Downtown View: More Stupid Stuff

Sometimes as a community we don’t think before we act even though we spend lots of time in the thinking stage.

Casinos are one example. This is not a column opposing casinos. Their benefits are probably over-rated, and so are their drawbacks. Everett was chosen over Revere for the casino in the Boston area. The decision ultimately seemed arbitrary, but so what? And if Everett wants the building Wynn Resorts has proposed—possibly the ugliest thing in the world—who are we to quibble?

It is easy, however, to identify the big problem when it is so obvious. The Wynn proposal is a disaster because it has no real public transportation.

Buses don’t count here. They are stuck in traffic along with all the cars. Moreover, Wynn’s transportation presentation doesn’t expect public buses to be used much at all. What Wynn needs is a subway stop, or streetcars with dedicated lanes—or anything else that is real “rapid” transit for thousands of people.

Wynn’s presentation pointed out that its clientele typically do not arrive or leave during commuting hours. It also showed patrons coming from every direction, not just through Charlestown. Wynn touted its plan to keep employee parking (and driving) off site. They intend to bring in water taxis, but they estimate such taxis will convey only about 3 percent of the casino’s patrons. All this sounds modestly okay.

Wynn has proposed several solutions including money for upgrades to surrounding roads and a shuttle bus from the Orange Line. But its final environmental impact report showed that 63 percent of its clientele will arrive by car and park on site, while only 10 percent will take public transportation.

Wynn’s proposed roadway upgrades involve widening streets, creating a flyover, and upgrading the signals. The latter might make a small difference, but widening streets and installing flyovers are 1950s’ ideas that have proven to be poor solutions in recent years. The recent trend is to narrow streets and demolish overhead roads.

Wynn’s transportation proposals seem more suited to a sprawling western city (Las Vegas, perhaps?) than for a dense, urban area that is already choked with traffic and has found time and again that fast public transportation is the way to go. Wellington Station is close enough as the crow flies to the casino site, but, according to Google maps, it would take a pedestrian 31 minutes to walk to the intersection of Everett’s Broadway and Dexter Streets near the casino entrance. The walk could be shorter if the designers created a path to a door on the north side of the casino. But most of the walk would still be too far, and it is unpleasant.

The map shows a contrast between Wynn’s bad planning and good development. Assembly Row, just across the Mystic from the casino site, designed an Orange Line rapid transit stop within its borders. Of course, this was in trendy Somerville, which has had excellent civic leadership for the past decade from Mayor Joseph Curtatone.

The bad planning is not all Wynn’s fault. The gaming commission should have signaled that imaginative and effective transportation planning would be a major part of their decision-making. So far the commissioners seem ignorant of the traffic problems they are creating if things go forward as planned.

It is possible that all this is moot. Revere, Somerville and Boston have each filed a lawsuit against Wynn. It’s doubtful that Steve Wynn will tire of dealing with surly local leaders and citizens, but it could happen.

Meanwhile, Wynn could rework his plans with urbanity in mind. Maybe he could build a fabulous, fanciful pedestrian bridge over the Mystic, connecting his resort with Curtatone’s Assembly Row MBTA station just across the river. Maybe he could finance a spur of the Orange Line leading straight to his door.

Whatever happens, Massachusetts leaders should become part of the 21st century: Whenever big development of any kind happens, effective and fast public transportation must be a major part of it. (Olympics, anyone?) Otherwise we’re all going to be sitting on the roads in our cars most of every day.

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