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December 27, 2007



You need to get a life, or maybe move to California, as you seem to like their way of doing things. I can see it now, you and Aaarnold going head to head over the enviornment. lol
Your topics appeal to, I would guess, 10% of the people living in this City. You are a bright man, so why not write about something relevant to the other 90% of us? I have heard all the traffic and congestion stories I ever want relating to the Assembly Square Mall District. I will buy some antihistamine for the birds coughs.
I am sure all your close friends think your stories are wonderful, but enough with the MVTF slant on the world. I am tired of hearing about Wig, Fred, the now departed Lawrence, and the rest of the Mystic View group.
Please come into the present and enlighten us with some stories on issues that appeal to the masses, and not the few.
Looking foreword to another point of view.

Solh Zendeh

Casements: tell us, oh wise one, what point of view would you like to see? I have an idea - why don't you PROVIDE a point of view (any point of view, ANYTHING) instead of uselessly telling him to leave town.

My opinion is that the traffic issue is going to take care of itself. As global oil production peaks, the "American way of life" that includes massive traffic jams on 93 will become completely unsustainable financially for the average citizen.

Do you have an opinion that opposes mine? Let's hear it! But somehow I expect to either hear nothing, or "go back to Russia/you are gay".


Bill, great article. BTW, the only affordable single houses for sale in Somerville that I see these days are along McGrath and that area. Do you think it's because it is known that living there kills you?...


Where can one get a copy of the suppressed study by Volpe? Is there a report of some kind?... Would it be covered by FOIA?

Jim Gray

"Somerville has had the highest excess death rate per square mile from cancer and heart attacks of all Massachusetts cities and towns. The cities and Boston neighborhoods that closely follow Somerville in this distinction are those closest to the roadways and facilities that produce the most ultrafine particles."

It is no secret that people generally do not want to leave right next to an interstate. Generally these areas are lower income/industrial East Somerville. Unfortunately, poorer people do not look after themselves. While not discounting the effects of pollution, I would be interested to know the percentage of Somervillians who smoke, drink to excess, eat fried food, and do not exercise. I suspect the percentges, especially in East Somerville are very high. I am sure that these stats that Bill is using are shaped by lifestyle s much as anything else.

Bottom line....we need 93. We also need lower emission cars.


I'm sure that the studies Bill mentions were not conducted by statistically naive individuals who would not think about the role of such obvious confounds. There are ways of regressing out these other variables, and I'd be shocked if they didn't do so.


Hey Jim Gray "those people" also like scratch tickets, beating their wives and loud music, right?

Jim Gray

Grow up Humberto. I wasn't tyring to demonize a group of people as you imply. I was merely pointing out facts. East Somerville is poor. That means that more people are likely to smoke and not have access to good healthcare. Can a studt control for this adequately? I doubt it.

From the CDC report:
The findings in this report indicate that 1) the socioeconomic status of U.S. adults is inversely related to their likelihood of smoking and 2) during 1983--2002, the gap in smoking prevalence by socioeconomic status did not narrow and might have widened.Persons of low socioeconomic status have less access to health care than those of high socioeconomic status. 4) Educational attainment has been associated consistently with adult smoking prevalence since 1983 (Figure 2). By education level, smoking prevalence was highest among adults who had earned a General Educational Development diploma (42.3%) and lowest among those with graduate degrees (7.2%).

These are facts.


Jim we like tacos and some of my "other" friends like KFC!


Jim, you know what multiple regression is, right? Just because weight and height are correlated does not mean one cannot study the effect of weight on a dependent variable, after removing the estimated effect of height.

Yorktown Street

Yes, it is very easy to control for those factors if you know statistics. Incidentally, people of all income levels in Somerville are less obese and eat more healthy foods because of the Shape Up Somerville program.


Never heard of the Shape Up program. What is it? Sorry...


Thank our Mayor for the Shape Up program.

Hedz up

Clearly the answer is to get rid of 93.....and go back to using a horse and carriage on mud tracks.

