If the forecasters are even half right, tomorrow looks like a doozy around here, so we’re making the call now for all WalkUP Roslindale Snow Clearance Collaborative forces to be out, in force, shoveling bus stops and crosswalk curb ramps to help everyone get around more easily after the storm. As a refresher, we now have a fully distributed model where everyone in Roslindale is their own block captain with full power and authority vested in them by WalkUP Roslindale to clear their local crosswalk curb ramp and dig out their nearby bus stop, snapping pictures before and after and sending them to yours truly at firstname.lastname@example.org, to claim $10 in Rozzie Bucks from our good friends at Roslindale Village Main Street. Stay safe, stay warm, and we’ll see you out shoveling after the storm. (Yes, that is our old friend the Boston Yeti, looking to make a comeback again this year!)
Today we sent a letter to the Massachusetts State Legislature Joint Committee on Transportation supporting an act that would change the name of American Legion Highway to American Legion Parkway which we believe would send a better message about traffic safety, particularly when coupled with physical design changes and speed-limit enforcement. Our full letter is available as a PDF and reproduced below.
Well, after another remarkably warm December, we’ve now had our first significant snowfall of the season. We are accordingly activating our snow collaborative forces and asking that everyone who can, please pick up a shovel and safely and calmly dig out a bus stop, a curb ramp, or a critical pedestrian path wherever in Roslindale they may be, then send us a picture of the dug out locations at email@example.com, and we’ll be happy to give you kudos and work with our friends at Roslindale Village Main Street to get you $10 in Rozzie Bucks. Thanks!
And so, with 2021 now in the books, we here at WalkUP Roslindale wanted to take a moment and take stock of the year that was even as we look forward to the new year ahead. Accordingly, in what seems to us to be order of importance, here are the top 5 highlights on what we did, said, and were following in 2021:
- We’re now “Official” – In September, we formally incorporated as a Massachusetts non-profit, gathered a formal board of directors, and elected officers, and then held our first formal board meeting. This move was overdue, but took on new urgency following our own diversity, equity, and inclusion self-evaluation over the last 18 months. We saw this step as a fundamental building block for having a more transparent, accessible organization going forward, and it concurrently allowed us to bring on a board that is more racially and ethnically diverse than our informal steering group had been.
- We congratulated Mayor Michelle Wu on her victory – In November, we marked the general election victory of Michelle Wu, Roslindale resident and best friend of transit, walking, and biking anyone alive has seen in the mayor’s office in this city, by, what else, advocating for a series of actions that we would love to see her administration take early on. Topping our list was further expansion of bus lanes and transit priority on key bus transit routes across the city, but we also urged more pedestrian priority for traffic signals, converting the neighborhood slow streets program into a citywide, rapid-implementation street safety program, implementing more fare-free buses and finally fixing commuter rail fare inequity, improving motor vehicle parking practices and management, furthering the construction of new affordable housing, and expanding cycling infrastructure. We hope to have the chance to work with Mayor Wu and incoming Chief of Streets Jascha Franklin-Hodge on all of these issues in the year ahead.
- We released the Cummins Missing Middle Street Safety Audit report – We conducted the audit virtually in December of 2020 and January of 2021, but it took some time to pull together the audit reports from all participants and get the report into suitable shape. The principal focus of the report is on the “Octopus” intersection at Cummins/American Legion/Canterbury and its appallingly unsafe walking conditions, despite its location near some key neighborhood destinations. We intend to bring this report and the issues it raises more clearly to the attention of the new administration this year.
- We were actively engaged on the 4198 Washington Street Project – We’ve linked to only the last story right here, but we checked in multiple times over the course of the year, as we wrote in favor of the proposal, cheered District 5 City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo’s strong support and ensuing approval by the Boston Planning & Development Agency and then were deeply disappointed by the Board of Appeal’s failure to muster a sufficient majority to approve the project’s necessary zoning relief.
- Finally, we welcomed more bus improvements to the neighborhood – These included most importantly the institution of an afternoon bus/bike lane on Washington Street southbound between Forest Hills and Bexley Road (matching the morning northbound lane in this same stretch that was the first of its kind in the city) and significant bus stop improvements in Roslindale Square. We hope there will be more to come on these kinds of improvements in the new year.
