Your Town Tuesday: Everett


Executive Director

EVERETT, Mass. (Feb. 22, 2016) - Wearing hard hats and reflective vests, the group of engineers, firefighters, transportation experts and a few bike advocates stood along the sidewalk of Everett’s Broadway in plain view of Boston’s skyline. Indeed the group stood right on the Boston city line.  

Voices were raised to overcome the din of diesel engines growling south on Route 99.  Amid the slush of February, this group looked more like a stranding than the vanguard of 21st Century design. And yet they seemed hopeful.


Because Everett is on the cusp of a multi-modal transportation overhaul.

“The corridor has received unprecedented levels of analysis and scrutiny by planners, traffic engineers and developers in the past three years,” said Jay Monty, the first transportation planner ever hired by this city founded in 1630. He has been on the job just one year.  “I can’t count the number of times I’ve brought ideas to the table that would get laughed out of the room in other communities, but here, folks are willing to give them a try. Already we’re talking about true cycle tracks that would connect downtown Everett to Medford - and the T-Station at Wellington - that could be a reality within the next two years.”

A review of a map, as always, is revelatory. Everett is wedged against the Mystic River which fans northward into a floodplain with wetlands, estuaries, streams and things folks used to call “swamps.”

Consider the next juxtaposition. To the south, Logan Airport is - like Everett - sits on the eastern side of the Mystic River. And all of the fresh produce, fish, meat, and time-sensitive products for the entire New England market arrive there. To add to that impact countless liquid natural gas, heating oil, crude oil and petroleum products crucial to the heating of New England homes arrive via ships and head up the Mystic River to either East Boston or Everett.  

Given hazardous material restrictions and tolls on the tunnels and bridges, most of those trucks go through Everett, with its bridge over the Mystic River.  

“As the only north-south access between Boston and Everett, the competition for space on the road between trucks, cars, transit, cyclists and pedestrians is intense at nearly all hours of the day,” explained Monty. “It is an incredibly busy transit corridor as well. MBTA buses that utilize the corridor can, at peak times, be carrying upwards of 30 percent of all the people moving through the corridor, making it one of the busiest transit corridors in the region. Then of course, is the crucial role it plays for the growing numbers of cyclists as it is the only means of reaching a number of north shore communities from Boston and the only way of reaching East Boston from downtown.

Enter Steve Winslow

“We have already seen an uptick in bicycle commuting in our area and would expect a surge if bicyclists had an off-road alternative to Route 99,” said Stephen Winslow of Malden. “An off-road bicycle route can help break that bottleneck and ensure residents of the Northern Strand communities have access to the new economy jobs being created nearby.”

Winslow and his stalwart group “Bike to the Sea” worked more than two decades to build his vision. Inspired by the success of the nearby Minuteman Bikeway, Winslow’s group augured through social and political granite to build the Northern Strand Rail Trail along an abandoned rail bed running from Malden and Everett through the North Shore wetlands of Revere, and Saugus. The goal has been to afford these working class citizens a healthy and active route to the beaches of Lynn, Swampscott and Nahant and the economic offerings of Boston, Cambridge and Somerville.

Only two issues remain: one bike-hating mayor in Lynn that has blocked the completion of the path to the sea, and the connection between the Everett terminus and a safe corridor into Boston along the Mystic River.

The southernmost bridge and most direct route is along Route 99, which requires a cyclist to travel through Sweetser Circle, a massive rotary interchange with Route 16.

“Getting through the circle can only be described as a circular game of Frogger!  There are cars coming into the circle from seemingly every angle that are not really interested in me and more interested in getting as quickly as possible to the point where they can sit in traffic exiting the circle,” said Kurt Maw, who routinely commutes from his home in Salem to his job in Boston, where he serves as principal engineer of Essential Inc.

After surviving Sweetser Circle cyclists then tackle the metal-grate Malden Bridge, the approach to which is inside the Boston city boundaries, created by a curious tongue of land.  This is the same four-lane bridge used by motorists, buses, and all those trucks unable to go through the tunnels. This raucous roaring corridor includes a bike lane that services a number of stalwart riders each day. But the comfort level along this corridor is barely tolerable by the most experienced of cyclists.

“Once you manage to get through the circle and onto 99 heading south toward Sullivan Square, there is a striped bike lane,” said Maw. “It doesn't really do a whole lot to offer a feeling of comfort due to the the number of driveways, and parking lots along the way….It's a two-mile stretch of chaos. While the bike lane that's there helps, if there was a way to move bikes off of this section of road it would be amazing!”

Before we even discuss bicycles, let’s go back to those things folks once called “swamps.”  

In the mid-1800s the folks who ran Boston’s Union Oyster House harvested shellfish in those swamps. But by the turn of the 20th Century industry had set up shop. In 1929 Monsanto established operations there. They employed thousands of Everett residents and received regular praise from local officials and the newspaper.  

But there were also routine chemical mishaps and employee dangers. During the 1950s there were more than five considerable chemical leaks. While Monsanto served as the flagship, Everett and other area communities along the Mystic River watershed hosted dozens of chemical plants.

During the 1980s the firms closed up and left behind this terrible legacy. Little substantial  development or improvements could take place due to the incredible environmental burden of doing so.

Enter Steve Wynn  

“The Wynn Casino is the proverbial elephant in the room, but many other property owners in the corridor are already looking to sell or upzone their properties,” said Monty, noting the Assembly Row development on the Somerville side of the river and growing developments in Charlestown and Chelsea.

With the imminent construction of a casino by Steve Wynn, bicycle advocates, environmentalists,  and transportation planners find themselves with a curious ally with a big checkbook. To construct this casino, Wynn has already agreed to a massive environmental cleanup of the marshlands along the Mystic River, where the Department of Conservation and Recreation has been developing the Mystic River Reservation with assorted boardwalks and pathways. Wynn’s funds are going into coffers controlled by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. Everett has applied, with MassBike support, for a grant to fund a study to close that one kilometer gap of Broadway to the river, which could include $250,000 to study the potential for constructing a bike-ped bridge over the river.

“The impact of this would be huge, particularly for those cyclists and pedestrians coming from Malden and points north as they would be able to bypass the dangerous intersection at Sweetser Circle (Route 16 and Broadway) and all of lower Broadway. If we’re ultimately successful in constructing a bridge across the Mystic River to Assembly Row and the Orange Line, the north shore will have the equivalent of what Cambridge and Arlington have at Alewife: Direct off-road bicycle and pedestrian access to the MBTA,” said Monty. “In some respects, Everett has been off the radar for many years, and is now awakening to its immense potential as a vibrant and connected urban community.”

This could also literally and politically pave the way to create a car-free bridge that connects Somerville to a North Shore route. Such a connection would create a bicycle bridge between Boston, Somerville, and Cambridge to the more than a dozen communities on the North Shore. A day ride from Boston to the beaches of Beverly would become a reasonable 17-mile ride. Millennials and students could gain access to housing in Saugus, Revere and Lynn and pedal comfortably less than 10 miles into Boston. And residents of Everett, Malden and Chelsea could gain quick, affordable access to the jobs in the creative corridor that houses Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Biogen and dozens of other high-paying jobs that are now all but impossible to reach via transit or bicycle.

“What excites me every day working in Everett is the extent to which other communities, state agencies, advocacy groups, etc. are interested in doing work here and realizing the potential that exists.”

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