Here are some notes from the joint MassDOT/MBTA/Tufts University public meeting about the College Avenue Green Line Station and proposed adjoining Tufts academic building, held on Thursday, June 25, at St. Clement School in Medford:
Robert Chihade, Director of Real Estate for Tufts, said the university has been working with the MBTA, City of Medford and the Cummings Foundation to develop a Tufts academic building above and adjacent to the station. Tufts would sign a 99-year lease with the MBTA for air rights over the building, and grant use of some of its property as part of the overall project, which Tufts believes enhances the public amenities in the area.
PHASE I CONSTRUCTION UPDATE
Karen Shaffer of HDR/Gilbane, Deputy Program Manager for the GLX Project Team, reported on the Phase I Green Line Extension (GLX) construction that began in 2013. Demolition of the MBTA building at 21 Water Street in Cambridge, which is needed to accommodate a relocated Lechmere Station, has been completed. The widening of the rail bridges over Medford Street in Somerville and over Harvard Street in Medford should be completed late this summer/early fall.
Harvard Street will be closed during the weekend of July 10-11 to allow for the erection of steel bays on the rail bridge that will carry the Green Line tracks. Harvard Street also will be closed later in July to allow for the street to be raised and repaved, which will help alleviate flooding in the area. The tentative dates for that closure are July 23-26. A detour map is available on the project website, greenlineextension.org.
COLLEGE AVENUE STATION
Shaffer summarized several concerns and issues regarding the College Avenue Station brought forth from the community that the project team has been trying to address:
– The proposed right-turn lane from College Avenue to Boston Avenue and its potential use for pick-up/drop-off activity
– A high sidewalk curb along College Avenue that could restrict access
– Long-term maintenance of the station plaza and Burget Avenue path
– Burget Avenue path width constraints, particularly with regard to bicycle use
– Location (between College Avenue travel lanes) and aesthetics of MWRA water pipe
– Landscaping/green space and long-term maintenance
– Drop-off/pick-up accommodation
– Pedestrian circulation and safety
– Desire to have public art integrated into the station
She then listed opportunities for improvements regarding many of these issues due to the collaboration between the MBTA and Tufts on the new station design, including:
– Improved accessibility
– More opportunities for green space
– A multi-use plaza for neighborhood events
– Long-term maintenance and security of the plaza and Burget Avenue path by Tufts, including snow removal
– Right-turn lane on College Avenue no longer isolated, discouraging drop-offs
– MWRA pipe blends into the plaza and has the potential for art treatment
Randy Henke, a design team member with AECOM/HNTB, described the station design changes since the last community presentation in 2013 and prompted by the introduction of the Tufts building and property into the station plan.
The right-turn lane from College Avenue to Boston Avenue has been relocated onto the College Avenue bridge, which will be widened to accommodate three lanes. This configuration improves sight lines and provides for a direct pedestrian crossing (eliminating an island that was in the earlier design). Bicycle storage has been moved from the rear of the headhouse to the front. The Burget Avenue path has been rerouted from its previous route above a retaining wall to a more direct route to the station plaza; it also has been widened and made more open and less isolated, improving safety and visibility. Accessible routes to the station also have been reconfigured and improved and the plaza has been enlarged.
Elton Elperin, a project team architect with AECOM, highlighted additional station details and changes. One improvement is a wider circulation space with a larger funnel to the lobby, which retains three entrance points. The Ride drop-off remains in approximately the same location on Boston Avenue but steps at the sidewalk in front of the drop-off area have been removed. Landscaping wraps around the plaza, mediating between the plaza activity and the streets. Inside, the station has a feeling of openness with visibility through the building and a large picture window facing the tracks. A series of overlapping folded metal meshes will cover the MRWA water pipe, with adjacent landscaping.
Keishore Varanasi of CBT Architects presented an overview of the Tufts building. Three existing structures will be demolished – a maintenance garage, an engineering building, and an addition to Halligan Hall – to accommodate the new building and Burget Avenue path. Varanasi said that upon starting work on the project, he “quickly realized that this exercise is not about building a building but it’s really about creating a great place, and improving many difficult conditions that exist on-site,” in particular a significant amount of grade change. He said expanding the station site allowed for a more holistic look at the project and improvements to accessibility, pedestrian crossings and safety, place-making, and an expanded plaza. The building also allows for an accessible pedestrian bridge across Boston Avenue to the top of the hill on the upper campus.
Varanasi said “the building became part of a vertical moment, and we wanted to really celebrate that as part of the architecture. Normally buildings tend to be about private spaces with windows facing the front, but we said because all the movement, we don’t want to do that. We want to put all the private spaces behind, and really celebrate the movement of the people and show it in the front of the building.” He also noted a large amount of publicly accessible space in the Tufts building. Only the fourth floor is 100% for academic functions.