– Composed by M. Lawlor
We remain incredibly disappointed in the ZBA’s decision denying zoning relief to the 4198 Washington Street project as this proposal, more than many, presented a stark choice between affordable housing and community amenities on the one hand, and passive private car storage on the other. We hope Mayor Wu will scrutinize this issue closely and exercise her right to appoint members who will not prioritize parking above other urgent needs or anoint themselves de facto transportation policy czars. In any event, we were pleased that the Roslindale Bulletin chose to print a letter this week from WalkUP Board Member and Housing & Development Chair Rob Orthman. The full text of Rob’s letter is reproduced below:
NEW MEMBERS OF THE ZBA WITH EXPERIENCE IS CRUCIAL
To the Editor:
Regarding the article in last week’s issue, ‘4198 Washington project fails for lack of parking’, we as a city are desperately in need of a new Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and overall zoning reform. The recent decision by the ZBA to deny a worthwhile project at 4198 Washington Street in Roslindale Square is just the latest example of why. This is a development with levels of income-restricted housing far exceeding the city minimum requirements. It includes new, enhanced spaces for a community theater and local yogurt shop; both businesses owned by Asian-Americans. The location is transit-rich, right on the rapid bus lane to and from Forest Hills and close to the commuter rail station. And yet, members of the ZBA pedantically only focused on a lack of on-site parking in evaluating the project merits. The board members put aside support from City Councilor Arroyo, the Mayor’s Office, and many residents, and instead gave voice to bad faith efforts put forward by some residents opposed to the project to pit business owners of color against one another in an effort to defeat the project. The ZBA and opponents seem to think parking is more important than anything else including desperately needed homes for people and better spaces for our small businesses. It belies basic logic to think customer parking would be negatively affected by this new building when customer spaces are signed for 2-hours; why would any resident leave their vehicle in a spot to get ticketed every day? Having new customers living a stone’s throw from our local businesses would only benefit our business district as is. To hear the board architect proclaim that the community theater could simply be moved to a different, smaller space in the building to accommodate underground parking was particularly shocking, as if she is in any position to tell a business owner what is best for their business or what kind of space they need.
Mayor Wu takes office with the vast majority of ZBA members as holdover appointments on expired terms from prior administrations. It is imperative to have new members of the ZBA appointed that understand we live in a growing city and need to get serious about building new housing, particularly income-restricted housing, and supporting our local businesses, especially owned by individuals of color, that want to stay and grow here. More broadly, we need zoning reform that stops requiring every single development proposal to go through endless community meetings and bureaucratic approvals that only benefit the opponents of progress like happened here. We need to move past this parking-above-else mentality that is stifling progress and keeping us stuck in a place that does not benefit anyone except those who simply oppose change, no matter how they disguise it.
Today, in advance of this Sunday’s World Day of Remembrance, we joined our many partner organizations in the Vision Zero Coalition to demand that the Massachusetts legislature pass several bills that will prevent unnecessary deaths and injuries due to unsafe streets. On Sunday morning, members of the Coalition will lay down over 4,000 yellow blossoms on the steps of the State House — one blossom to represent each life impacted by a fatal or serious traffic crash in 2020 and 2021. The memorial will be there throughout the day for people to lay down their own flowers. You can help support our efforts with any of these actions:
- Stop by the Vision Zero memorial display at the State House on Sunday, November 21st.
- Look up at any of the following structures on Sunday night that will be lit up in yellow: Zakim Bridge, Longfellow Bridge, Burns Memorial Bridge, Fore River Bridge, Boston City Hall, and Government Center MBTA Station.
- If you live in Springfield (or know people who do), advocates are organizing a vigil to honor members of the community who have been lost to traffic violence this year. You can also hold your own vigil in your town or city to honor those who have been lost to traffic violence in your community.
- Call on the MA Legislature to take action on important road safety legislation by using this letter template. You can find your legislators and their contact info here.
Our letter to the legislature is reproduced in full below.
