MBTA Communities survey results

Discussion held at community center

UPDATED June 8: Arlington respondents overwhelmingly favor vibrant business districts and shared community space, with multifamily housing near public transit and the bike path, a town survey shows. See the numbers at left.

In March, more than 1,000 people participated in Arlington’s MBTA Communities Visioning Survey, created to collect public input and identify community goals and priorities regarding where multifamily housing should be allowed by right. 

According to Claire Ricker, Arlington’s director of planning and community development, the town received a $20,000 technical-assistance grant to hire planning consultant Utile to assist with siting and mapping the town’s multifamily (three-family or larger) districts and with developing appropriate use and density requirements.

Utile analyzed the data from the town’s MBTA survey and presented the results to the public at the MBTA Communities Working Group meeting on May 16. The consultant translated the results into an actionable design framework, which it provided in a summary analysis and two early draft plan maps.

Consultant's summary analysis

82 percent of respondents prioritize the vitality of business districts: Arlington’s consultant recommends preserving existing commercial and industrial districts.  Preserve other frontage along Mass. Ave. to enable future commercial growth.

80 percent of respondents prioritize shared community space: Utile recommends exploring zoning standards, opportunities for the public realm and improvement of public spaces.

75 percent of respondents prioritize siting multifamily housing near public transit: Utile recommends proposing district locations close to existing bus routes.

73 percent of respondents prioritize siting multifamily housing in a walkable and bikeable area: Utile recommends proposing district locations close to existing Minuteman Bikeway, as well as other walkable paths, and neighborhoods with adequate sidewalks.

Further, the planning consultant recommends preserving commercial space.

Separate multifamily housing, businesses

In addition to public input, with 82 percent of survey respondents favoring the vitality of the town’s business districts, Utile recommends keeping the MBTA Communities multifamily housing out of the commercial districts because the MBTA Communities Act does not allow a commercial use requirement.

At the May 16 meeting, Will Cohen, Utile’s urban planner, said,: “Businesses are good for Arlington because commercial use is good for tax purposes, diversity of use and jobs.”

Utile also recommends improving public spaces.

 80 percent of the respondents to the survey favor shared community space. According to the planner’s website, one of Utile’s missions includes creating more access to an “active, attractive, sustainable and inclusive public realm.” Outdoor gathering spaces such as parks help to create a sense of community. They provide recreational opportunities that are excellent for physical and mental health. 

Utile recommends multfamily district locations near bus routes.

New public transit

Seventy-five percent of the survey respondents prioritize siting multifamily housing near public transportation. Creating more housing near Arlington’s bus routes will provide residents with better access to work, services and other destinations throughout town and beyond. Siting our new multifamily housing near bus routes should also reduce reliance on automobiles for transportation. 

Utile recommends including multifamily housing near the Minuteman Bikeway

Seventy-three percent of survey respondents prioritize locating multifamily housing in a walkable and bikeable area. According to the Minuteman Commuter Bikeway website, the Minuteman is one of the most popular and successful bike paths in the United States, with over 2 million users a yearIt provides residents with a safe, healthy and carbon-free method of transportation. The bike path connects residents to Arlington’s Great Meadows park, to nearby neighborhoods, and to other cities and towns. Allowing more housing near the bike path encourages its use and reduces the use of cars. 

Overall, this approach is informed bythe Commonwealth’s MBTA Communities Guidelines, which has emphasized that by allowing MBTA Communities multifamily housing near transit, the town can create new housing in walkable neighborhoods. This aims to provide better access to businesses for work, services and other destinations. And it seeks to reduce reliance on single occupancy vehicles, aiding in the effort to confront the climate crisis.

For more information about the town’s MBTA Communities multifamily planning progress, please attend the June 8 in-person meeting at Town Hall.

May 3, 2023: Town faces zoning effort in fall; let's start talking


This news summary was published Tuesday, May 30, 2023. The writer is Kristin Anderson, a Precinct 11 Town Meeting member who supports local businesses through herwww.arlingtonsmallbusiness.orgwebsite. It was updated May 31, to add this note: The raw survey data that Utile used to reach its conclusions are not yet public information. It was updated June 5, to add a subhead, noting meeting Thursday and to add links from town-provided information.