Neighbors Have High Hopes for Redevelopment of Arborway Yard
4:32 PM EST on December 8, 2021
The MBTA hosted a public meeting on Thursday to share its early plans for a proposed new bus garage on its Arborway garage site – and the current plan could also make room for significant amounts of transit-oriented housing, open space restoration, and social services on the site.
As we've reported previously, the T's crowded, aging bus garages are one of the primary constraints preventing the agency from expanding bus service throughout the region.
This winter, the T is beginning site work for a brand-new, expanded bus garage for Quincy. With that project entering the construction phase, the T is shifting its attention to designing its next replacement garage, which will go up on the site of the T's Arborway yard near the Forest Hills Orange Line station.
The Arborway Yard in Jamaica Plain was historically a major streetcar terminal, and stored trains for the Green Line's E Branch until the “temporary” suspension of service to Forest Hills in the mid-1980s. In 2001, the T demolished the older trolley barns on the site and built a "temporary" bus yard – still in use to this day – for its then-new fleet of methane-fueled buses.
The current Arborway yard stores 118 buses, and the T has said that its replacement should be able to accommodate around 200 buses to support increased bus service for the region.
The new garage, which the T hopes to open by the end of 2027, will also be designed to accommodate and recharge new battery-powered electric buses, which it plans to use to replace its methane-powered bus fleet when those older buses start retiring in 2028.
But the Arborway site also occupies an extremely valuable location, next to the Forest Hills Orange Line station, and a stone's throw from the recreational amenities of Franklin Park.
"This will be one of the most transit-rich spots in the city with more than 18 acres of public land that can be utilized in a way that meets community needs," says Karen Mauney-Brodek, President of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy.
Mauney-Brodek has a keen interest in the Arborway site because her organization wants to restore the land under the nearby Shattuck Hospital to Franklin Park. Many of the hospital's services are moving to the Boston Medical Center area in the South End and the 10-story building there is due to be demolished, but the state has proposed leasing out the hospital site to build new supportive housing for the formerly homeless.
Mauney-Brodek argues that it would be better to locate that new housing on the Arborway site, which is much closer to the Forest Hills Orange Line station and the 16 bus routes it serves, and return the Shattuck site to public parkland.
"We believe that a bus facility, plus at least 8 acres of housing and other community amenities, including housing for the formerly homeless and associated services, can all be accommodated on the (Arborway) site," she told StreetsblogMASS.
In 2001, the T and the City of Boston signed a memorandum of understanding for redevelopment of the site. The memo specified that the T would transfer "no less than 8.0 acres of the Arborway Yard site" to the City of Boston "for community use" (read the full memo on page 226 of this PDF).
At Thursday's public meeting, the T presented a plan that would set aside a little over 8 acres for new development along Washington Street, in addition to additional public space for an extension of Lotus Street through the site.
The new bus garage would occupy the eastern end of the site, and incorporate a 1.3 acre parcel that's owned by the City of Boston at the corner of the Arborway and Forest Hills Street:
This scheme would allow the T to keep the current garage, located in the northern portion of the site, operational while the new garage is being built.
"The MBTA is committed to a facility design that meets operational and safety needs as efficiently as possible to maximize space for development," wrote MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo in an email to StreetsblogMASS earlier this week.
While the T's schematic plan makes space for transit-oriented development, in accordance with the 2001 agreement with the City of Boston, other promises from that 2001 agreement will likely need to be renegotiated.
For instance, the same memorandum's first bullet point states that "the total number of buses to be garaged and maintained" at a new garage "shall not exceed 118," a restriction that would make it difficult for the T to expand bus service in the neighborhood. The T's current plans call for a multi-level bus garage that could accommodate up to 200 buses, to accommodate expanded service, allow for mid-day charging of electric buses, and to relieve overcrowding at other bus facilities in the city.
"Building a facility that allows Bus Operations to provide consistently reliable service to transit-dependent populations is of utmost importance," wrote Pesaturo.