Letter: Rutherford Ave. Surface Option Best for All

This letter was submitted by a group of Charlestown residents.


Charlestown has a historic opportunity to redesign Rutherford Avenue. Given this chance, a group of Charlestown residents called the Rutherford Corridor Improvement Coalition (RCIC) started meeting with other residents and asking three key questions: 1) what does Rutherford do well or poorly for Charlestown today;  2) what should it do in the future;  and 3) what does that mean for its new design?

After dozens of discussions across the neighborhood, the answer is clear: Rutherford Avenue should become a vibrant, surface-level city street that works for everyone, not an intimidating highway that divides.

The Boston Transportation Department (BTD) will soon finalize the basic blueprint for a re-designed Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square. One remaining issue is whether to follow the “Surface Option” at Austin Street that was chosen earlier, or rebuild an underpass and ramps.   

We support the Surface Option, and here’s why we hope Charlestown will unite behind it.

Rutherford Avenue was reconfigured and widened in the 1960s thanks to pressure by residents and public officials to reduce traffic cutting through our neighborhood. Today, Rutherford still moves traffic, but is used much less than before the Big Dig: current vehicle trips are less than half of what they were in 1960.

Meanwhile, Rutherford has become an awful “neighbor.” It spews noise and black dust into our homes and endangers pedestrians. It leaks water and tax dollars into its underpasses and scares off new businesses. Despite its 10-lane width, it crowds out walkers and bicyclists. It’s not helping people get to the T stations, Community College, or North Point Park quickly and safely. And it rarely lets us park on it.

The deteriorating underpass at Austin Street will be rebuilt or eliminated. The Surface Option will replace the tunnel and its long, deep ramps with a surface-level, four-lane roadway and green space. The surface design will:

  1. Relocate traffic 50+ feet away from neighborhood residences, screening noise and pollution with greenery, a walking/biking path, and on-street parking (the underpass option only offers 22 feet of space and no parking at Austin Street);
  2. Provide shorter crossings to the T stations, Community College, and pathway to North Point Park;
  3. Allow for better future use of land near the Hood Business Park and at the Community  College parking lots;
  4. Lower construction and maintenance costs; and
  5. Be able to handle current and future traffic as well as the underpass option.

We know that Charlestown has had mixed experiences with large scale planning in the past, hindering trust in this process for some residents. But we have also seen that good things happen when our community works together. Powerful community advocacy led to the Tobin Bridge ramps being buried in the 1990s. A strong and united community then led the design for new buildings and the creation and funding of City Square Park. The homes, businesses, and park in and around City Square today symbolize what a united Charlestown can do.

And we will do it again … this time by uniting for a Rutherford corridor that works for all of us. 

We need to show strong support for the Surface Option at BTD’s upcoming meeting on Thursday, Dec. 6, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Knights of Columbus at 545 Medford Street. Please join us, and please speak up.

—Your neighbors on the Rutherford Corridor Improvement Coalition (www.rcic-charlestown.org)

(Submitted by Jay Konieczka)