The building has four levels above the plaza level, approximately equivalent in height to neighboring campus buildings, and scales down toward the Burget neighborhood. The building will include an amphitheater (The Forum) that could be used for public events and well as Tufts events and space for a retail operation such as a coffee shop. The plaza could also be used for public events, such as a farmers market.
Robert Chihade of Tufts outlined community benefits from the project, including:
– Enhanced public spaces
– Improved access to the station with safer sidewalks/intersection crossings and the pedestrian bridge
– Community-oriented retail spaces
– Significant public or common space that could be used by the community for events/meetings
– Contributions by Tufts to the City of Medford of community benefit funds that will be used for neighborhood improvements throughout the city, and a payment in lieu of taxes to the City of Medford for the building (a total of $550,000 over four years)
Erin DeBendetto, Medford School Committee member and Dearborn Street resident, said she was “grateful to see a beautiful building being built” but the felt that the community benefit funds should be used for maintenance and improvements in the Hillside neighborhood, rather than across the city. Other commenters agreed. She also raised questions about draining/flooding in the neighborhood below the station site. She asked that meeting presentation be made to the Medford City Council.
Robert Penta, Medford City Councilor, said that Tufts’ agreement with the City of Medford would require approval from the City Council, in particular to construct the pedestrian bridge in the Boston Avenue air rights.
Mario Martin of Harvard Street, Medford, asked about who would be responsible for additional trash volumes due to increased foot traffic from the MBTA station, and would there be additional state money for snow removal. Karen Shaffer said on-site trash would be handled as in other MBTA stations and Tufts will be responsible for its building and any retail areas on the plaza. Outside the station, the city of Medford and Tufts would be responsible for maintaining their property. The MBTA and Tufts will share snow removal responsibility.
Ellen Frith, member of the Access Advisory Committee to the MBTA, asked about accessibility issues related to the station design (dual elevators, covered pathway, sufficient lighting, readable signs, etc.) and that the AAC be consulted and invited to visit the site. Shaffer said the project team has been working closely with the MBTA and MassDOT accessibility experts and those in the three communities.
A Tufts student asked about how the maintenance staffing will be determined for the Tufts building; Robert Chihade said that decision probably will be made closer to the building’s opening date of 2021.
Laurel Ruma, GLX Design Working Group member representing the College Avenue station neighborhood and a direct abutter at 149 Burget Ave., said the addition of the Tufts building and maintenance agreement was an improvement over the previous station and Burge Avenue path design proposal, which she said “wasn’t the best the neighborhood could do.” “By having this really great coordination of effort now, because of the generous gift from the Cummings Foundation, we have the best-case scenario of a public-private-neighborhood-city relationship that everyone can really see will be great.” She also said she would like some of the community funds to be spent on replacement of trees that will be removed during construction.
A Medford Square resident asked about bus service during construction and potential changes to bus routes once the station opens. Shaffer said the project team is working with MBTA bus operations on impacts during construction, and that bus routes will be evaluated for possible modifications after the station opens.
Bruce Kulik, Medford Bicycle Advisory Commission member, asked about changes in the College Avenue lane configuration and the potential for the addition of bicycle lanes; the final location of bus stops on Boston Avenue; and a potential hazard for bicyclists approaching the steps to the plaza from the path along College Avenue. Randy Henke said there are not bike lanes proposed on College Avenue but that bicycle striping was “quite doable” on Boston Avenue; the bus stop locations will be determined; and that the steps hazard would be addressed.
Doug Carr, GLX Design Working Group co-chair from Medford and Boston Avenue resident, said the new proposal was a huge improvement from the previous design, offering a lot to the city of Medford and better connectivity to the neighborhood behind it. He said the massing of the building was good and the public spaces on the ground floor were excellent. One area for improvement was the bridge to campus, which he described as “a massive urban gesture” out of scale with Boston Avenue that should be more in keeping with the campus context, such as a bridge like the High Line in New York – “an elevated walkway that’s a place.” “Rather than bringing the building to the campus, we need to bring the campus to the building, and have it [the bridge] be green and open and a much smaller scale that will be much more pedestrian friendly. Tufts does quality buildings, but this building just doesn’t feel very friendly at the bridge level. There’s a way to redesign and reimagine that bridge so that it feels much more connected and it doesn’t overwhelm Boston Avenue. I think in the end it will serve the city and everyone else better when we solve that.”
A Medford resident asked if there could be access to the pedestrian bridge from the Boston Avenue sidewalk. A resident asked about limitations for pick-up/drop-off activity and bus connectivity.
A Medford resident asked if new locations had been determined for the two Tufts buildings that will be demolished to accommodate the new building. Robert Chihade of Tufts indicated that some operations have been relocated but “a few sites were on the table” for the maintenance facility, and there will be public input sought from the neighbors before a final decision is made.
The PowerPoint presentation from the meeting will be made available on the project website, www.greenlineextension.org. Questions or comments about the project may be submitted to the project team via the email address email@example.com.
– Ken Krause
Medford Green Line Neighborhood Alliance