We are extremely disappointed to report that the Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) today rejected the zoning relief application for the 4198 Washington Street development proposal. This project has transformative potential for our community, checking all the boxes for what 21st-century neighborhoods urgently need. 40% of the units would have been reserved for lower income residents, significantly exceeding the usual affordability parameters. The project would have included a brand-new, larger space for the Rozzie Square Theater (Boston’s only improv establishment owned and operated by a woman of color), as well as enhanced commercial ground-floor spaces for Delicious Yogurt and other commercial tenants. As a result of the ZBA denial, these positive community impacts are now much further away, if they ever materialize at all.
Perhaps most important to WalkUP Roslindale’s core mission, this proposal would have leveraged its highly transit-oriented location along the Washington Street dedicated bus/bike lane in the heart of our neighborhood’s walkable commercial center, which we believe readily justified the lack of on-site parking. Moreover, the developer had pledged to subsidize CharlieCards for residents and secured leases for off-street parking for up to 20 cars within a half mile of the site. Despite the support of several elected officials who spoke in favor of this project, including our district councilor Ricardo Arroyo, three members of this 7-person board, including two administrative hold-overs (notably including the Roslindale-resident chair of the Board), voted against the project specifically due to its substitution of more affordable units and improved ground floor space in lieu of on-site parking. It is deeply regrettable that under the current zoning regime, a 4-3 vote in favor of a project means the zoning relief is rejected.
In our view, the current decision-making process in this city for most projects is untenable. Rejection of such urgently needed mixed-use development elevates the needs of cars above the needs of Boston’s residents — a 20th century view of development that is out of step with the needs of today. By forcing the developer to go back to the drawing board despite strong support both from the community and many elected leaders, we are sending the message that cars, and their associated human health, environmental, and social problems, still dominate over many more critical human priorities. Finally, forcing the developer to dedicate more space to car storage necessarily means:
- Less space for affordable housing
- Less space for community amenities like the Rozzie Square Theater
- More motor vehicle use in our neighborhood, with commensurate increases in traffic and pollution. Once parking spots are built, they tend to be filled, and there is no way to “unbuild” that space, even as we look to a future that must be much less car-centric.
Unfortunately, under current law, the developer cannot come back to the ZBA for an entire year. These sorts of rejections and long delays severely disincentivize developers from developing affordable, mixed-use, transit-friendly projects like this project in our neighborhood and, indeed, everywhere in Boston.
In the meantime, we have our work cut out for us. Our zoning system is fundamentally at odds with the needs of our city and neighborhood, effectively forcing everything through a zoning relief process that is tilted toward preserving the status quo at a moment in time when the status quo desperately needs to be changed, especially as it relates to our relationship with individual motor vehicle use and ownership. Supporters who believe that we need to move in a new direction and stop prioritizing cars over people should write to their district and at-large city councillors (addresses below) as well as Mayor Wu, who took office just today, and advocate for (i) the kind of forward-thinking development policies and regulation that she supported in the campaign and that would, in turn, support projects like 4198 Washington Street and (ii) new appointments to the ZBA who will put community and affordability ahead of car storage.
Mayor Wu contacts:
- Mr. David Vittorini, Senior Advisor to the Mayor (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Ms. Uju Onochie, Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services (email@example.com)
City Council contacts:
- District 4 City Councilor-Elect Brian Worrell (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- District 5 City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo (email@example.com)
- District 6 City Councilor-Elect Kendra Hicks (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- At-Large City Councilor Julia Mejia (email@example.com)
- At-Large City Councilor Michael F. Flaherty (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- At-Large City Councilor-Elect Ruthzee Louijeune (email@example.com)
- At-Large City Councilor-Elect Erin Murphy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Back in October, we submitted a short comment letter expressing conditional support for the expansion and reconfiguration of the Scrub-a-Dub Car Wash at 565-569 American Legion Highway. As noted below, there are several design changes that would make this project more friendly to pedestrians — this is especially important given the proximilty of the K-8 Haley Pilot School.
Back in October, we submitted a comment letter supporting legislation that has been proposed up on Beacon Hill to allow for automated enforcement of bus lanes and speeding. The relevant bills are S1545, H2426, and H2494. We generally support these efforts and hope our state legislators will move forward with these and other measures to help reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries caused by dangerous driving behavior. If we get any updates on any of these bills, we will publicize them here.
Our full letter is reproduced below. Please contact your own legislators and ask them to lend support as well!