Rep faults T for holding info session far from transit

Calls choice of Newton meeting location an ‘unforced error’

THE MBTA IS holding a series of public meetings about major changes underway on the Green Line.

There’s one hitch: The upcoming meeting for the D branch is more than a mile away from the closest Green Line stop.

“It’s all important work and we’re glad the T is moving forward with it in an accelerated fashion, but communicating that is critically important,” Rep. Tommy Vitolo, a Brookline Democrat, said in an interview. “I think having a meeting about public transit not located on public transit was an unforced error.”

Transit-reliant attendees who don’t live in the immediate neighborhood of the Newton Free Library will be looking at a long trip if they plan to attend the September 23 session. The meeting is slightly more than one mile walk from the Newton Centre trolley stop and about the same distance from the Newton Highlands stop, and it is not along a major bus route.

“The Newton library is a place that Newton residents frequently use for public meetings,” said Rep. Ruth Balser, a Newton Democrat. But Balser, who is House chairwoman of the Elder Affairs Committee, said she has no problem with the idea of moving the meeting to a more transit-accessible location, and pointed out that the Woman’s Club of Newton Highlands is only a couple blocks away from the T.

“I hear him,” Balser said of Vitolo. “I would be comfortable with him working something different out with the T.”

The T held a meeting about the Green Line plans at the state transportation building, right across the street from Boylston Station, on Tuesday night, and it is holding other meetings for the B, C and E branches – each of which is within a half-mile walk from the closest trolley stop.

In an email to his supporters, Vitolo encouraged people to attend the meetings where they would hear about plans to increase rider capacity and safety, but cautioned that the meeting on the D branch is not transit accessible.

“Despite my efforts,” Vitolo wrote, the MBTA will not offer “reasonable mass transit to their Newton meeting about mass transit,” but T officials did agree to address D branch concerns at its meeting along the C branch in Coolidge Corner on Thursday night.

In response to an inquiry, the MBTA noted that the meeting date and location has already been shared extensively; the library is accessible to people with disabilities; the space has a capacity of 140 and a sound system; and a similar meeting was held at the same location last September to discuss upcoming work on the D branch.

According to a presentation provided by the MBTA, meeting attendees will hear about the Green Line transformation, a project led by Angel Peña that includes piloting new mobile technology for operators, upgraded GPS trackers on trolleys, and trying out solar-powered real-time information displays at stations. Future plans for the Green Line include the purchase of new “supercar” trolleys that can carry about 360 passengers, which is about 160 more than the cars in operation today, with one fewer operator per train.

Some of the upgrades are specific to the D branch, where the T is replacing 25,000 feet of track, modernizing signal systems, installing backup power, and reconstructing pedestrian crossings. The T has plans to upgrade the Newton Highlands station specifically, adding new heated shelters, seating and bicycle storage, and raising the platform for easier boarding.

While critical about the T’s location for the community information session, Vitolo is bullish about the work being done and planned for the trolley system.

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Andy Metzger

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

About Andy Metzger

Andy Metzger joined CommonWealth Magazine as a reporter in January 2019. He has covered news in Massachusetts since 2007. For more than six years starting in May 2012 he wrote about state politics and government for the State House News Service.  At the News Service, he followed three criminal trials from opening statements to verdicts, tracked bills through the flumes and eddies of the Legislature, and sounded out the governor’s point of view on a host of issues – from the proposed Olympics bid to federal politics.

Before that, Metzger worked at the Chelmsford Independent, The Arlington Advocate, the Somerville Journal and the Cambridge Chronicle, weekly community newspapers that cover an array of local topics. Metzger graduated from UMass Boston in 2006. In addition to his written journalism, Metzger produced a work of illustrated journalism about Gov. Charlie Baker’s record regarding the MBTA. He lives in Somerville and commutes mainly by bicycle.

“Over three-fourths of all of the derailed trains in the past five years that carry passengers were Green Line. It is the Green Line that derails the most often, so this track work is critically important,” Vitolo said.

While the D branch will generally be shutdown evenings after 8:30 p.m. to accommodate infrastructure improvements, attendees using the trolley the night of the Newton library meeting will likely avoid the headache of shuttle bus replacement service. The T plans to keep the line running to accommodate fans on weeknights when the Red Sox are playing at Fenway, and the Sox are scheduled to take on the Tampa Bay Rays for a home game that starts at 7:10 p.m. the night of the meeting.