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Jay K. December 04, 2012 at 05:29 PM
There is no tunnel option. There is only a Surface Option and an Underpass Option on the table. There is nowhere near the political will, nor do the data indicate a need, for a tunnel with a surface on top. It is literally a pipe dream.
Dan December 04, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Owen - One more point here. The Big Dig was a very complex tunnel (ripe for failure). What we're talking about here is a very simple tunnel, no fancy in tunnel merges or Rapid transit right of ways that couldn't be moved or stopped. Let alone stopping the traffic on the roadways getting thru. We also don't have the sea water issues as well. The depressed areas of Rutherford Ave would be reused so the amount of digging is not as great as a fresh tunnel would need. And, because we currently have parallel pathways where the traffic can travel while the tunnel is created the cost will be still be lower as its less complex. Using prefab'ed panels Vs poured on site the speed of construction can be made much shorter. Remember this is not a deep tunnel design so interlocking panels can be used. Similar to the bridge decking used in replacing the bridges last summer on Rt93 was that fast! just over the weekends. So being gun shy here is a copout.
Dan December 04, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Jay - I'm sorry the plans the traffic dept. supplied are not complete with the hard facts like measures. They are giving you broad brush strokes and overly simplified diagrams. As to the effect of noise buffering some common sense is needed here. Distance alone will not abate it. Reducing the amount of traffic will. You can't turn this traffic off or expect people to find alternate paths that you assume they will use. Encapsulating as much of the traffic you can in a tunnel does work and you aren't going to dump traffic on other areas that likewise don't want it. And yes, I'm not the only one that has looked long and hard at this. I never said I was. I've asked them many a time to disclose all of the raw data. They tell me that don't have what I'm looking for or they can't offer what they have in the raw form. So how can anyone get a clean view (unbiased). If I can't (using there data) how can you or anyone else? We are being driven here, sorry Jay them's the facts! Are you willing to join me over a few mornings and an evening to make the measures with your own eyes? I'll show you how I did it and why I have more faith in my numbers than the traffic depts.
Dan December 04, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Jay - Both fail, so mix the two and you get a Tunnel ;-} I don't think that is true the will so far is no one likes what is being offered: a bitter green pill or a bitter blue pill. So we need to tell them we aren't taking either pill. Thats how you create the political will. As I've pointed out before the data was collected was not derived in the best manor. As it only counted entering traffic at Sullivan Sq (what I have from the CANA project) and from what I understand some additional measures were taken a few years ago along Rutherford it's self. What is missing in the data collection is the routing of the traffic over the course of the day over a few months. Flow dynamics is more than pushing traffic through. You have to look at the turning traffic and when the flows change over the day. I've spoken with the consultants they didn't do any flow studies at the Sullivan Sq or Austin St just raw counts. So the data is just not there to even prove or disprove the benefit of a tunnel. So using straight counting alone the data does not support a tunnel and they dare not collect the data to disprove the current plans.
Dan December 04, 2012 at 06:55 PM
Jay stop confusing people with side directions. I stated the data was not there I didn't state they used different means. The data can still be collected by them following common collection protocols. The issue here is they haven't. They are working on older (CANA) and very focused collections (along Rutherford at Austin St). Not looking at the whole project with a clean sheet and getting the traffic flow dynamics.
Jay K. December 04, 2012 at 07:07 PM
Sorry Dan, them's not the facts. That's an opinion. Simply saying that we're being driven does not make it so. I would be definitely be willing to meet, if only to get to meet a neighbor. However, I'm not going to get involved in a study on traffic flow when one has already been done. I have enough of my own studies going on right now.
Dan December 04, 2012 at 07:08 PM
Jay don't forget these other pipes your throwing in here have there own water trying to get though. The bottom line here is what can be handled by Cambridge, Everett or Somerville and Boston core with traffic in or out, not what happens in Charlestown alone.
Jay K. December 04, 2012 at 07:25 PM
You are accusing me of confusing people with side directions? You may want to take a fresh look at the comments. On a related note, you just said "I stated the data was not there I didn't state they used different means. The data can still be collected by them following common collection protocols. The issue here is they haven't." How do you know that they haven't followed common collection methods? I'll restate my major questions much more plainly. 1) What are you trying to say is wrong with the BTD analysis? 2) What evidence do you have that they are lying to us? And a new question - what is the motivation BTD has for lying to us?
Jay K. December 04, 2012 at 07:39 PM
That point was not lost. As I stated, "to effectively handle flow through to Somerville and Assembly Square." It is understood that traffic moves from that direction as well.
Joseph December 04, 2012 at 08:20 PM
Dan & Jay - I just reviewed the .pdf that Nathan posted. What sparked some questions is the lack of footnotes/details stating how long they monitored traffic patterns. Did I miss that? I would think a complete study would account for months (24/7) of monitoring, including during various seasons, as well as comparing parallel side roads(Main Street) to account for all traffic flow. I didn't see that comparison, nor the traffic count turning left onto Main Street at Green, nor bypass routes, such as those taking Chelsea and left onto Warren, or Chelsea to Medford? I don't see any of those details? All I recall seeing is AM & PM...a little too "neat" if you will. Since we're talking Austin Street intersection only, why not just clean up the surface and the underpass? You want to expand the surface, go for it. Take some land from the BHCC parking lot so the surface is more pedestrian friendly, and let the traffic continue to Boston via underpass? Why does it have to be one option or the other? On a side note, how better off will we be once the construction on 99 is complete and lanes are reopened? How is that being accounted for during these conversations? Two separate projects, but they must be tied in somehow, no? Thanks for the insightful information.
