By Mark Pickering
The city is out to revitalize Watertown Square and has set out a series of meetings aimed at getting feedback from the general public. The overall effort will look at making the square more attractive to walkers, merchants and developers looking to address the housing crisis.
The issue of transportation is a key part of the package. Even our urban neighbors note that car traffic has taken over Watertown Square – which could be the worst such intersection in Greater Boston.
A decent mass transit system could do its part in cutting down on traffic. The MBTA has, at best, neglected Watertown Square for decades. The only bus route that works at all well is the No. 71 to Harvard Square.
In fact, the MBTA treats Watertown worse than any other community abutting Boston or any of the city’s neighborhoods. The exception to this rule is Winthrop, which is on a peninsula jutting out into Boston Harbor.
Watertown lacks any of the basics that are a hallmark of a good mass transit network: The city does not have any trolley, subway or commuter rail stop – and no up-to-date T station.
Despite the terrible service that the T provides in Watertown, the city itself is on the move. The city has grown in population in recent years and now has more than 35,000 residents. Multifamily housing has sprung up in places that had formerly been a home to commercial and industrial businesses, such as Raytheon.
A key part of the problem is the MBTA’s run-down Watertown Yard, which used to be a trolley stop. It’s been in a state of decay since the MBTA closed down the “A” branch of the Green Line in 1969, a move that was widely protested.
The only replacement that Watertown Square got was the No. 57 bus, which pokeys along through Brighton and then down Commonwealth Avenue. Traffic has not decreased since then.
When the changeover was first proposed and tested in 1962, the bus flunked the popularity test.
After that, “there was a whole lot of opposition” to shutting down the “A,” branch, said Bradley Clarke, president of the Boston Street Railway Association. The T ignored the Committee for Better Transit, which drew from the affected communities of Watertown, Brighton and Newton.
Watertown Yard is now home to a run-down car barn that once repaired trolleys.
The No. 70 bus plods for about 15 miles through a whole swath of urban communities that the T has neglected. This disaster of a bus route goes through some of the worst intersections in Greater Boston. That includes downtown Waltham, Watertown Square, Arsenal Street in Watertown and Western Ave. in Boston – along with the massive bottleneck at the Charles River bridges, where Soldiers Field Road, the Mass Pike exits and Memorial Drive all merge together.
Our city deserves a new MBTA station with modern services that offers easy connections to other parts of the Greater Boston. A plan for revitalizing Watertown Square should address those issues; the No. 57 and No. 70 should be free until the T provides better service.
The public launch for the city’s Watertown Square Study is set for Tuesday, Oct. 17, from 6 to 8 p.m. at 64 Pleasant St. There will be a reception from 5 to 6 p.m.
Mark Pickering is a freelance writer and veteran of the local news scene, having worked on the business desk and the opinion pages of the Boston Herald. He lives in Watertown.