Northern Massachusetts Transformative Transit-Oriented Development (TTOD) Regional Forum

Event Recap

On Thursday, May 30th, the Northern Massachusetts Transformative Transit-Oriented Development (TTOD) Regional Forum brought people from across the Commonwealth to the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub. Participants in the morning’s activities dug into how Lowell, Lawrence, and Haverhill are transforming their cities and surrounding communities using transit-oriented development.

Speakers and panelists discussed proposed and active rail service improvements, plus ideas for leveraging state, local, and federal tools for economic, real estate, and community development near public transit.

Lowell Mayor William Samaras welcomed everyone with a summary of the city’s relatively new focus on creating a vibrant transit-oriented district. City Manager Eileen Donoghue’s introductory remarks pointed out the nearly $28 million that has been invested in infrastructure and development in the city’s Hamilton Canal District. The area includes a signature bridge to connect more than 3.5 million square feet of rehabbed mill space and the new regional justice center, home to seven courts.

Then, Dr. Tracy Corley of MassINC and Alexandra Markiewicz of MassDOT presented on the policies and plans that support more intensive TOD in Northern Massachusetts (Click here for Tracy’s presentation). Dr. Corley’s presentation emphasized the “virtuous cycle of TOD,” where the environmental, fiscal, and equitable growth benefits work together to improve the lives and livelihoods of people in and near transit-oriented communities. She also summarized MassINC’s research on the topic and the current policies under consideration that would improve TOD.

Ms. Markiewicz shared proposed service enhancements in MassDOT’s Rail Vision project that could bring bidirectional service every 15 minutes to stations in Anderson/Woburn and Reading as well as Lowell, Haverhill, and Lawrence (Click here for Alexandra’s presentation). Two rail lines along with recent policy advancements provide unique development and transit opportunities for connecting more people to housing, jobs, education, and cultural activities across the region.

Ruairi O’Mahony, the Director of Sustainability at UMass Lowell, then moderated a lively panel discussion that  featured the expertise of Andrew Shapiro (City of Lowell), Theresa Park (City of Lawrence), Nate Robertson (Merrimack Valley Planning Commission), and Sal Lupoli (Lupoli Companies). They discussed the importance of transportation management authorities and bus service for improving east-west mobility and accessibility, which the existing north-south-oriented rail lines currently do not provide. They also highlighted how economic and real estate developments work together to create communities: for example, Battle Grounds Coffee in Haverhill and Thorndike Exchange in Lowell have boosted activity and interest in downtown living and development. Lawrence’s transit connections between rail service at McGovern Center and the Buckley Transportation Center extends the city’s TOD to both sides of the Merrimack River, an asset to many communities in the region. The panelists agreed that planning and partnerships are key to generating virtuous benefits and get more people vested in the community. Or, as Mr. O’Mahony put it, “You can’t solve traffic problems with more traffic.” Here, here! TOD makes sense for towns and cities across the Merrimack Valley.

After networking over coffee and snacks, attendees joined Chris Hayes and Tom Lamond of Lowell’s development team for a walking tour of the city’s transit-oriented district. Infill and rehabilitation in the Hamilton Canal Innovation District has improved walkability along the river, paving the way for more connections to the train station, which is undergoing facade updates. After an insider’s tour of the Thorndike Exchange mixed-use project connected to the rail station at the Charles Gallagher Transportation Center, the walk concluded at Mill No. 5, a old-world, European-like indoor mall with vibrant small businesses and community spaces.

MassINC would like to thank Mayor William Samaras, City Manager Eileen Donoghue, our partners from the City of Lowell, the UMass Lowell Innovation Hub, the Greater Lowell Chamber of Commerce, The Lowell Plan, The Middlesex Coalition, The Lowell Development and Financial Corporation, the Barr Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Eastern Bank, and everyone who participated in our Transformative Transit-Oriented Development (TTOD) Regional Forum.

For more information on MassINC’s TTOD initiative, click here.

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