Perfection shouldn't be enemy of progress on Blue Hill Avenue

The huge median strip in Blue Hill Avenue looking south towards Mattapan Square. Seth Daniel photo

The Wu administration last week confirmed that it’s moving ahead with a “multi-modal” public works project that will bring infrastructure changes to Blue Hill Avenue and, hopefully, shorten commute times for the tens of thousands of bus-dependent residents who live along the corridor.

It should not have come as a surprise.

The decision to proceed with the conceptual plan – including dedicated, center-running bus lanes – was telegraphed in a 112-page report published last October that summarized the city’s engagement effort, which stretched out over nearly two years and continued on even after the report was released. It concluded that the residents they talked to over that period were ready and eager to see a new approach.

And it wasn’t just city officials who reached the conclusion that Blue Hill should be transformed into “a boulevard-like street that is part of the neighborhood, not a street designed to get people from the suburbs into and out of Boston as quickly as possible.”

As MBTA General Manager Eng said in the report: “Based on the engagement summarized in this report, we know our bus operators and our bus riders want to see improvements for Blue Hill Avenue in order to better serve Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan.”

The report was also transparent about the reservations that many of our neighbors have to these changes – and the notion that enforcement of existing rules or simple fixes, not new infrastructure, would be an easier, more efficient route to improve conditions. Others told city officials that they don’t like the center lane buses that already exist on Seaver Street and Columbus Avenue.

And some said bluntly that they don’t feel the city listens to or cares about their concerns in any event – and that the “design decisions about BHA were already made and that the project was essentially ‘a done deal.’”

Sure enough, that’s been the reaction from hundreds of people who’ve commented about the initial news story that the Reporter published last week. Our Facebook page was flooded with negative reviews of the plan, most of them from residents who feel ignored despite the unprecedented steps taken by city government to engage in new ways. Some have even launched a petition drive to register their opposition.

A slice of these reactions are overwrought, mean-spirited, or just plain ill-informed. But there’s an undercurrent of legitimate anxiety here that city planners and engineers would do well to listen to and incorporate into next steps. For one, there are sincere fears that small businesses along Blue Hill Avenue might suffer from parking restrictions that could impact deliveries and customer flow.

Mayor Wu, Congresswoman Pressley, and other leaders who are pushing this proposal forward have made it clear that there will be at least 18 months of “block-by-block” engagement done to fine tune whatever designs before they are finalized. Much of that work will fall to city planners and engineers, who’ll have their work cut out for them to reach consensus.

In the final analysis, there’s plenty of room for major improvements to this essential corridor, especially speedier commute times for the thousands of public transit-dependent neighbors who live and work there now.

In the case of this critical corridor, the quest for perfection should not be the enemy of progress.

Blue Hill Avenue can – and should – see enhancements that will make day-to-day life better for the people who use it and those who live there.

This project is a step in the right direction.

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