Fred Flintstone, George Jetson and the I-90 Interchange

The deadline for comment on the Interstate 90 Interchange project in Allston was this past week. Below is the letter filed by MassBike Executive Director Richard Fries.

To Whom it May Concern,

I deeply appreciate the effort made to present a number of options and schemes to re-build the Interstate 90 interchange in Allston. The public hearings have likewise been informative and illuminating, for all parties involved.

While I applaud the addition of some bicycle and pedestrian accommodation I came away rather crestfallen. After discussion with several other advocates I had to check if indeed my reaction was on target.

The collective disappointment resonated with all concerned advocates.

The narrow corridor of the project affords several different options. I respect the constraints and the efforts to integrate a variety of modes there. I'll defer to my colleagues at the Boston Cyclists Union, Boston Bikes, Livable Streets Alliance, WalkBoston and other neighborhood groups for their expertise there.

But the plans shown for the 100-plus acre wedge of land is what left me disappointed. This 20th Century paradigm of design is revelatory. The plan seems focused on throughput for automobiles first with bikes, pedestrians and transit wrapped around that as a distant second.

We have a chance here to go to the vanguard of 21st Century thought and put the active transportation plan into place first.

Of note is that less than 29 percent of 18-year-olds even have drivers' licenses. We know that 17 percent of college students - those all-important job creators - in Massachusetts use bikes as their first choice of transportation and transit second. Within MetroBoston the number approaches 30 percent.

So here we are in Suffolk County, which alone has 26 colleges and universities, with a parcel of land between Harvard, Northeastern, Boston College and Boston University. All of these schools discourage students from bringing automobiles to campus.

And what do we do? We design something for Mr. Drysdale and his Cadillac in classic 1960s design.

At issue here is NOT whether we can get a share of the road; we have a blank canvas. At issue here is whether we can get a share of the engineer's mind. A generation grew up watching Fred Flintstone stuck in traffic in the past and George Jetson stuck in traffic in the future. Can we not shatter this failed paradigm?

I reflect on this while we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the movie Back to the Future. Just 30 years ago we thought the future would be about moving through places faster.

But we missed it.

The future, with technology, social networking and mobile phones, turned out to be about slowing down and improving where we are at with each other.  Instead of rocketing AWAY from each other, we worked on improving the urban space we share WITH each other.

So let's not make that mistake with this design. Change the paradigm.

What will our verse be when they revisit this design in 50 years?

Thank you,

Richard Fries

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