In my capacity as chair of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Committee, I was invited to attend a meeting last Thursday where bridge design consultants met with town officials to discuss redesign of the infamous East Street bridge. Our town departments were unanimous in their desire to see a design that includes ample sidewalks on either side. The issue of bicycles is bit trickier because to include bike lanes (which do not exist on East Street yet) would require almost doubling the width of the opening. The design consultants will consider the dimensions and their implications with respect to the abutments and neighboring property. I believe that a protected (e.g. with some physical curb/barrier), multi-use sidewalk is preferable to bike lanes and narrow sidewalks: if we can make the sidewalks ample enough for pedestrians to be safe and then encourage vulnerable bike users (e.g. kids going to Morrison field) to use this same path, it would probably serve all users well.
Widening the opening is critical to improving the connectivity of the neighborhood. Years ago, residents opposed the MBTA's plan to fix this bridge because they feared it would damage the character of the neighborhood to have a big opening like what is under the tracks at Everett Street, about a half mile south. Over the years, some have supported the current situation as a sort of perverse form of traffic calming and justice against trucks they don't believe should be allowed on the street. However, the current bridge is also a community barrier, dividing Islington into the Downey and Hanlon (school) districts. When the bridge is rebuilt and a safe passage for pedestrians and bikes opened, I believe we will create a more connected community with more people crossing back and forth...going to Morrison field on foot instead of driving and parking in the CVS lot, and perhaps walking down to Roche Bros, Wild Blossom, the Post Office, and barbershop.
However, the fundamental issue for the East Street Bridge is the low 10' 6" clearance and the dozens of truck accidents that happen every year. The MBTA's goal is to raise the bridge to 14' 6" which requires finding four feet of vertical space.
There is not likely much room to go down. The town lowered the roadway a few inches to help fire trucks pass and found buried sewer lines and various pipes that would be complicated to disrupt. (You don't want to mess with the sewer line or residents are likely to experience a different sort of "back-up" than currently results from traffic accidents.)
The most obvious way to increase the clearance is to raise the track. As I reported earlier in my post with information from the MBTA, they believe this would affect the track "for miles," requiring the Islington station platform to be raised which would then trigger requirements that the station be built to current accessibility standards. Suddenly it's a $32 million project (in addition to the bridge itself). But why? If we need to raise the track by 4 feet, then we need to increase the grade/slope of the track. For example, with a .5% grade increase, the track would ramp up 1/2 foot for every 100 feet leading to the bridge. With 800 feet of track, you could achieve a 4 foot rise.
The Islington station platform is located approximately 700 feet from the start of the bridge. There may be other engineering factors I've not considered, but it would seem that some elevation, maybe not the full 4 feet, is possible without touching Islington station. If a greater grade is tolerable, then it would seem mathematically possible to raise the track.
Westwood town administrator Mike Jaillet introduced another idea that he pressed the MBTA to consider. Apparently, for many years, the town has been interested in the possibility of moving Islington station south closer to Everett street. Mr Jaillet suggested there is a developer interested in building a primarily residential property in the area of Everett Street who might be motivated to collaborate on a transit-oriented development.
There was some enthusiasm for the relocation idea--based in part on the assumption that residents would prefer a new project be done away from the neighborhood. Some claim that the population density at the new location is better for a train station. I personally believe moving Islington station to the industrial area on Everett street, next to Progressive Insurance and across from Norwood senior housing would be a huge setback for walkability in Islington. Moving 1/2 mile puts the station more than a mile away from most Islington residents; while it would be a short drive, it is no longer walkable.
I do not have specific details on this station relocation idea--and it is important to remember that it is not the focus of the bridge redesign, but only a possible solution to the problem that would exist if raising the tracks requires rebuilding the station. The design firm will likely answer the engineering questions and present options and alternatives for further discussion. Town representatives will remain involved throughout the design process and public hearings will be held at various points in the design process to solicit resident feedback. Even if the relocation idea were to be actively considered, it could not be funded as a part of the bridge redesign.