On $60m rehab of Blue Hill corridor, some are asking: Who is all this for? If they build it, will someone else come?

There’s been no shortage of hesitation within low-income, Black, and Brown communities in Dorchester and Mattapan when the city comes through touting major plans and multi-million-dollar upgrades.

Most residents wonder out loud if those upgrades are really for them or are they precursors to their being pushed out of a community they have known and loved all their lives. It is that level of anxiety that many in Dorchester and Mattapan along Blue Hill Avenue – often referred to as the spine of Black Boston – are feeling about an upcoming $60 million reconstruction and revisioning project aimed at the corridor.

In other words: If they build it, someone else will come.

That was a major topic on Monday night, April 4, when Jascha Franklin-Hodge, the city’s chief of streets, visited a meeting of the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council (GMNC) to chat about the upgrade and its implications.

“We want to make sure this project is built with and for those that live in the community along Blue Hill Avenue,” he said. “There’s a fear that if the city makes things nicer, it’s not for me and not for now, but for people that will come later…We’re really … doing this work with the goals and needs of those that are on the corridor.”

Conceding that the city doesn’t have “all the answers,” Franklin-Hodge said that officials are working with experts who will approach the Blue Hill Avenue project with a mind that it will support businesses and residents. He added that improvement without displacement will be a hallmark of this massive project, which, he noted, is the largest capital investment in the mayor’s budget aside from large bridge projects.

Continuing to develop affordable housing on the many city-owned vacant lots in and around Blue Hill Avenue is one first step, he said, adding, “My hope and my expectation is we will have the Mayor’s Office of Housing by our side throughout the course of the Blue Hill Ave project so that we can start to develop more tools for stabilization and helping keep people in their communities and keep those communities intact and healthy for the people that are part of them.

“We see this risk,” he said. “We share that anxiety, and we want to make sure we’re not forcing the community of Mattapan and Dorchester along Blue Hill Ave to choose between good transportation and housing affordability. That’s not good enough, and we want to do better than that.”

Some of the outreach for the project has already started in one segment from the Blue Hill Avenue commuter rail station to Mattapan Square. Meanwhile, Grayscale, a consultant group, will be running the outreach for the project from the rail station to Grove Hall, reaching out to neighborhood associations, churches, and community leaders.

One aspect of the rehabilitation prompting debate is the proposal for a dedicated center lane for buses and dedicated inside lanes for bicycles, with the latter seen by some as harbingers of gentrification or an amenity that few current residents would use.

One critic on the meeting call said that it “doesn’t make sense to me” to create dedicated bike lanes since “I just haven’t seen it. It seems like it’s a lot of wasted space when there’s more cars on the road. Or is it that you have a plan of a different type of people that will be coming in the area that would be living here in the future?”

Vivian Ortiz, who lives in Mattapan, quickly reacted to that thinking, noting that she rides a bike every day on Cummins Highway and knows many others who do as well. Allentza Michel, also of Mattapan, said she would ride her bike more often on Cummins if there were separate lanes to make it safer.

Franklin-Hodge said one of the key goals of all three projects includes a narrowing the road to make drivers want to slow down. One of the tools, he said, in giving less space to cars is to put in bike lanes.

“I’ve ridden on Cummins Highway with one of your members,” he said,” and it’s not the primary mode of travel. We know that. Riding on that street with a bike, I did not feel safe. If we look at streets that are unsafe to ride a bike on and we say – ‘Why put a bike lane there because no one is riding a bike?’ – well, some of the people are not riding their bikes there because they don’t feel safe. The only way they will ride is if we build that infrastructure. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg question.”

State Rep. Russell Holmes said the sudden focus on these projects comes from long discussions about equity during GoBoston, which he chaired several years ago. He said the “ABC” projects are getting done because of those conversations, and they are specifically being done to make residents safer, to keep people from racing on these roads, which often has caused loss of life.

“We chatted often about equity and there were three roads – American Legion, Cummins, and Blue Hill,” he said. “This is about disinvestment, and so a lot of times I hear people who are yelling about why we are getting so much all at once. It’s because this is the right time and the right place. It’s not to push anyone out of this neighborhood.”


• The GMNC Zoning Committee will host two meetings this month to address the new development by Lena New Boston at the old State Hospital property that was recently awarded after the original developer decided not to move forward in 2021. The meetings will take place on April 21 and 28, said Chair Fatima Ali-Salaam.

•Sheriff Steve Tompkins appeared at the GMNC’s April 4 meeting to announce he is on a listening tour to talk to community organizations and residents about what services they would like the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office to provide. He will return to a future meeting to discuss more of what his office wants to do, and to hear from residents as well.

•Powerful Pathways will be hosting a Mattapan Square Brainstorming session on Sat., April 16, to explore ideas for Mattapan Square improvements. The online meeting will be from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. For more information, visit powerfulpathwaysinc@gmail.com.

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