Friday, June 06, 2008

Brighton Lowe's Redivivus

Last year Lowe's proposed a 200,000 square foot box store for Brighton Landing -- a location next to the Massachusetts Turnpike, yet about as far from a turnpike exit as it could possibly be.

The traffic study they conducted as part of the Boston Redevelopment Authority's review of their proposal showed so much added traffic on nearby streets that Mayor Thomas Menino opposed their proposal. Brighton Landing neighbors like New Balance opposed the proposal, too, based on the excessive traffic it would generate on shared Guest Street.

Now Lowe's is back with a proposal that looks very similar to the previous one: same location (albeit with 1.1 extra acres from a newly-available adjacent lot); slightly reduced in floor space (by around 20%); and the same traffic data.

What gives?

Switching Traffic Metrics

The proponents have decided to toss out the traffic metrics in the previous study, which was an increase in traffic volume of up to 150% on nearby streets. Lowe's engineering consultants are now focusing on a new traffic metric, the reduction in the trip time along major streets in the neighborhood.

They claim that construction of their proposed, big box store will reduce average trip times along Market Street by 13-28% and along North Beacon Street by 3-11%.

Huh? If there is more traffic on nearby streets, shouldn't this mean that it would take longer to go anywhere by car?

Not if Lowe's paid $1.2 million up front, prior to any approvals for construction of the store, in order to improve traffic signals in the area by synchronizing them. Lowe's insists that they will put a condition on their construction that they must first demonstrate a reduction in trip time from the signal improvements to Market Street and North Beacon Street.

A few years ago when New Balance moved their corporate offices to Brighton Landing, attendees at Thursday night's meeting of the Brighton Allston Improvement Association recalled, they promised to improve the signals on those same two streets. But nothing happened, and the Boston Redevelopment Authority never seemed to hold them accountable.

They said that WGBH then built their new nuclear aircraft carrier building at Brighton Landing, and promised as part of the approval process to make signal improvements on the same streets. Again nothing happened, and again the BRA didn't seem to hold the developer accountable.

Against this backdrop of "fool me twice, shame on you; fool me thrice, shame on me" the BAIA attendees were mostly skeptical Thursday of Lowe's proposal and whether or not traffic improvements would ever be installed in the neighborhood. A representative of New Balance expressed negative opinions about Lowe's substantial impact on, and proposed reconfiguration of, Guest Street, which were not discussed at the meeting.

Dick Marques, President of the BAIA, got the last laugh when he asked the New Balance representative, "Wasn't New Balance one of the causes of this traffic mess?"

Few Changes Evident in New Proposal

There are some small changes in Lowe's new proposal over the previous one. The square footage for the sales floor has been reduced by nearly 20%. A 1.1 acre part of a 2.5 acre adjacent parcel, currently used by Briggs, would be used in order to move large truck unloading further off of Guest Street. The owner of the Briggs parcel has apparently expressed a willingness to talk with the city about using the 1.4 remaining acres for a possible commuter rail station -- although the audience had to instruct the Lowe's representatives that commuter rail isn't under the jurisdiction of any city agency.

The new traffic caused by the new proposal is also reduced by 25% from their previous proposal, but it was unclear how much of that reduced traffic resulted from the fortuitous relocation of Briggs from the area rather than the revised Lowe's store proposal itself. Those previous traffic numbers, by the way, had themselves been reduced by 33% during the course of the BRA review -- not by new traffic data, but by a stroke of the pen which magically declared that 50% rather than 25% of the traffic would already be driving in the area on other errands.

Lowe's has come to the community with essentially the same proposal, the same traffic data, and essentially the same traffic study -- just repackaged to make it look better.

The news is that Lowe's now plans to sell lipstick.

Want To Collect Data?

Lowe's traffic engineering consultants claim that it currently takes 14.4 minutes to travel along Market Street from Washington Street to Lincoln Street during morning rush hour, and the reverse trip during evening rush hour takes 17.6 minutes. They also claim that travel on North Beacon Street from Market Street to Union Square takes 10.2 minutes eastbound during morning rush hour or 15.0 minutes westbound during evening rush hour.

While traffic along those streets are heavy, those times sound excessive.

If you travel along those route during your morning / evening commute, consider timing your trip between those two cross streets and post it as a comment below. Please note the direction of travel (north/morning vs. south/evening for Market Street; east/morning vs. west/evening for North Beacon Street), time of day, and time elapsed.

Bicycle commuter times not allowed: bicycles can travel those route much faster than cars at that time of day while still obeying all traffic laws.

Image of pigs by abbey*christine provided through a Creative Commons license.


Dave said...

Let's not forget traffic along North Beacon Street, from Union Square to Market Street. And the fact that all of the increased traffic will be seven days a week. We're not just talking about weekday commuting here.

Michael Pahre said...

Sure thing: I edited the post also to include the times for travel on North Beacon Street.

The New Balance representative might add: don't forget Guest Street!

I didn't include the estimated drive times for Saturdays since people drive those routes and times less frequently than the M-F commuters (and hence I'm less likely to get significant feedback). But, yes, the proposed Lowe's actually has its worst impact on Saturday midday traffic.

Karl C said...

The problem for Market Street is not really the rush hour periods. Market St is most noticeably slowed on the weekends as people use it to get to the Watertown Mall from Brighton and other areas.

Michael Pahre said...

I've been timing the route on Market Street between crossing Washington Street and crossing Lincoln Street over the past year.

Timing is being done in the MBTA bus #86, only during peak traffic times (only on evening peak times).

Note that the MBTA bus should be slower than other traffic on the same street, since the bus travel times include stops to pick up and drop off passengers.

In the past two weeks: 5:30, 6:50, 7:30.

I took some measurements in the fall which were similar, but I didn't write them down...

All these timings are much, much faster than the 17.6 minutes that Lowe's traffic engineers claim to be the current travel time to be based on their computer model. (They presented no actual data, just modeled travel times.)

Lowe's model appears to be full of crap.