Mattapan residents want transportation issues up high in development sessions
By Seth Daniel, Reporter Correspondent [Dorchester Reporter]
July 22, 2022
With the help of a celebrated former Boston Transportation Department (BTD) official, the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council (GMNC) devoted most of its July meeting to strategizing how transportation and parking can be moved up in the development process – rather than coming in at the tail end of discussions.
Alaa Mukahhal, a consulting transportation planner who developed key transportation metrics for the BTD before she left in February, walked more than 60 members of the GMNC through the Transportation Demand Management (TDM) process that she developed. It uses an internal scoring process for any proposed development and triggers a list of requirements, almost like a menu, for developers to commit to as mitigation.
The problem, said GMNC President Fatima Ali-Salaam, is that the community often doesn’t know about this “menu” and therefore doesn’t know what to ask developers and the city to do.
“Parking is one of the most contentious things in any zoning meeting and in every meeting in the City of Boston bar none,” she said. “We want to know what we can do about parking and what is the developer’s responsibility to the community. What is it we can ask?”
Mukahhal said there is an understanding in cities across the country, including Boston, that the geometry of parking and traffic cannot continue to work in the status quo, and so planners like herself have drawn up ways to lessen congestion and to help provide alternatives to jumping in a car and driving.
One key problem identified at the meeting was that the transportation pieces and the TDM plan in most developments come after other key decisions.
“How these projects play out really does have long-range impacts,” said Mukahhal. “By the time the development came to the BTD, many things had been determined already. That’s because of how the process plays out...While I was at the BTD, I felt off guard a lot because developers came up with things that were already baked in, so to speak.”
She indicated the community should ask questions in meetings about how developers plan to design streets to reduce fatalities, to mitigate congestion, and to protect the most vulnerable users – mostly elderly and younger pedestrians. “All of it goes back to parking,” she said, noting that shorter commutes via better transit options correlate with social opportunity and job opportunity.
“I think it would be more beneficial for transportation planning and parking discussions to come at an earlier point when the projects are just proposed,” said Kathy Glynn. “I was a single mother and there were times when it was impossible for me to get my daughter to school, get to work, get back home, and get her to games and activities. As I got older and she got older it was easier... If all this planning is dependent on human behavior, how do we ask them what demographics they are targeting?
“Maybe,” she suggested, “if we know that the city can say they don’t think a proposed building meets the needs of the community and doesn’t sufficiently accommodate future parking needs.”
State Rep. Russell Holmes said parking is always the biggest fight in the community. He said he’s not sure anyone has adequately explained to residents the TDM process and the need to reduce cars.
Mukahhal said one of the issues is that the transportation planning doesn’t kick in unless the project is over 50,000 square feet. She said changing the zoning code to apply to smaller developments, and to move that planning up in the process, is something that could be changed – and something that could be demanded by the community even without a zoning change.
“This is the education that should have happened 20 years ago,” said Holmes. “We have to convince everyone. We have to solve this parking issue because we can’t build anything in this city without arguing about parking.”
Barbara Crichlow of the West Selden Street Neighborhood Association said they started their group to combat traffic and parking 25 years ago, and she said she didn’t feel things had gotten any better despite their advocacy. “I do agree parking should be moved up to the beginning of the development conversation when projects come in,” she said. “We have developers come into neighborhoods with no parking already and they still don’t put parking in and their tenants have cars.”
She noted that when she first came to the neighborhood many years ago, there was no need for a car. Residents could walk to Blue Hill Avenue or Mattapan Square and find everything they needed. She said part of the issue with cars in neighborhoods like Mattapan Square is that the merchants in the business corridors do not meet the needs of residents. “You didn’t need a car back then, but when the merchants don’t provide for our needs, people get in cars,” she said.
Ali-Salaam said they hope to put together a primer for the GMNC to use based on the information and advice they got from Mukahhal. She said they hope to make it part of the standard questioning and requirements put on developers coming to Mattapan in their Zoning Committee.
They also hope to be able to distribute it to the various neighborhood associations so such questioning can be done at the ground level with developers.
MATTAPAN NOTEBOOK •Vickey Siggers of Mattapan Food and Fitness said the opening of the Mattapan Farmers Market on July 9 was an amazing time with many in the community coming out. The market will be held every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. through Oct. 29. It is located at the corner of Cummins Highway and Fairway.
•Consult LeLa and SPARK Boston will be having a Mattapan Neighborhood Social to discuss plans for Mattapan Square and Blue Hill Avenue over cocktails, mocktails, and food. The event is meant to bring knowledge and engagement to those ages 21-40 in a different environment than the typical meeting. The event will be at Kay’s Oasis on Blue Hill Avenue on July 28, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. with music by DJ WhySham and food by ZAZ Restaurant. For more information, contact email@example.com.
•Matthew Skelly reported that the Public Service Committee is reviewing an idea to have a neighborhood-wide Yard Sale day. Instead of a hodge-podge of yard sales throughout the summer and fall, there is a desire to unite as a community to have one big event throughout Mattapan. Such events have been successful in the Ashmont section of Dorchester for decades.