This year, the City of Everett is celebrating its 125th anniversary. Since its founding, the city has evolved in a number of ways, and new challenges have accompanied the shifts in its character. Historically a largely industrial blue-collar town, Everett is increasingly becoming a first choice for young professionals seeking housing outside the skyrocketing prices of Boston proper.
One of Everett’s main goals is linked to development—specifically, tapping into potential that hasn’t yet been utilized to overcome barriers such as the city’s isolation, issues with transit access, and slower rates of commercial and community development and re-development. Thus far, there are a number of positive signs about Everett’s effort to transform its weaker points into strengths in the areas listed above.
In 1990, Everett had a population of 35,711 people. From 1990 to 2016, the city has experienced a 29.76 percent increase, with the biggest jump (11.20 percent) occurring from 2010-2016. The City of Everett has experienced consistent and slowly increasing growth rates over the past two decades, and that is likely to continue. Surrounding cities with similarly growing transit needs showed comparable trends. Watertown, for instance, saw a 9.7 percent increase from 2010 to 2016 and Chelsea had an increase of 12.9 percent increase over the same period. Because these trends are projected to continue, the cities must prepare to accommodate continuing population increases in the coming years. This reality is most clear with respect to transit access.
Getting Around Everett
Everett currently is linked to its surrounding area by eight bus routes, which is less than communities at a comparable distance from Boston. Cambridge, which has a much larger population, is served by 21 bus routes and six rail/light rail stations. Everett’s neighbor to the east, Revere, is served by 19 bus routes and three rail stations. Chelsea, which is across the water from Boston, currently has only bus connections and a single commuter rail stop. But the city’s transit access is expected to improve significantly. The “Silver Line Gateway” project, currently set for late April 2018 completion, will expand the Silver Line into Chelsea.
Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria and Transportation Planner Jay Monty have encouraged the MBTA to extend this service to Everett, seeing the project as one of the more feasible options since it would cost just under $100 million to bring service to Chelsea*. There are, however, no current plans to extend to Everett, which would leave it as the only city to physically border Boston that has no rapid transit connection.
|EVERETT DEMOGRAPHIC INFORMATION|
|Population Increase 1990-2000||6.51%|
|Population Increase 2000-2010||9.54%|
|Population Increase 2010-2016||11.20%|
|Population by Age, 2016|
|Median Home Value 2016||$405,079|
|Median Home Value 2013||$256,250|
|Median Home Value 2005||$349,950|
|Median Home Value % Change 2005-2013||-26.78%|
|Median Home Value % Change 2013-2016||58.08%|
|Median Home Value % Change 2005-2016||15.75%|
|Car Ownership||1.09 vehicles to 1 Person|
|Average travel time to work (workers age 16+, 2011-2015)||32.6 minutes|
|Land Size||3.38 sq. miles|
Source: NeighborhoodScout**; Registry of Motor Vehicles; US Census; City of Everett – own calculated estimate based of 2016 Excise records
Proximity to Central Boston
Everett is very close to downtown Boston relative to other adjacent communities; slightly less than four miles driving, and about half that via the inner harbor. This makes the city’s relative lack of transit access that much more confounding. With no traffic, it can take about 15 to 20 minutes to drive from Everett to Boston. But during rush hour traffic, it can take upwards of 40 minutes***. The average commute for Everett residents is about 33 minutes, which includes commuting times for those who live and work within Everett. For context, the average commuting time for other Boston satellite communities falls in a similar range of high 20’s to mid-30’s for total minutes spent commuting—all above the national average of 25.4 minutes.
Everett once had a station on the Orange line, which opened in 1919 as a portion of the Charlestown Elevated railway. The station was opened during a time when Everett was even more isolated from downtown Boston. It was intended to be a temporary expansion, crafted almost entirely from wood, until full rapid transit service to Malden was completed. Once the timeline on the Malden connection was delayed, however, Everett station became a semi-permanent location until its closing and demolition in 1975, when the Haymarket North Extension rerouted transit away from Everett.
Building public transportation has historically been a critical tool to counteract rising commute times due to increasing congestion. But today, the obstacles to getting the necessary infrastructure built in locations that need it most are numerous.
Public opinion is a significant one. Residents’ perspectives can vary widely on what types of transportation their community needs. Some may see the additional transit as additional congestion if it isn’t properly explained and executed, a perception which naturally contributes to declining popularity. If the public support exists, there must also be capital to complete the desired projects, which requires strong political will. In Everett’s case, the city does not lack political will.
While Mayor DeMaria and State Senator Sal DiDomenico have previously fought for an additional extension of the bus rapid transit Silver Line, the goal of alleviating traffic congestion and speeding up transportation have not yet been fully realized in Everett. Nonetheless, progress has been made. The city took a critical step forward in December 2016, when city officials started to pilot a bus-only lane. This pilot program prohibited parking along the routes of 104 and 109 buses from 4:00 AM to 9:00 AM, with the goal of reducing the travel time by up to 10 minutes. This was the first time such an MBTA pilot program was located outside Boston, and it was made permanent as of mid-September.