Hedz up

This is pure Nimbyism. I am sure residents of East Boston did not like an airport being built in that area. Nobody want 93 going through their area either. But they have to go somehwere. If it didn't go through Somerville, it would have gone through another neighborhood.

Hedz down

If we want Somerville to be a world class city we must do the following:
1. eliminate all snow
2. eliminate all highways.
3. eliminate all people

Ron Newman

If you go back 35 or so years in Somerville history, the city under different leadership might have had the power to prevent construction of I-93. In the early 1970s, construction of many other proposed highways was stopped -- in Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, the Fenway, Cambridge, Lynn, Saugus, and other parts of Somerville.


I like Bill's columns but that picture he uses troubles me - keeps me up at night!


Ahahah! He looks kind of evil in that picture! :-)


Fine, let's have it go through the neighborhood of faith-based right wingers who believe that pollution does not exist, then.

it would have gone through another neighborhood

Bill Shelton

There are a lot of interesting questions and comments here. I'll try to answer those that I can.

The report that forecast pollution levels was prepared by the Cambridge-based consulting firm Bolt, Beranek, and Newman Inc. It is entitled, "Air Pollution and Noise from Interstate 93, Report No. 2195a." It was completed in April, 1971, on a contract from what was then called the Massachusetts Department of Public Works. One can look at it at the Commonwealth's Transportation Library, 10 Park Plaza, Boston. Or get in touch with me.

A couple of Mystic View researchers found it by accident, while they were at the Transportation Library looking for a 1972 report by Justin Gray associates in which the Commonwealth committed to funding a series of mitigations in East Somerville that never happened. Tracing back the BB&N report's history, they found that Mayor Larry Bretta was aware of its contents but did not release them. He favored building I-93. I can't speculate as to his political calculations.

The rationale for not telling the public, or the infant Environmental Protection Agency the results of the report was (1) that it was needed, as Hedz Up suggests, and letting the Feds know the results could have shut down the project, and (2), that improved engine technology would, in the following years, reduce the production of the regulated pollutants that the report studied. They were right about improved engine technology regarding the regulated or "criteria" pollutants. But no one knew at the time just how deadly and how local the impacts of fine particles are.

Jim Gray is quite right that health-related lifestyle factors play a large role in heart disease and lung cancer causation. However, Somerville, on average, has a significantly lower smoking rate than Massachusetts. The reference here is Massachusetts Department of Public Health, "Massachusetts Community Health Information Profile" (MassCHIP database), v.3100 R305, 2004. If you walk down lower Broadway, you won't see a lot of brown people who are fat or smoking. But elsewhere in the city, you will see a lot of fat, and often smoking, pink people.

Put the locations of the highest excess death rates in Greater Boston on a map, and it's a lock with the heaviest traveled transportation corridors.

For the record, Mystic View Task Force has never advocated shutting down I-93, or halting development of Assembly Square. Instead they advocated for much more intense, office-based development. So instead of NIMBYs, the are YIMBYs. Paradoxically, office buildings, particularly on transit lines, produce much lower traffic and much more jobs and property taxes than large-format retail.

The idea that Mystic View is a bunch of NIMBY tree huggers was a fabrication successfully promulgated by its opposition.

Even with this study, the intent is not to stop development, but to guide urban design so that residences are located in the least harmful areas, wit the least harmful designs.

Finally, I don't think that Somerville can eliminate snow, highways, or people. But we might try to eliminate stupidity.



If Mr. Shelton's writing appeals to only 10% of people in the city, then I am one of the 10%. That's because

1. He backs up what he says with facts.
2. He doesn't insult people to make a point.
3. His writing is clear and interesting to me.
4. He makes complex issues understandable.
5. Those are issues that I care about.

I'm not a great intellectual. I'm a working person trying to make a living a raise healthy kids to be good people, and it seems to me that those things keep getting harder to do. It's easy to find somebody to blame for that. It's harder to understand exactly why these things are happening. I learn a lot from reading these columns, and I learn not to blame people but to do what I can.

