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Mass. Ave. Corridor supporter questions opponents' key claims

Car goes through crosswalk at Sabatino's that features flags on both sides.A car whizzes through the crosswalk at Sabatino's that features red flags for pedestrians on both sides of Mass. Ave.

To cross Mass. Ave. at Sabatino's, you can make yourself more visible by carrying a flag the width of the expanse. That recent addition aims at safety.

"'That's not right,'" Chad Gibson quotes his wife, who crosses there pushing their 7-month-old in a stroller.

The Varnum Street couple understand the measure's intent, but the need for such flags illustrates issues that led to the $6 million Mass. Ave. Corridor project: The key artery is too wide to cross safely. The deaths of two pedestrians in 1996 spurred a long-running process that has led to a variety of proposed changes in East Arlington.

As the state schedules its second hearing on the project, due at Town Hall for Feb. 26, YourArlington sat down with Gibson, a supporter, who expressed views that are his own as well as those of the East Arlington Livable Streets Coalition (EALS).  The engineer at Draper Labs made these main points:

    * The question that the East Arlington Concerned Citizens Committee (EACCC) has pushed so it was added to the April 6 town election ballot, is an oversimplification of issues and a step that undermines professional processes;

    * The allegation of "collusion" is unfounded; and

    * The opponents' claims of lack of public input involve what he calls "revisionist history."

Word on the Street, Feb. 3: Yet another public hearing challenges stamina

EALS urges strong turnout at Feb. 26 hearing

'Lack of public process' challenged

Addressing that last point in detail, Gibson took out a sheaf of documents. He said they undercut a claim by Corridor opponents that there was a lack of public process.

A lengthy chronology from the town's Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) shows that public participation in road-safety suggestions dates officially to 2001.

The opponents say no public hearings on the Corridor project were held between 2002 and 2008, and that is accurate. The implication is that there was little public involvement, and that is not accurate, Gibson says.

Public documents he cites point to significant participation.

See the list provided below under the headline "Corridor debate nearing year 12."

The objectives listed back in December 2002 remain familiar. The participation of the Transportation Advisory Committee through the earlier period appeals consistent.

"People have been thinking about this for a long time," he said.

Question of 'collusion' and 'subverting process'

Whether so many at Town Hall dealing with state and federal agencies as well as many Arlington volunteers could "collude" appears to Gibson to be a stretch. That is the claim made by EACCC as it has called for an investigation.

As Gibson agrees, the long-running process has required a good deal of cooperation among parties. "Collusion" would involve a conspiracy that is difficult to fathom.

As for using a nonbinding ballot, Gibson said opponents are "subverting the public process. ... It should not be an endurance sport to make public policy. We've had to endure. The EACCC has to win once."

Asked how he saw the impact should opponents draw a majority vote in April, Gibson said that such a result "could deter the town from doing the type of public outreach they did for this project. It could diminish their appetite for doing any project in the future.

"I think the town would also feel like a successful vote would undermine their authority to set public policy in a reasonable open manner.

"I think there would be some worry about setting a precedent that can be used by disgruntled opposition to any project in town.

"Taking a simple nonbinding question as direction for a complex engineering project is a wrong step in my opinion, and I could only imagine where it could lead."

Referring to the East Arlington Livable Streets Coalition, he said; "We're not bitter people."

He said EALS has 500 followers on its Facebook page and more than 200 on its mailing list. Among them, he said, there is "broad, natural support for this project."

He added: "We don't have a lawyer" or the ability to spend more than $100,000 on legal fees, as opponent reportedly have.

As for Mass. Ave., he said the coaltion "would like a street that is inviting to everyone."

Corridor debate nearing year 12

A woman crosses Mass. Ave. at Sabatino's on Feb. 1.A woman crosses Mass. Ave. at Sabatino's on Feb. 1 without a flag.

Some highlights

(Sources: TAC, town website, YourArlington, Word on the Street)

For details about many of the older citations, see specific links at TAC’s website:

East Arlington meeting handout for Dec. 4, 2002, cited these objectives:

1. Improve safety for all users: motorists, pedestrians and cyclists

2. Reduce through traffic on neighborhood streets

3. Maintain mobility for all users along Mass Ave at an acceptable level of service, while not attracting new auto traffic.

4. Improve the environment for transit users by coordinating bus stops with crosswalks

5. Encourage a more orderly traffic flow

6. Enhance the streetscape of the area

7. Increase business patronage

8. Develop both a short-term solution and long-term plan

Chronology showing key events from 1996 to 2009 (.PDF)

2001: Paolo Marinelli brought warrant articles to Town Meeting, including "appropriate lane markings." Reducing the number of travel lanes was part of that debate.
2002: Louis Berger looked at some possible lane configurations to assess feasibility. Berger’s presentation (.PDF)
Results were presented in public meetings at the Fox Library (one for the general public; one for Town Meeting members from the East).
TAC handouts in 2002 show meetings of East Arlington residents that year on April 9, July 10, Sept. 4, Oct. 10 and Dec. 4.

2005 VHB Study of Mass. Ave. improvements (.PDF)
2006 history of the project (.PDF)
Oct. 1, 2008: public meeting, information session
Mass. Ave. Corridor logoOct. 23, 2008: interactive public workshop YourArlington summary >>
Feb. 5, 2009: Public meeting at Town Hall to review and hear comments on draft plans YourArlington summary >>
April 28, 2009: Selectmen hosted a public meeting at the Hardy School.
May 11, 2009: Alternate plans presented (Pond Lane to Oxford, Oxford to Alewife Brook Parkway).
Aug. 10, 2009: Selectmen approve draft in 4-1 vote.  YourArlington summary >>
June 22, 2010: Public update at Town Hall
Oct. 1, 2010: Updated plans, including both east and west.
April 12, 2011: 345 attend Town Hall hearing on 25-percent plan YourArlington summary >>
June 14, 2011: 4-1 selectmen vote pushes plan toward 75 percent YourArlington summary >>  
Aug. 1, 2011: Draft of 75 percent landscape design plans presented.
April 4, 2012: 80 view plans at Hardy School Word on the Street summary >>

This story was published Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, and updated the next two days to add links.

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