The bus-only lane was commended by the MBTA, and has strengthened the city’s relationship with state planning agencies. The lane has built on existing connections between the city and state governments, but Transportation Planner Monty stated that the improvements to the quality of service, while significant, cannot increase the capacity. Monty described the existing transportation systems in Everett as close to or at capacity, leaving little room for the city’s projected growth. The best path is for Everett to diversify its transportation routes, creating a multimodal system* to help spread the stress of growing population across various outlets. A 2016 Everett transit study, produced by a state-city partnership, is an important step in this direction. The study resulted in the Everett Transit Action Plan, which evaluated the city’s current situation, available options and their feasibility, and offered recommendations to improve service quality in and to Everett.
Largely concurrent with this transit innovation, Everett was chosen to be the site of the Wynn Resorts “Wynn Boston Harbor” casino. During the approval process, Mayor DeMaria mentioned that the success of the development would transform a “desolate” part of Everett, and that the positive effects would “[…] snowball, getting bigger and bigger. You won’t recognize the city of Everett, hopefully, in 10 years. We will no longer be the butt end of the city of Boston.”
Wynn also has developments underway that are complementary to the casino. As part of the construction process, the company is cleaning up the contamination of former chemical manufacturing plant and putting energy towards improving transportation infrastructure in the area. The resort is currently soliciting bids for improvements to key areas such as Sullivan Square, and efforts to improve Broadway and Wellington station are also underway. These enhancements would make the casino accessible to Boston and major transportation hubs, moves Everett closer to its goals of improving access to transportation.
In 2015, the casino, as a requirement of Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA), pushed through a proposal to subsidize increases in Orange Line service to stations near the resort and surrounding developments, in an attempt to accommodate the increased ridership that is expected as a result of the new developments. They have committed to pay the MBTA approximately $7.36 million for Orange Line improvements, which are expected to be in place by the time resort opens its doors.
Another potential addition is a pedestrian and bicycle footbridge across the Mystic River, connecting the new casino with the Assembly Row development. The bridge design and study project are also a requirement of state environmental regulators, the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and the city of Everett. Monty stated the city has been hoping for the bridge and the project is growing in popularity among residents. The connection to the Assembly development would give Everett and Wynn the kind of direct line to the development they are looking for.
Another relevant concern related to Everett’s lack of rapid transit is the growing trend of developers building for the ‘no-car’ model. A recent proposal by Andrew Philbin, owner of a local insurance agency that serves MA, ME, and NH, to convert a 20-room lodging house into a 20 micro unit apartments has generated mixed reviews from the Everett planning board. The board generally finds the project appealing, but city zoning laws require 40 parking spaces for a building of 20 units, whereas the 20-unit plan has only arranged for two spaces. In part, the proposal only included two spots due to its location directly on the new dedicated bus lane. This newfound access to the bus-only lane would allow prospective residents to access as close a version of rapid transit as Everett currently has, in some respects eliminating the need for the additional parking spots. Although Everett is currently in the process of studying and reassessing its zoning codes to better represent what the city requires and supports in terms of development*, the board wonders if the increased transportation quality of the bus-only lane may not be enough. This may create challenges in a city where public transit options are limited, furthering the city’s contention that transit is a necessary step for Everett’s continued growth.
For Everett to be able to get itself connected to the same degree as other cities that border Boston, it would need a rapid transit connection. The flexibility of transportation systems is important, but a more permanent solution would be most conducive to development in the area. The investment that goes into new transportation infrastructure can be great, but local economic development benefits can make up for that cost*.
In his 2017 “State of the City” address, Mayor DeMaria made prominent references to Everett’s future. He said that many things are possible for the city, even if they may seem impossible, as the Wynn Casino once was. He spoke of reviving the old trolley system, installing a water shuttle from Logan Airport, a new Orange Line stop and new Silver Line connections.
While these proposals seem distant, the casino development has pushed them to the forefront, even spreading to communities outside Everett. Wynn Resorts has stated its intention to bring a ferry service to the harbor along the Mystic River, connecting the area with not only the airport but the Seaport District as well. Boston city councilors Sal LaMattina and Bill Linehan said that the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) has access to federal money to purchase ferries. Although the BRA never intended to be the operator – only the facilitator – this initiative could lead to a cooperative effort between BRA and Wynn Resorts in which both organizations could further the other’s vision for transportation. As for the Orange line and trolley expansions, no plans to hit Everett soil have been publicized as of yet, though as previously stated, Silver Line expansions have been weighed by state officials.
Following through with his stated objectives, Mayor DeMaria expanded on his involvement in working with the Lower Mystic Regional Working Group at the MassDOT to advocate for transit access to their city, in a press release on June 5, 2017. The group will be working to relieve heavy congestion around Sullivan Square and looking into new solutions for the area. The mayor stated that he will be pushing for that expanded service in whichever ways possible. These meetings are the latest in what is a comprehensive push by Everett to connect itself to all the opportunities that its location provides and to address residents’ congestion and transportation concerns.
By and large, Everett is an instructive example for communities that face similar challenges of growth coupled with poor transit connections. Through Everett’s organized efforts to reach its goal of development supported by a diverse, multimodal transportation system, it has been able to transcend former boundaries to the city’s development. A plan to work in partnership with state agencies and private contractors has helped and will hopefully continue to aid the city in realizing the up-and-coming Everett that they foresee; a city built for the future but defined by its evolution through 125 years as a community.
* Information discussed in a meeting between Pioneer Institute and City of Everett Transportation Planner Jay Monty
**This is an open source database with information from several federal agencies designed to provide seamless demographic information.
***Travel estimates are based on use of Google Maps during “peak” and “off peak” hours.