And I don't think that it's just 10%. Otherwise, there wouldn't be so many people writing comments here, and I wouldn't hear these topic discussed so much by my neighbors.

So if you don't like what Mr. Shelton says, don't read it. Or are you trying to suppress it?


Thanks for the fascinating post, Bill. I'm impressed by your knowledge on this topic. It is outrageous that such a report was suppressed.

Jim Gray

"For the record, Mystic View Task Force has never advocated shutting down I-93, or halting development of Assembly Square. Instead they advocated for much more intense, office-based development."

Was there any demand for this office-based development that you speak of?


Jim what we need is a Taco Bell in East Somerville so all us fat, cigarette smoking, 40 ounce beer swillers can eat right!


Bill, you've done it again. I am thisclose to projectile vomiting after another one of your articles.

Just so we all are on the same page; ultimately you are advocating ripping up I-93? I mean how else can we protect those fat, slobbering, stupid morons (I am paraphrasing from your article) who decided to live near the interstate?

Bill, please leave the decisions for development of the city to us developers. We don't need no more stinkin' research. Let's build and grow this damn economy.

Ron Newman

"Us developers"? You are a developer? Of what?


Developer of hot air for balloons, apparently.


Ron, I am a lifelong resident and own multiple properties here. I am currently working with a group of like minded developers now on plans to raze the entire Davis square area and rebuild it with apartments and "normal" bars/restaraunts. An area where normal people can enjoy themselves and not have to deal with the gender-confused freaks that live there now. Of course we will need to fumigate the area first to cleanse it of you moonbats as well, but it will make things a lot better in the long run. Trust me.

Truh Fan


You may be on to something with your suggestion about suppression. Between 1999 and 2003, my idea of the Mystic View Task Force was that they were a bunch of anti-development elitists. I, along with a lot of people, had that impression because they weren't very good at reaching ordinary folks with their message. And because the "Gay administration and the developer, Gravestar, invested a lot of effort, and a lot of money that Mystic View didn't have, in creating that impression.

Pretty much everything that Mystic View said and predicted has proven to be true. The Mystic View people have been generally decemt about not saying, "I told you so." (And the Curtatone administration was decent in not attacking them as the Gay administration had, even though Curtatone was more closely tied to the developers.

So now there are a lot of people who would rather not remember this. Or who would like to pretend that it didn't happen, or who would "suppress" it. And BTW, I don't think that there are many of those people who are actually in the Curtatone administration or with the developers. It looks to me like there has been a true reconciliation.

Like you, I love reading Bill's stuff. This is a good example. There is no comparison between it and the Somerville Journal article about the air quality testing in terms of depth, insight, or quality of writing. And of course, the Boston Globe stringer, who is a nice lady, couldn't hope to come close, because she doesn't know Somerville. The Somerville News is a mixed bag, but as a whole, it does a lot better job than the other two papers in covering Somerville, and it's free.



I enjoy your thoughtful columns, although I often disagree with them.

I don't think it would surprise anyone to hear that pollution levels are worse near a highway like 93. The question is what can we do about it.

Lower emission vehicles is a way forward, as you suggest. Is there anything else you would suggest, given that we cannot close down 93 or restrict its traffic.

On a related note, as a reader of the Metro on my way to work I have noticed an avalanche of letters complaining about the dreadful service endured by rail users who commute to and from Boston. Many of them have given up and have stated that they will now be driving into Boston. Clearly the commuter rail system up here is a nightmare compared to other large cities like New York. The metro north system going into Grand Central was great. Boston has a lot of catching up to do.

Gabe W. McNeil

Jim Gray,

"Was there any demand for this office-based development you speak of?"

Of course there is demand. First of all, RE developers don't spend their millions unless they firmly believe that someone is eventually going to want a piece of the end result.

Second, the average price for type A space in Boston rose from about $56/sq.ft. to $65/sq.ft. from last quarter to this quarter alone. Attractive office space in close proximity to public transportation is a good investment and indeed in demand in this area.

