NBBJ, Kittelson Associates
Chris Herlich, Pablo Licari, Jim Gresalfi, Maxwell Nie, Alan Mountjoy, Sarah Markovitz, Conor Semler, Ellen Moshier
Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood is considered to be far from the center of the city; it is far from center of attention for most people in the metro area. It is, however, the center of a community of deep importance to Boston today and in the future. As a hub for the immigrant and African-American communities in Greater Boston, Mattapan is a critical steppingstone for those looking for a better life in Boston. However, like many places outside the urban core, access to quality jobs and services is often challenging: despite its location at the end of the Red Line, it takes nearby residents as much as 90 minutes to get to Government Center by public transportation during the morning rush hour.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) provided a solution for this neighborhood. Using the existing 110-foot right of way on Blue Hill Ave, the Mattapan BRT station helped transform the lives of those who call Mattapan home while encouraging new public and private investment in a part of the city that sees all too little improvements in transportation infrastructure. Such a station spurred significant, capital-intensive projects and increased density without causing short term displacement.
Serving the existing community while encouraging new construction was no easy feat. Neighborhood groups worked closely with the MBTA, BPDA, BTD, and others at City Hall to support a station design that lifts Mattapan. Numerous open houses and three charrettes were held, one each at a local business, St. Angela Merici Church, and the Mildred Ave Middle school.
Residents were eager to participate and their suggestions guided the application of the Boston BRT’s modular station construction to the Mattapan Square stop. Using the three fundamental component modules for the system’s stations – Transaction, Anticipation, and Comfort, the residents were able to customize station configurations based on local conditions, add features based on neighborhood needs and capacity, and select materials that complement the existing urban fabric. The width of Blue Hill Ave provided opportunities for a generous station and platform space that incorporates public green and micro-retail spaces along with works from local artists, in the hope that local entrepreneurs can find a foothold in the neighborhood. The end result is a station that residents are proud to call their own: a small volunteer organization has sprung up to help care for the Mattapan Square BRT station.
The station’s location spurred transit-oriented development as a result of developers recognizing the city’s investment in the neighborhood. The station created an opportunity for placemaking and serves as a prominent fixture of accessibility to other parts of the city for residents, visitors and workers alike. As a result, the influx of visitors to the area has increased, supporting a stronger commercial and retail presence in the neighborhood.
Although residents and business owners welcomed the amenities, their top concern was effectiveness. During the open houses, participants bemoaned inconsistency and long travel times on transit, dangerous traffic patterns, and a lack of investment in quality public infrastructure. Almost immediately, the locals have grown confident in BRT due to the state of the art operational practices that the station and system have adopted. Off-board fare gates that allow riders to pay with their CharlieCards before entering the station; dedicated bus lanes along Blue Hill Ave and Warren St, to Dudley Square; and cutting edge information delivery systems, have kept average dwell-times for buses at stations along the Mattapan-Dudley Line at under 45 seconds while providing residents with to-the-second updates on multiple travel modes. Furthermore, the BRT system has been experimenting with an app-based payment system that allows passengers to use their phones to track boarding and exiting, billing users at the end of each month.
The station, like others in the system, is equipped with four BusRapidBoards, or BRBs. The BRB serves as a neighborhood information hub and a means of accessing services beyond just transportation. A custom operating system that is controlled by a mobile app, developed with the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics and led by local software and user experience design firms, gives users information on BRT and other T operations; hourly weather predictions to help inform travel decisions; and a browser for city services and information, including neighborhood meeting announcements, service application advice and deadlines, and direct access to the City’s 311 service. The system is also experimenting with a gestural control scheme to allow those without smartphones to use BRBs throughout the system.
Because the station is expected to last upwards of 50 years, both the neighborhood and the BRT system were very focused on minimizing the environmental impacts not only of construction but also operations and maintenance. The standardized modular structures kept most construction activity off-site, minimizing disruption to the neighborhood while channeling cost savings into higher quality amenities and resiliency features. Transaction modules are largest, and accommodate boarding, indoor retail, and information delivery; Anticipation modules are medium sized, providing more compact spaces when needed, mainly for waiting or for station entry; Comfort modules are the smallest, and focus on simpler features like short term seating, shade, and bicycle parking to improve sidewalk or platform conditions.
When feasible, recycled materials and locally sourced construction materials were used: the platforms are recycled concrete taken from nearby sidewalk improvement projects, and much of the interior wood at the Mattapan Square station has been reclaimed from legacy industrial buildings along the Neponset River.
LED lighting fixtures, already low-energy, are automated and sensors control lighting as needed. The large amount of triple-glazing in the stations further reduces the need for artificial lighting and temperature control, while maximizing the thermal mass of the concrete platforms during the winter months.
Unsure of their neighbors’ willingness to actively manage the station, Mattapan residents opted to use the station’s roof as a solar photovoltaic and hot water source. The PV panels provide almost all of the station’s electricity on most days, and micro-retail associated with the station can connect to the station for water and electric access. Other neighborhoods have chosen to install extensive green roofs or public art on the tops of their local stations, and some groups are considering public access to the roofs.
The ample bicycle storage and bike sharing stations have increased ridership in the area. These amenities have opened the door for residents in even more remote areas to have convenient access to the station when not in walking distance. This change in community mode for residents has further lessened auto-dependency in the neighborhood and as a result, living, working, and visiting in Mattapan feels more accessible to Greater Boston due to the convenience of a short BRT ride.