Just a person! December 04, 2012 at 09:03 PM
I cannot wait for Thurs night, this should be good, cannot wait, because I want to see how we don't get any choice on this issue, it is a done deal, this is all fluff, they are going to do what they want and how they want, they don't care how it is going to affect this town or the residents. Even if it will never work , they will do it and we, the residents of Charlestown will have to live with it, I love how people from another part of the city can tell us how our town should be, Remember once it is done, you cannot go back.
Jay K. December 04, 2012 at 10:49 PM
Re the footnotes on their traffic studies, I agree they could do a better job explaining their methods. No doubt about it, but I'm guessing its an issue of resources since this isn't their only project. That said, my understanding is that these are mean volumes for the AM/PM rush. Last week I asked Vineet Gupta from BTD why they don't include error bars on their bar graphs. Again - no question they could do better reporting their methods and data. However, I disagree with the premise that you need months of 24/7 monitoring. Again they likely just don't have the resources to dedicate that kind of effort to one road. Also peak AM/PM volumes seem to me a good way to base the design since this is when capacity is at its worst. As for expanding the surface, this is not what's on the table and not what people want. We want to remove the underpass as a giant barrier between Charlestown and our neighbors, and decrease the amount of road to be only that which is needed. The surface option aims to do just that. The underpass will too, but it takes up more space and you still have the barrier. As for the 99 construction, you might like to have a look at the 2030 projections for Sullivan on slides 26-30 here: http://www.cityofboston.gov/Images_Documents/PublicMeeting6_final_tcm3-12667.pdf
Just a person! December 05, 2012 at 12:47 AM
Jay K . Please tell me what neighbors are you talking about? And Rutherford ave is a roadway that accommodates the traffic flow thru Charlestown rather than having it on our inner streets, maybe yours? Maybe you better try looking at it from that perspective! Because the traffic has to move someplace, and I hope that the surface option org. Has taken that into consideration. Remember the old saying... If it sounds to good to be true , it probaly is not.
Dan December 05, 2012 at 01:56 AM
Jay - How can you make an intelligent choice here with no hard data? This is simple stuff. You take a tape measure out and measure, you take a count of the number of cars Vs trucks going a given path over a period of time over different times & days. You use a video camera to trace out the flow patterns of the moving traffic. You throw it into a spreadsheet and start modeling. I need the raw data not someone else's chewed facts which don't have the supporting data behind it. What have they done with the money they were given to make the measurements and presentations (I think it was a 6 or 8 million)? During the CANA project we got clear drawings with the measures of the right of ways & the proposed roadway sizes before we set in stone which way to we thought was the correct direction (and we even pushed back then to a better design). I don't see any of that here. Broad brush strokes don't count in making this level of decision.
Dan December 05, 2012 at 02:31 AM
Jay - Please re-read what I have stated three times already here. BTD is unwilling to take the leap in getting the data as it would disprove what they have been stating. They have already put their stakes into the ground and feel any new data threaten were they stand. The community collective needs to come to grips the offerings given don't serve us or our area neighbors.
nick czech December 05, 2012 at 03:35 PM
Not sure the anonymous naysayer game of whack-a-mole criticism is seen as coming from those who are willing to cope with the dynamics of change - if so, its plausible that the history lessons and commentary would be more useful to the reader & that the Surface Option would be better identified as the most comprehensive scheme to emerge as backed by a reasonable community constituency and local leaders. The negative sniping is worthy of a day-late and a dollar short mindset which continues to support a ramp to nowhere.
nick czech December 05, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Places like the Esplanade, Fenway, & Emerald Necklace all have advocates who have stood for something that continues to protect those special places from abusive & self-absorbed rhetoric. Additionally, it has been enlightening to recognize that Charlestown's Rutherford Avenue dilemma isn't the only roadway traumatizing a community. Strangely, in identifying with that. it reminds one that civic duty is about making our community a better place collectively, regardless of increment. Additionally, how we are all invited to contribute, is to use our knowledge & creativity to aid in making that difference. All the Surface Option supporters whose noble participation and ambition of putting something into place that for Charlestown & our children will give them something to be proud of! Tunnel or not, the new place created by the surface-option in this neighborhood is a useful amenity & reworking those terrible intersections, tearing down such a divisive barrier - all objectives long-needed for the unspoken majority of family-rearing, work-commuter, student, pedestrian, and exercise-driven neighbors.
nick czech December 05, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Am thrilled to see the growing support from the neighborhood on the RCIC's website & online petition. Regular neighbors in Charlestown unafraid to use their own names who stand up for what they believe in.
Just a person! December 05, 2012 at 03:54 PM
If this stupid surface option is supposed to be so traffic friendly why do we have to have three traffic lights along the route? Are you serious! So instead of the traffic flowing thru charlestown we are going to stop it at three spots along the route! Reality..... More noise, more pollution from trucks starting and stopping, and why at those three locations????? What is EssexSt going to be the new cut thru? And then that st will be blocked solid with a traffic light, so what about those residents late nite?? This is Bullshit...