Third, Somerville needs to create more commercial tax revenue to offset the dynamic of a dense population with relatively little commercial space.

Read the newspapers.

Bill Shelton

Jim Gray,

Let me give you three ways to answers your question regarding demand for office buildings at Assembly Square. These are in order, from the way that the least sophisticated developers and city planners assess demand, to most sophisticated.

1. The Mystic View Task Force was formed in 1998 and began advocating for office development. Demand for Class A office space continued to grow, reaching historic highs in 2001, when new leases were going for $60 to $100 per foot per year. By way of reference, an office tower can be built for $300 per square foot. Like most markets, real estate is cyclical, and demand dropped sharply after the the .com bubble. In recent years, demand has risen again. It is not as high as it was in 2001, but it is higher than that for retail space, and much higher than residential.

2. Developing any office building is a multi-year project, and developing a whole new urban neighborhood takes maybe 30 years. While it is nice to come on line at the top of the market, it's often difficult, since market forecasting is inexact. If a location has unique assets, sophisticated developers rely on matching its special benefits with tenants/owners who have special needs. Assembly Square had unique assets among all large development sites remaining in greater Boston. It was on the main spine of the T, three commuter rails. Routes 93, 28, and 38, and the Mystic River. Its scale was that of three Boston financial districts. It was proximate to MIT and Harvard, the greatest engines for new business development in New England. And Cambridge had decided that it didn't want any more office development. Liberty Mutual, for example, had approached the previous Mall owners about locating their world headquarters at A.S. The owners told Liberty Mutual that the conflict over Assembly Square would delay approvals indefinitely. The reverse, in fact, was true. Liberty Mutual built at the junction of 128 and 9.

3. Very, very few developers can effectively finance and manage a development of more than about 25 acres. Instead, sophisticated cities create what are called "land transformations." These are based on a master plan which projects a vision that is so persuasive that perceptions of that site by the market are transformed. And individual developer is assured that his or her development will not be devalued by something out of character being built next to it. Faneuil Hall and Kendall Square are good examples of land transformation. Assembly Square's assets, location, and scale made it perfect for land transformation. Planners and developers of such a project are not terribly influenced by the market. The land transformation itself creates demand.


I'm really sorry to cause you projectile vomiting. I do prefer it to the projectile diarrhea that you regularly post here.

On the other hand, I think I would very much enjoy hanging out in your redeveloped Davis Square. Please keep us informed of how plans are going.

Yorktown Street

"Election": regarding Shape Up Somerville, go to the City's web site and under Departments, find the Health Department. Shape Up Somerville is listed there. Thanks for asking!


Bill nice job with the columns - always well researched and you are a handsome man.

Bill Shelton

Mr. McNeil,

Somerville's ratio of burdens to benefits from the transportation infrastructure that it hosts is the worst in the Commonwealth. But you are right: there is no way, and little virtue, to closing down I-93, Route 28, or the eight rail lines that cut through our city. Moreover, we desperately need to expand our commercial tax base.

The best compromise at Assembly Square would have been to focus on development that would generate high jobs and taxes and low daily vehicle trips--transit-related office projects.

The deadliest impacts of vehicle exhaust are from fine and super fine particulates. But beyond 100 meters (325 feet) from the source, the particle danger curves down fairly quickly. So we should site uses where people spend the most time, e.g. housing, the furthest away from the source. And the reverse.

Schools, in particular, should be, at the very least, 500 feet away. Because a seven-year-old kid has many more air sacs per volume of lung, higher metabolism, and is more active than an adult, she will absorb about two and one-half times the air pollutants that her parent does, breathing the same air.

Greater investments in mass transit will reduce auto use. The Green Line commitment is a great victory. Somerville activists led the fight, but Mayor Curtatone got right on board, and they formed an effective partnership. Our legislative delegation was also quite effective, particularly when the Governor tried to delay Green Line development.

The new mileage standards that Congress passed last week should be a BIG help. The more efficiently that an engine is using fuel, the less pollutants it is putting out per mile.

