds immense potential, it is important to note that the site is owned by Harvard, who has been expanding into Allston for decades. The site is located directly to the south of Harvard Business School, and a number of Harvard’s arts, technology and innovation programs are based in the neighborhood, in addition to the recently completed Harvard Life Lab and upcoming Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences on Western Avenue.
An aerial view of Allston Landing.
Harvard’s past development concepts for Allston Landing have included moving Harvard Medical School from Longwood to Allston Landing, as well as developing Allston Landing to compete with Kendall Square for startup office space. The existing presence of Harvard Business School and the Harvard Innovation Lab in Allston, as well as Harvard’s upcoming engineering campus along Western Avenue, would make Allston Landing an ideal, collaborative location for startup space.
One potential disadvantage for West Station is that preliminary plans have called for it to be in the middle of the site, approximately across the tracks from the Boston University Athletic Center. Such a location would be distant from the population center of Allston and would be difficult to get buses, pedestrians and bicyclists to. However, this location would have the advantage of the Grand Junction Railroad. This line, still used occasionally for freight and moving commuter rail rolling stock from between the different sides of the network, goes from Allston to Chelsea through Cambridgeport, Kendall Square and East Cambridge and Sullivan Square.
A map of the Grand Junction railroad line.
The section of the Grand Junction line through Chelsea is currently being converted to bus rapid transit (BRT) as part of the Silver Line Extension, and the section through East Boston has been converted to the East Boston Greenway bike and pedestrian path. Along the remainder of the line, Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs), self-propelled diesel-powered passenger railcars, could be used to bring frequent passenger service from Allston to North Station via Kendall Square. Such a passenger service would likely spur office and lab development from Kendall Square down Vassar, Albany and Waverly Streets in Cambridgeport, as well as in East Cambridge and Sullivan Square. The direct connection to Kendall Square would make Allston increasingly attractive for life science companies.
An out-of-service commuter rail train passes through Kendall Square along the Grand Junction Railroad (Photo Courtesy Neal Doyle).
Alewife is the last sure-fire candidate for an infill station. A station on the Fitchburg commuter rail line, which passes by Alewife, would help the Red Line run more smoothly and help alleviate some of the traffic snarls on Route 2. Alewife is developing with both apartments and offices for start-ups, and the increased car traffic is resulting in severe traffic jams on major area roads. An Alewife commuter rail station would also ease commuting for workers who already commute to Cambridge using the commuter rail from west of the city or North Station in Boston. Instead of having to get off at Porter Square and transfer to the Red Line, Fitchburg Line riders could just get off at Alewife.
Hanover Alewife, a 213-apartment building nearing completion in Alewife, is typical of the new developments there.
Other possibilities for infill stations include Canterbury Street on the border of Roslindale and Hyde Park, located between Forest Hills and Hyde Park stations. The Franklin and Providence/Stoughton commuter rail lines pass under Canterbury Street, and there’s quite a distance between Forest Hills and Hyde Park, leaving a dearth of transit service for northern Hyde Park or eastern Roslindale. Improved transit service could spur residential development in the area. Lastly, there’s a massive suburban office and retail complex fronting the Bass River and Shoe Pond called the Cummings Center in Beverly that is located on the Newburyport/Rockport Line commuter rail tracks, but a distance from the nearest commuter rail station on foot. Perhaps there’s an opportunity for an infill station there.
An aerial view of Cummings Center in Beverly.