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Charlestown's Rutherford Redo: Pinko Ploy or Smart Planning?

Tempers are reaching a somewhat absurdly fevered pitch in Charlestown. The reason? The city's years-long desire to rework Rutherford Avenue, which, as The Globe's Eric Moskowitz so brilliantly puts it, "is a city street masquerading as a highway, a mid-20th-century relic scarred with chain-link fence, orange barrels, and Jersey lanes."

The city's plan—the prevailing choice among residents until early 2010, when opponents began to mobilize—would basically make the avenue more pedestrian- and biker-friendly through added crossings and green space, and the replacement of its highway-style structure with a boulevard with fewer underpasses and grid-style intersections. It would cost $71 million.

Opponents want an $83 million plan instead that would basically tweak things and leave the character of Rutherford undisturbed. And their opposition has awakened not only sour memories of previous city initiatives in the neighborhood but all sorts of crazy, too.

Many skeptics have long memories, recalling past instances when government claimed to know best for the people of Charlestown: busing, urban renewal, construction of the towering, and lead-painted Tobin Bridge. ...

At a recent meeting, the loudest applause came when Gerard Doherty, an octogenarian former legislator, compared the city’s windy, statistics-heavy defense of the reimagined Rutherford to Communist propaganda.

“Liars figure and figures lie,’’ said Doherty, who managed Edward M. Kennedy’s first Senate race in 1962. “We’re not going to leave—and we’re not going to leave this town—and we’re going to fight and do everything we possibly can!’’

Such opposition baffles proponents of the city plan, who say trust the traffic engineers. But, we suspect, this isn't really about a roadway (or about opponents' more grounded claim that the city's plan would amp up traffic on side streets). Like so many other urban-planning drives of the last generation—bike lanes, parks expansion, roundabouts, anything that favors the pedestrian over the driver—it's about change. And change, if it hasn't been for the good in the past, can rattle those like Doherty with understandably long memories from growing up in a certain place in a certain time. Per Moskowitz in his front-page must-read today:

The Charlestown debate has an added layer, falling roughly along “Townie versus Toonie’’ lines, dividing those raised in Charlestown and recent arrivals who have driven up home prices, those who pronounce it “Rootherford’’ and those who don’t. For now, it's still in the city's hands. And the city continues to absorb feedback from both camps.

“This has been a long and sometimes arduous process, and tough slogging on occasion,’’ [Boston Transportation Commissioner Thomas] Tinlin said. “One thing I’ve learned in this city is I don’t think the process is really ever over until dirt is moved.’’ · Plan To Untangle Avenue Divides Charlestown [Globe]