Dan December 05, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Nick - The people with the most to loose here are the ones that are currently facing the mess today. I spoke with these folks they don't see your rosy vision. They see the same mess if anything worse! How do you remove the problem? Stating the traffic is not there when it clearly is, is not a solution . Moving a good portion of it into a tunnel is the only viable way. The added cost of the tunnel is not as great as many would let you believe. Yes, its more than the other two options but the long term benefits out way the added costs for a much healthier and prosperous community at large. No one is trying to be a stick in the mud here, nor, are they banging their chests with bravado, we all care about the the community. The issue is do we want one groups vision being hammered as the solution without having all of the data and put back on the table a more balanced design which could be accepted by all. The surface design with a tunnel on top only makes sense here - Dam the costs!
nick czech December 05, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Dan, as a final remark on this parade of pot-shots is this ... strictly speaking it is irresponsible to approach this matter as a group without confronting cost which is what the RCIC did to remain reasonable, and also took the position that we all are faced with the eyesore of this neglected infrastructure. The history of that neglect is stabbing enough reason to recognize there isn't a cost-driving interest in a tunnel solution. As a lead driver, the option to rehab the underpasses is poorly construed and is now a considerable reason why support for the Surface Option has grown. Something your statement seems to overlook given the preceding remarks is that you equate those residents directly adjacent to the infrastructure as being impacted most significantly and yet fail to consider the effort of outreach the RCIC provided. So if you're saying those dwelling along Rutherford weren't invited to contribute to the discussion generating the Surface Option consensus, you're mistaken. See you Thursday evening.
Dan December 05, 2012 at 07:44 PM
What?? - Costs has to include the well being of the community not just the pick & shovel costs. If you take the position of a bean counter here your being 'penny wise pound foolish' Having to rebuild this still again will be a crime. The Surface design is a good design, I've not stated otherwise, but it has a failing, as the traffic load won't change and over time it will increase. Expecting this traffic to find alternate paths is guess work and just pushes the problem to others. A Closed tunnel is what is needed here, I'm not happy with the trench idea either for the same reasons you have with it. I also don't think the area neighborhood is so convinced. As much as you want it to be using strong arm tactics.
Sean Boyle December 05, 2012 at 09:45 PM
I believe this idea is most ideal - combines both ideas and keeps both sides happy. Please let me know what I can do to help. Smboyle324@gmail.com
John R December 06, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Personally, I feel the over pass that was torn down going to 93 N. from the bridge should be re built. That would take a large amount of traffic off Rutherford Ave. Secondly the underpass going to Everett should be referbished and opened , and theat damned eye sore of a draw bridge by the Edison should be fixed once an for all. Anyone who has tried to get through Sullivan Sq. at any time from 3p until about 7p. can see the "over flow " of traffic coming from Rutherford Ave. Charlestown is in a strangle hold for those hours. Unless the police are there directing traffic. The solution, I feel ,isn't adding to Rutherford ave. to make it the new "Somerville Thruway" allowing better access to Assembly village and IKEA. There needs to be solutiions put in place to decrease the stress placed on the people of Chalrestown.
Gtree December 06, 2012 at 02:54 PM
umm..... there is no IKEA coming.
Just a person! December 06, 2012 at 09:12 PM
Mmmmm,does it really matter if idea is coming or not! Let's stay on subject , Rutherford ave traffic is a mess Overpass, and the underpasses are needed and should be re-opened No matter what, if ikea isn't coming or not ,something will be going there and that means traffic. Wake up!
Joseph December 06, 2012 at 09:55 PM
100% correct JAP. When the overpass existed and the tunnels were open, traffic flowed nicely. I've changed my opinion on this matter as I read more. I support greening up Rutherford, but build a tunnel, hide Rutherford and put the green surface option on top. Problem solved. Then again, it's really a moot point. BTD & Co have already made their decisions.
Just a person! December 07, 2012 at 02:17 AM
Well, I guess I was right again, went to the meeting tonight, didn't realize that they have already decided to eliminate the Sullivan Sq. underpass! Hello big surprise! I attended every meeting since the beginning to find out that the CNC back in 2009 voted to close the underpass. Thank you CNC for making my decision.(again) Like I said before these meeting's are "Bullshit" they have already made up their minds. And to all you surface option people! Wake up, you already have the surface option it is out there now, there will be no change except the cost to do some planting. I am disgusted with the City, the CNC and all the BS
Dan December 07, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Yes, JaP it was a depressing meeting as they are railroading us with a design thats flawed! Well I guess we'll be back after its completed to redo it still again! Hopefully, the correct way the second time - What a waste of tax dollars! So close, yet so far. If they just add in the tunnel it would work. I pity the people would live along Rutherford after all of the work is done and not seeing any improvement. I pity the rest of us who won't be able to get in or out during the morning and evening rush hours and having to fight the added traffic trying to find other routes around the log jam we have created. The only out here is to sue the city to stop this madness. Which is a shame because we all want this mess to be fixed.
Just a person! December 07, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Thanks Dan I am glad to see that someone also can see problems.. I am one that dosen't see any change in what is there now ,with their surface option. I am also disgusted that I have wasted my time going to these meeting not realizing they have already decided to fill in the Sullivan Sq underpass.if they had told me that was already a done deal I would have put my time to better use than to listen to the stupid CNC My only wish is that they loose all the money allocated for the project and nothing at all is done.


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