Sohl Zendeh keeps reminding us that we are at, or have passed, the peak of world oil production. He is right that $10-per-gallon oil would probably have the most impact on reducing mobile-source pollution.


I think people can develop good intuitions and learn a lot about these dynamics and interrelated factors by playing with SimCity. Seriously.


I have not owned a car for the last 10 years, but this is what I'd buy if I needed one around here: .


Bill thanks for the info and credit to the Mayor who has been striving to better our community.

Bill Shelton

Mr. McNeil,

I got so focused on responding to the question in the first part of your post that I missed the second part. There are two organizations that I would recommend for good information about regional transit and means of improving it.

Regionally, the Association for Public Transportation is a smart advocacy group with a list serve and discussion groups. You can learn about them and their proposals at their website, which you can find by googling "car-free." The publish Car Free in Boston.

Locally, the Somerville Transportation Equity Project led the successful campaign to extend the Green Line. You can read their stuff, join their list serve, or sign up for membership at their website, which you can find by googling STEP + Somerville.


Bill, you wrote:
"Put the locations of the highest excess death rates in Greater Boston on a map, and it's a lock with the heaviest traveled transportation corridors."

How precisely are these deaths located—by city block, by neighborhood, by city? You seem to be saying (elsewhere above) that the occurrence of fine and superfine particles drops steeply outside of a 100-meter zone. Is your information fine-grained enough to show that these excess deaths, from causes that could be attributed to these particles, also drop steeply outside of this 100-meter zone?


Bill, touche. Next, I and others have asked this before and not gotten any answer. What is your solution to the "fine" particles killing people near 93? I see only a couple of choices; move all the people away from the highway (not happening) or rip up I-93 and move that away from the people (not happening). These research circle-jerks may do good for people 100 years from now (and the idiots getting paid to "pump" the fear), but it doesn't help anyone now. Why waste the time and cause delays to development for things that will never change and can't change.

Can't you ever write an article about something we can really fix? Like property taxes, the water bills that are through the roof or the cost to us taxpayers for some of these usless, candyass councils (Arts council, Human Rights council)?

I mean... you've already earned your Hugo Cavez wings. We know you're a full-fledged moonbat already. It's ok... we are ok with you still. With a face like that - you got to grab as many friends as you, however you can!


Oh yea... before any of you libaloons start wailing/cryng and wetting solution to the deaths caused by people living near interstates? Don't buy or rent a house near the interstate. Or buy a filtration mask. It's ain't that hard if you use your noggin.

Would you buy or rent near high power/tension electrical lines? No. Then, just be smart and don't buy/rent near interstates as well. They're noisy as hell anyway.


Imux is the ad hominem attacks really necessary. I think Bill is a handsome man, value his columns with research and info and think he is a fine addition to our community. Should we just ignore the fact that if you live near a highway you have heightened health problems?


Billy, Bill knows I'm only kidding him (I think). Though to say he is handsome would be a stretch! Shaving his "you-know-what"... and walking backwards may be Bill's best option.

Should we just ignore the fact that if you live near a highway you have heightened health problems?

What part of don't buy/rent near an interstate was unclear? Remember if people move away from an area then no one will develop there. Let the market dictate. If there is no demand (people are dying) then there will be no supply.


I agree don't buy/rent near the interstate but sadly some can't afford to do otherwise. Bill needs to save te hair on his buttocks for a future hair transplant so shaving & walking backwards is out!

Bill Shelton

Good questions, Keith. I am drawing on to two different bodies of data. The findings regarding the gradient over which fine particle density drops, away from its source has been established by a research directly on fine particle impacts, and not specific to greater Boston. At the end of this post, I will list references to the most influential papers, although there are thousands. Many of these papers are available on line.

This work has been done all over the world and is not specific to Boston. So we apply these hypotheses to the 101 cities and towns in greater Boston and try to get as fine-grained as the available data allow. That is at the level of municipalities, or in the case of Boston, neighborhoods. These data come from the Massachusetts Community Health Information Profile data base that is maintained by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. They are available online, if you are willing to sign a software licensing agreement.

