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The unused track runs through it

On both sides of trolley debate, rails unloved

It has been described as ''Jamaica Plain's abortion issue." For 20 years, JP residents have quarreled over a dormant trolley.

In 1985, the MBTA discontinued the Arborway trolley with the promise to build a new service. But so far, the tracks are empty. There are no trolleys here, only cracks and potholes sprouting through the road surface.

The issue of trolleys has become a touchy one in Jamaica Plain, pitting neighbors against one another in disagreement. There is little consensus between the opponents and supporters of trolley restoration. But they agree on one thing: The current tracks make life harder to negotiate.

In March, Councilor John Tobin, who represents Jamaica Plain, sent a letter to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority asking it to either remove or pave over the tracks.

MBTA General Manager Michael H. Mulhern balked at the idea, saying that the cash-strapped transit authority could not afford to rip out the tracks, then potentially return to do more construction work on the tracks if the trolleys are restored.

''It would be twice the impact and twice the cost," Mulhern said in an interview in March.

Even if the MBTA restores the trolleys, the authority says it would not be able to use the tracks and green poles that hover over the sidewalk, because they are too old. Tobin contends that the tracks entrenched in the streets are creating potholes and worsening roadway conditions.

''These craters develop at the tracks. The city has to go through the energy to fill those potholes, it's like placing a Band-Aid on a hemorrhage," Tobin said. ''The streets are destroyed and the potholes are dangerous."

Since he was 14 years old, Tobin has watched the trolley issue turn into a political land mine. He previously supported restoration of the Arborway trolley but recently voiced reservations about the safety of the project.

Two MBTA studies last year challenged the practicality of restoring the transit service that would run through South and Centre streets, saying that the road was too narrow and that trolleys could obstruct emergency vehicles and increase congestion.

Jeffrey Ferris, owner of a South Street bicycle store, Ferris Wheels, described the issue as ''somewhat divisive." He likens it to the abortion issue.

''I try to keep the trolley issue aside from our friendships," he said.

Tobin agrees with the assessment: ''Unfortunately, the trolley issue has pitted residents against each other. It's not healthy for the community."

Indigena, an arts and craft store along South Street, has a sign reading: ''Green Line is good for Jamaica Plain." Two steps to the left, Miss Laura's, a hair salon, has a sign reading: ''No trolleys in Jamaica Plain" boldly displayed on the storefront window.

Despite where their loyalties lie on the trolley debate, Jamaica Plain residents vented their frustration with the MBTA and the creeping pace of the project.

''It's the same kind of mentality that caused problems with the Big Dig," said resident Jack Kennan, as he hauled his laundry back to his home. ''Everything's done piecemeal." Kennan supports trolley restoration.

''They should rip them up and repave the street," said Shawn O'Neill, a Jamaica Plain resident, as he browsed through Yesteryear, an antique furniture store. ''And that's that." He opposes the trolleys coming back.

Even people who are neutral on the trolley issue say the tracks are a hazard. Lisa Juliani, Yesteryear's owner, said she makes an effort to avoid having her tires touch the tracks because ''they do make it dangerous driving in the winter." She added that cars could slip and slide.

Narrow roadways, potholes, cracks, and slippery tracks make for a harrowing bike ride along the street, said some customers of Ferris Wheels as they browsed through the store. A customer, Steve Ensdorf, said one of his cycling friends damaged his jaw after he toppled over a pothole. Ferris said he sees many battered and bruised customers coming into his bike shop with scraped elbows and knees and limbs wrapped in casts.

''They come in with broken bones, collar bones, broken wrists," said Ferris. ''The trolley tracks are by far the most common cause of an accident."

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