Lowell: A Commuter Rail Model?

An editorial in today’s Boston Globe touts commuter rail as part of the solution for revitalizing the Commonwealth’s so-called “Gateway Cities.” The gateways include the cities of Lowell, Lawrence, New Bedford, Fall River and Springfield. Citing transportation as a key element for policymakers to consider, the editorial notes:

FOR THE state’s gateway cities to thrive again, they have to be within easy reach of the 21st-century economy. Extending commuter rail from Boston would help, but these cities also need a more ambitious strategy to restore their position as local transportation centers…

As policymakers in Massachusetts have come to grips with the possibilities of “smart growth,’’ an answer has emerged: By beefing up the MBTA commuter rail system, Massachusetts could spur the transformation of old factory buildings near train stations in mill cities into complexes that mix residential and commercial uses, while taking pressure off the state’s ever-diminishing amount of open space. In this spirit, Governor Patrick has vowed to start work on the long-planned commuter rail line to Fall River and New Bedford.

The editorial suggests that the city of Lowell and its commuter rails experience might provide good evidence of the role for commuter rail. The editorial does note, however, that these gateway cities are far more that bedroom communities. Lowell’s Planning and Development Director Adam Baacke also weighed on on the matter.

 The role that commuter rail can play may be most evident in Lowell, which has marketed itself as a low-cost alternative for artists and others seeking more space than they could ever afford in Boston or Cambridge. MBTA figures indicate that, every weekday, 1,400 people board inbound commuter trains in Lowell, presumably for jobs closer to the heart of Greater Boston. With sufficient frequency, the same could be true for trains from New Bedford and Fall River…

Adam Baacke, Lowell’s thoughtful planning and development chief, recognizes that getting by without a car in his city would be a challenge, but argues that even promoting more single-car households would produce dividends for developers, businesses, and residents. He points to Bellingham, Wash., and Boulder, Colo., as smaller cities that promote mobility through a well-conceived local transit system and a web of bike and pedestrian lanes.

To catch the full thrust of  the commuter rail possibilities locally and in a regional corridor according to the Globe, read the full editorial here on Boston.com.

4 Responses to Lowell: A Commuter Rail Model?

  1. JoeS says:

    In the 2 editorials to date, the City of Lowell gets some good press, and today it’s with reference to Adam Baacke (“thoughful planning and development chief”). What will be interesting is to see if this series precipitates any additional action by either the State of private companies looking to re-locate, expand or develop.

  2. PaulM says:

    The readers’ comments are worth looking at for the most part, excluding typical ranters. The question posed by one about why Chelmsford and Westford have done so well with their suburban office and technology parks while Lowell has struggled to attract more of those kinds of businesses is one of those questions that make your brain hurt from trying to figure it out. Maybe it’s the wrong question. Maybe we have to adapt to regional patterns now, where the cities provide things the towns are less apt to, like business incubator spaces, higher education complexes, cultural institutions and experiences, urban residential life with distinct architectural character, a dense network of small businesses, and international cuisine options. But whether it is rail or zip car or green energy buses, the city people will need excellent means of transportation to jobs in the suburban ring.

  3. Renee Aste says:

    A few years ago my husband wondered what it would be like to take public transportation from Lowell to Peabody, on a best case scenario it would take him close to 3 1/2 hours one way. I understand not everyone can work close to the city or rail station, but to become a single car family would be like winning the lottery!

  4. George DeLuca says:

    What’s the latest on the debate to extend the commuter rail from Lowell to Nashua, which would pick up N. Chelmsford and Tyngsboro?

    I read recently that Nashua was interested in an extension to tie into the Fitchburg line. Nothing was mentioned about the Lowell/Nashua initiative.