LYNN — In a forum that focused on maximizing the potential for transformative, transit-oriented development in gateway cities, Mayor Thomas M. McGee said the major challenge is first creating a public transportation system that works for everyone.
“You talk about Lynn, there’s great opportunity there to create the jobs for everyone, to find mixed-income housing, to do the types of things that work for everyone in the community, (but) you can’t do it without a vibrant transportation system and a 21st century transportation system,” McGee said. “That’s been one of the major challenges we in the city of Lynn face and anyone along the corridor.”
McGee said Lynn and other communities along the commuter rail corridor on the Newburyport/Rockport line are operating on a 19th century system. He described the experience as “Thomas the Tank Engine,” with a diesel engine and a conductor that gets people off the train.
Other places have an electrified 21st century commuter rail system, where the doors open and people get in and out. It’s not rapid transit, but it’s more efficient and a system that works, said McGee, who also spoke about the need for a “vibrant water transportation system” to ease traffic congestion.
McGee spoke at Wednesday afternoon’s North Shore Massachusetts Transformative Transit-Oriented Development Regional Forum, at the Lynn Museum and hosted by the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth (MassINC), which has released a report on the topic. The discussion was moderated by Essex Media Group (publisher of The Daily Item) Community Relations Director Carolina Trujillo.
In the report, “The Promise and Potential of Transformative Transit-Oriented Development in Gateway Cities,” the executive summary reads that gateway cities can accommodate thousands of new housing units and thousands of new jobs on the vacant and underutilized land surrounding their commuter rail stations. The walkable, mixed-use urban land offers an ideal setting for a transit-oriented development.
Dr. Tracy Corley, a transit-oriented development fellow for MassInc., said their research focused on 13 of 26 gateway cities and what could be done within a half mile of commuter rail stations, which could create the potential of 140,000 new jobs.
Given that research shows 600,000 to 800,000 more people will move into Massachusetts between now and 2040, she said the focus is on how gateway cities can act as urban hubs for development across the state and not just outliers to Boston.
But panelists McGee, state Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante (D-Gloucester), Tom Daniel, Salem’s director of planning and community development, and Michael Procopio, co-owner of Procopio Enterprises Inc., who is in the midst of building luxury apartments in downtown Lynn, told the more than 100 people in attendance that a challenged public transportation system on the North Shore hinders development opportunities.
Shortly after Procopio started speaking during the panel discussion, his comments and the forum were interrupted by about 50 people protesting his company’s $90 million Munroe Street development.
The project has been a controversial one, drawing praise from city officials about the significant investment into the downtown, but ire from activists who have taken issue with an 259-unit development that doesn’t offer any affordable housing and a $2.5 million tax break the city gave to the development team over a seven-year period to make the project economically feasible.
Protestors raised the same concerns at the forum, along with perceived workplace safety issues at the site following a construction accident last month that left a worker seriously injured. The group was given two minutes to read a prepared resolution on their concerns before being told to leave by event organizers.
Procopio apologized for the interruption, saying that if he knew his presence was going to “result in this level of disruption,” he would not have taken part in the panel, but didn’t address the concerns about his ongoing development.
“A lot of people were here talking earlier about the real challenges we all face together,” McGee said referencing the protest. “It’s about having a dialogue of where the common ground is and where the opportunity comes from. If we don’t have a transportation system that works, then you’re not going to have housing, you’re not going to have jobs and nobody’s going to benefit.”
Ferrante said the aim should be not just for transportation, but “transformative transportation.” Disney World and Disneyland have it figured out, she said, but government not so much.
Disney parks create a user experience, moving people from the parking lot and throughout the park “fabulously” with monorails, ferries and tram cars, Ferrante said.
One of the biggest complaints with train stations is that there’s no parking, Ferrante said, who proposed that frustration be removed by creating a shuttle bus system that goes to neighborhoods throughout the day and brings people to and from the station.
“Disney World — people are happy there,” Ferrante said. “Why? Because they can go from their hotel room to the store to the ride to the whatever. People up and down who need to commute, they’re not happy because they can’t find a parking space. The train is too full and doesn’t arrive on time.”
On Wednesday, an update was given on the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Lynn Transit Action Plan, which started last month and is focusing on how to enhance the quality of public transportation in the city. Results will be shared by MassDOT in late summer or early fall.