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Dorchester pastor speaks in defense of Codman Square parking lot

City’s car-free vision will stumble without transit fixes

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Dorchester pastor speaks in defense of Codman Square parking lot
Pastor Bruce Wall says Codman Square stands to lose businesses and churches should the city allow the Euclid and Washington Streets parking lot to be built over.

While city planners and a new crop of architects are pushing for car-free condos and public transit-oriented developments, not everyone is on board. Developer interest in replacing a Codman Square parking lot with housing or business space is meeting stiff resistance from a local pastor.

On his radio show, Pastor Bruce Wall of Dorchester’s Global Christian Ministries gave an impassioned speech in defense of the parking lot across the street from the church, at the corner of Washington and Euclid Streets.

“It was frightening to learn that the parking lot that can hold close to 50 automobiles every day — parked there by people who work at the Codman Square Health Center, who go to local businesses, who attend churches, by people who actually live in the neighborhood — were going to be taken away, just snatched away from us and given to developers for them to put apartments on or to put a business on across the street,” Wall said in a YouTube video that had garnered nearly 100 views by Banner press time. “We were horrified.”

If the parking lot — which is managed by the church but owned by the city — becomes lost to private development and non-resident visitors receive tickets for leaving their cars on the street, it will unravel the local economic and social fabric, Wall said.

“People will stop patronizing the businesses. They will stop going to the churches,” Wall said. “What we’re trying to stop is the mass exodus of churches and businesses from the Codman Square area.”

Citing examples from the South End, Wall argues that churches losing visitors may find it hard to maintain their congregations and, with little land accessible for them to purchase within city confines, be forced to move outside of Boston.

Wall’s praise for the parking lot flies in the face of the personal vehicle-free, public transit-adherent vision woven through the city’s Go Boston 2030 report. According to several transit activists, if that vision is to truly be enacted in all of Boston, not just the inner core, the city needs to step up its efforts to make car-free options available and convenient in some outer neighborhoods.

Go Boston 2030

Released in February, the Go Boston 2030 report outlines goals to decrease use of personal vehicles and, citywide, increase use of public transit for commuting to work by one-third and walking to work by almost one-half. The plan further aims to quadruple rates of biking to work, while halving use of driving alone.

Many in the city appear to share this goal. According to a Go Boston 2030 survey of about 2,670 Boston residents, when asked to select among four options for prioritizing road space, 58 percent of respondents said they would like to see exclusive T and bike lanes established via reclaiming street lanes currently used for driving and parking. Nearly one-fifth of responders recommended sacrificing either a driving or parking lane to repurpose the space for exclusive T lanes but not bike lanes, followed by 16 percent favoring replacing a current driving lane or parking lane with protected bike lanes. Only 8 percent of respondents favored maintaining current auto capacity on the roads.

However, the report also noted that geographic disparity is evident among who is able to rely on public transit to get to work.

“Residents farther from the core and from transit stops tend to use their cars more,” the report states. It continues, “The decision to drive is often a reflection of transit service not being reliable enough to meet residents’ needs.”

To follow through on this acknowledgment, much remains to be done.

The outer neighborhoods

The state recently drew widespread outcry over a proposal to cut weekend commuter rail service in an effort to trim expenses.

“On the one side, you hear the mayor saying that over the next 13 years we want to see people move out of cars and more onto public transportation. Next, the MBTA and MassDOT are saying they’re canceling all commuter rail service on the weekends for years starting on July 1,” said Mela Bush Miles, chair of the Fairmount Indigo Transit Coalition. “How do you get some people onto something that’s not running? It’s a paradox.”

To reduce car use, the MBTA needs to make public transit cost effective, Bush Miles said. Slashing commuter rail service means that those who bought a monthly pass then also have to pay for ride-hailing or taxi services or string together what could be three or four bus rides, she said. Or, they could quit the T entirely and keep a car.

“If you cut off weekend service when someone bought a monthly pass, they’re not getting what they paid for,” Bush Miles told the Banner. “They might have no other choice but to get back into a car. Transit costs become a factor when other costs are rising, like housing.”

In the face of public backlash, state officials this Monday rescinded the proposal to eliminate weekend rail service.

David Queeley, member of the Go Boston 2030 Mayor’s Mobility Plan Advisory Committee and the eco-innovation district director for the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation, said providing uninterrupted, regular service and expansion of the Fairmount line would help reduce the need for cars. Another proposal: improving the design of transit stations to make them more attention-grabbing and attractive to potential riders.

Not all measures require much investment, either. Queeley noted that institution of a lower speed limit in Codman Square and the Talbot Norfolk Triangle has encouraged more people to walk and bike as it is now safer to do so.

Regardless, making car independence a reality for all of Boston will require initiatives tailored to the outer neighborhoods.

“Dorchester is Boston’s largest and most diverse neighborhood. Without some sort of improved transit service, it’ll be status quo,” Queeley said.