Of the 101 cities in towns, those with the highest excess death rates from heart attacks and lung cancer per sq. mile are, in order, Somerville, Chelsea, Revere, Everett, Lynn, Medford. The Boston neighborhoods are Chinatown, East Boston, and South Boston. The "lock" is not just with major highways, but with other mobile sources, such as communities near Logan Airport.

BTW, one of the reasons why the deadliest communities are closest to downtown Boston, rather than all along I-93 is that traffic close in is the densest and, during rush hour, the slowest. For example, traffic going through Somerville into Boston during the morning rush hour averages 11 MPH. A car going that speed produces 5 times the pollution as one going 60 MPH.

Key papers:
•DW Dockery, CA Pope, X Xu, JD Spengler, JH Ware, ME Fay, BG Ferris, FE Speizer. “An association between air pollution and mortality in six US cities.” New England Journal of Medicine vol. 329 pp.1753–1759, 1993.
•CA Pope, MJ Thun, MM Namboodiri, DW Dockery, JS Evans, FE Speizer, CW Heath. “Particulate air pollution as a predictor of mortality in a prospective study of US adults.” American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care Medicine. vol. 151 pp. 669–674, 1995.
•D Krewski, RR Burnett, MS Goldberg, K Hoover, J Siemiatycki, M Jerrett., M Abrahamowicz, WH White, and Others. Reanalysis of the Harvard six-city study and the American Cancer Society study of particulate pollution and mortality, Health Effects Institute, 2000.
•C. Arden Pope, Daniel Krewski et. al. “Lung cancer, cardiopulmonary mortality, and long-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution.” Journal of the American Medical Association, vol. 287, March 6, 2002.
•Per Nafstad et. al. “Lung cancer and air pollution: a 27 year follow up of 16,209 Norwegian men.” Thorax, vol. 58, pp. 1071 – 1076, 2003.
•Gerald Hoek, Bert Brunekeef, et. al.,“Association between mortality and indicators of traffic-related air pollution in the Netherlands: a cohort study.” The Lancet, vol. 360, October 19, 2003.
•B Kunzli, M Jerrett, WJ Mack et. al. "Ambient air pollution and atherosclerosis in Los Angeles" Environmental Health Perspectives, February, 2005.
•M Jerrett, RT Burnett, R Ma, et. al.,
"Spatial analysis of air pollution and mortality in Los Angeles," Epidemiology, November, 2005.
•MM Finkelstein, M Jerrett, MR Sears, "Environmental inequality and circulatory disease mortality gradients," Journal of Epidemiol. Comm. Health, June, 2005.
•WJ Gauderman, E Avol, F Gilliland, et. al. "The effect of air pollution on lung development from 10 to 18 years of age," New England Journal of Medicine, September, 2004.
•WJ Gauderman, E Avol. F Lurmann "Childhood asthma and exposure to traffic and nitrogen dioxide," Epidemiology, November, 2005.
•EG Knox, "Roads, railways, and childhood cancers," J. of Epidemiol. Comm. Health, Feb. 2006.

Bill Shelton

Yes, I do know that Imux kidding. And although I am flattered by Billy's kind assessment of my appearance, I fear that Imux's is more accurate.

Imux, I laid out my "solutions" in my response to Gabe McNeil. Sadly, the filter mask won't filter ultra fine particles.


Thanks, Bill. I'll do a little reading.

Solh Zendeh

As usual, there is a market solution to the issue of 100,000 cars passing through somerville on 93. The solution is tolls. When a market does not assess a cash payment for something, the cost is subsidized by society. One example is the cost of the extra cancer and asthma that is put on the health insurers of the people who live around 93.

A solution is to force people who would like to use the road to PAY FOR IT. This toll could put into an account and distributed to all people who live within 500 yards of the highway. Or, just split up and distributed to everyone in the towns that it passes through (maybe via a property tax rebate).

It's really and truly that simple. When you pay for something directly, you use it wisely, when you do not pay for it directly, you don't.

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