As officials with the MBTA and the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) seek a safe design for a new mile-and-a-half extension of the Neponset Greenway through Mattapan and Milton, records show that few accidents have occurred in the area about which they have expressed concerns.
The DCR has overseen a lengthy community process for a long-awaited extension of the rivserside trail, which would connect an existing path from Pope John Paul II Park to a separate trail in Hyde Park. A gap currently exists, and the trail now stops at Central Ave. in Milton.
The compromise route that has emerged would follow the river on the Milton side, cross over to Mattapan via a bridge near the Ryan playground, then end up at Mattapan Square MBTA station, which would necessitate an at-grade crossing.
But MBTA officials have raised safety concerns about the at-grade crossing for pedestrians. The T’s stance caught Greenway advocates off-guard, but DCR officials say they don’t view the concerns as an obstacle to getting the trail to run through both Mattapan and Milton.
MBTA general manager Rich Davey has said his agency prefers to work with the community and DCR – which had bought land adjacent to the Mattapan MBTA station as part of a plan to include an at-grade crossing and create a greenway visitors center – to find other alternatives to an at-grade crossing
In an interview with the Reporter in June, Davey said there had been 37 accidents, involving both cars and bicycles, at grade crossings in the last 16 months on the Green Line and Mattapan Line. Five of those incidents took place on the Mattapan Line, he added.
But according to records provided by the MBTA to the Reporter, there have been 48 at-grade crossing incidents between Jan. 2009 and now, with three accidents involving trolleys and cars on the Mattapan Line.
All three accidents on the Mattapan line occurred at the Central Ave. grade crossing. In Sept. 2010, a taxi van hit the front left side of a trolley. The tax driver was transported to a hospital, claiming head, back, and neck injuries, according to MBTA records. Because the taxi van was trying to pass in front of a moving trolley, it was cited by Milton police.
The next incident occurred a month later: a car hit a trolley, causing minor damage to both. According to the MBTA, the car swung around a bus at the curb of the Central Ave. intersection and hit the trolley while passing through the intersection.
The most recent accident happened in February of this year, when a car sliding in the snow hit the rear left side of a trolley.
Across the Green Line and Mattapan, a total of 41 automobile-trolley accidents occurred. There were five pedestrian-related accidents, with three incidents happening on the E Line, and one each on the B and C Lines. Bicycle and trolley accidents occurred once on the C Line and once on the E Line, according to the MBTA.
Lydia Rivera, an MBTA spokeswoman and Neponset area resident, noted that the Mattapan Line is smaller than the Green Line, which sees more vehicle traffic and pedestrian traffic, particularly the lines that are close to colleges.
The reluctance to create new at-grade crossings comes from federal recommendations, she said.
“I think if it can be avoided, let’s do something else,” she said.
DCR and MBTA officials are working to come up with other options they can agree on, and a walk-through of the proposed trail, which would include agency officials, community members and local and state lawmakers, is expected to be scheduled “within the next couple of weeks,” she said.
Separately, advocates of the Greenway, including the Boston Natural Areas Network and the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition, are planning a five-mile walk for next week, from Mattapan Square along River Street and the greenway trail as part of educational efforts about the project. The walk is scheduled to start on Thurs., July 21, at 6 p.m. at Mattapan Square MBTA station.
The MBTA’s stance on at-grade crossings has drawn criticism from the Conservation Law Foundation. In a letter to Davey in June, one of the foundation’s attorneys, Melissa Hoffer, noted that six at-grade crossings already exist on the Mattapan Line, and that users of the line must “routinely” walk across tracks at the Mattapan Square Station.
“While MBTA may be seeking to avoid new at-grade crossings as a matter of internal policy, applying that preference in this instance to an alignment identified after a lengthy stakeholder process is entirely arbitrary,” she wrote. “At-grade crossings can and have been implemented safely throughout the MBTA system.”