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Allstonians Worry Harvard’s Plans Privilege Vehicle Transit

Soldiers Field Road
Soldiers Field Road separates the University's main campus in Cambridge and Allston.
Allstonians raised concerns that Harvard’s plans for their neighborhood privilege automobile over pedestrian transport during a meeting Monday with University representatives.

Harvard filed plans for the neighborhood—a 14-acre portion of the University’s larger holdings in Allston—on Dec. 7. The filing remains under review with the Boston Planning and Development Agency, the city’s urban planning body.

The BPDA recently extended the public comment period for the plan to Feb. 2, ensuring Allston residents can give feedback on the document. One form of feedback came Monday night at a meeting of the Impact Advisory Group, a body of Allston residents meant to help guide Harvard’s vision for the 14-acre plot. The group meets weekly to discuss the possible environmental and social effects of the University’s construction plans.

On Monday, the group met specifically to address issues surrounding mobility and streets in Allston. Harvard representative Joe G. Beggan detailed the University’s proposed transportation plans at the meeting.

Harvard plans to include 400,000 square feet of offices and labs, 250,000 square feet of hotel and conference center space, 250,000 square feet of residential space, nearly 900 parking spaces, and around 600 new bicycle parking spaces in the 14-acre portion, according to its filings with the BPDA. The segment forms part of a larger 36-acre plot, dubbed the “Enterprise Research Campus,” on which Harvard proposed a center for entrepreneurship in Allston.

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Beggan spoke in part about plans to construct new streets called Stadium Road and Cattle Drive. The new roads will better connect North Harvard Street to Harvard Square; the former road will include one bus and shuttle-only lane as well as a two-way bicycle path, Beggan said.

Beggan also discussed expanding public and Harvard-specific transit to serve a greater portion of the Cambridge and Allston population. He particularly noted that the Harvard shuttle currently servicing Barry’s Corner, a 9.3-acre slice of Allston at the intersection of North Harvard Street and Western Avenue, will eventually be extended to reach the enterprise research campus.

But some impact advisory group members said they were concerned by the plan Monday. Attendees criticized what they called Harvard’s undue prioritization of automobile transport.

“If you drew a circle [on the map of the plans] with the end of my pen, I count seven, eight parking lots. And if you were to do a land area comparison, just by eye, it’s looking like 65-35 parking lots to buildings—too many parking lots,” attendee Tim McHale said.

“When I look at this, I see vehicular traffic being hugely privileged over pedestrian traffic,” fellow attendee Max Rome said. “To bring 1,700 new people in and out every single day in a neighborhood that has absolutely no real transit connection—that seems like tons of people are going to be coming out of the Pike, and we all know how much of a hellhole that is.”

Some members also said they wanted to see more “direct and visible” Massachusetts Department of Transportation and Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority participation in Harvard’s broad Allston planning process.

Allstonian and attendee Anthony P. D’Isidoro said he particularly wished MassDOT and the MBTA would give greater input on Harvard’s vision for its enterprise research campus.

“For some reason, I get a feeling that there is a huge leap of faith here,” D’Isidoro said. “It’s like, ‘Community, we’re going to get going with this,’ and now we’re saying, ‘No, we’re doing a little something now, but down the road, it’ll get a lot better, and we’re just going to swallow this for the next ten years or so.’”

In response to attendees’ concerns, BPDA senior project manager Gerald Autler—who attended the meeting—said he will ask a representative from one of the two state agencies to come to a future impact advisory group session. In addition to Autler, Beggan and other Harvard representatives also fielded questions and addressed residents’ worries throughout the meeting.

In upcoming weeks, the impact advisory group plans to discuss issues related to sewage water, traffic, pollution, retail opportunities for small businesses, and urban design, according to members.

Autler said he hopes Allston residents do not see the approaching end of the comment period as the “end of any conversation.”

“I’m happy to schedule as many meetings as are necessary,” Autler said. “Whenever this approval happens, we’re not going to have resolved every issue that’s been brought up.”

—Staff writer Truelian Lee can be reached at truelian.lee@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @truelian_lee.

—Staff writer Jacqueline P. Patel can be reached at jacqueline.patel@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @jppatel99.

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