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Comment Letter: General Electric Headquarters Project EA 15547

Comment Letter: General Electric Headquarters Project EA 15547

September 30, 2016

Matthew Beaton, Secretary
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
Attn: MEPA Office, Alex Strysky
100 Cambridge Street, Suite 900
Boston, MA 02114

Re: General Electric Headquarters Project EA 15547

Dear Mr. Beaton,

WalkBoston has reviewed the Expanded Environmental Notification Form for this project and we
offer our comments below.

We are excited that GE is locating its headquarters in Boston, and is proposing a project that has such an urban plan where the great majority of trips to the site will be by people walking – about 70% if both walking and transit/walking trips are included. Ensuring that walking connections to the site are convenient, accessible and attractive will be critical to welcoming the public and GE staff to the headquarters.

We think there are several aspects of the site that are exciting for pedestrian access, and where great attention to the details of the walking environment will provide important access benefits.

1. The Fort Point Channel setting – The public realm improvements associated with the project are substantial and will take advantage of the waterside site for its many users.

• The project will include a major building entrance facing a widened 18-foot Harborwalk. On the water’s edge overlooks are provided to heighten contact with the Channel and its water views. A seating zone along the Harborwalk is provided as an extension of the central plaza between Brick Buildings and the New Building. We hope that GE will include site programming that takes advantage of the waterfront portion of the site.

• A path network connects the site with the Harborwalk, including accessible paths. It is likely that many pedestrians will use the stairway from Summer Street to the Harborwalk as this is the most direct route between the site and South Station. The route should be well marked with pedestrian wayfinding signs.

• We recommend adding shade trees along the Harborwalk, and amenity that is mentioned quite often in walkers’ comments.

2. Site entrance on Necco Street – Compared with the Harborwalk entrance, the Necco Street entrance design seems less well developed in the EENF. However, this will be the principal entrance to the site for residents arriving from the Fort Point and Seaport Districts, South Boston, and for people driving to the site. Also, Necco Street will of necessity be the route for people with disabilities because the Harborwalk access is via a stairway from Summer Street and the site.
• The Necco Street entrance should be designed to be as important and attractive as the Harborwalk entrance. The sidewalk is shown as widened to 12’, but is narrowed to carve out a lengthy vehicle drop-off lane along much of the site’s frontage. The sidewalk also accommodates the loading zone and garage entries, and bicycle storage on the sidewalk is also suggested. In combination, this mix of service uses would diminish the quality and functionality of the Necco Street sidewalk. We request that the proponent re-examine the sidewalk design to provide a gracious and welcoming entrance along Necco Street.

• Necco Street should be designed as a tree-lined street. In the 100 Acres Plan (2007) that includes this site, Necco Street is proposed to provide walking access to the proposed parkland that extends from the Fort Point Channel to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. The street is privately owned, suggesting the possibility for joint action with neighboring properties to improve it. The street right-of-way is nearly 60’ wide which could readily incorporate a design that accommodates two 10-foot travel lanes, two 7-foot parking lanes, and a wide tree-lined sidewalk along the site that also includes
benches and additional landscaping.
• The sidewalk at the main entrance to the buildings should have additional width to accommodate the many potential users. A compelling and elegant front door might be incorporated into the plans for reconfiguring the Brick Buildings.
• A Necco Street crosswalk should be provided at Necco Court to accommodate safe crossing from the large Necco Street Parking Garage across the street.

3. Off-site approaches to the Necco Street site entrance – The existing walking route from Summer Street (and thus South Station) to the boundary of the site is difficult for persons with disabilities to travel. The proponent should take the lead in ensuring that walking improvements are made to this route. This may require significant coordination with the City and with neighboring landowners, but will result in improved access for all users of the neighborhood.

• There is no curb ramp provided from Dorchester Avenue onto the Summer Street Bridge (south/GE side of the bridge). A curb ramp should be provided.

• Accessible access to GE from Summer Street will need to be provided via Melcher Street. However, the sidewalk along the south side of Melcher Street appears appears to have an excessive cross slope that is hazardous for persons with disabilities, and difficult for anyone pushing a stroller or pulling a suitcase. This cross slope will need to be fixed.

• Between Melcher Street and Necco Court on the west side of Necco Street, the sidewalk appears to be 8’ wide, but curb ramps are not provided where driveways cross the street. The sidewalk should be rebuilt to meet ADA requirements and provide a gracious walking route between GE and South Station.

4. Winter weather conditions and general maintenance –

• Management and operations planning should ensure good snow clearance between the site and South Station along the Harborwalk and the sidewalks of Necco and Melcher Streets. The proponent should work with adjacent property owners and business associations to assure good access to its site under winter weather conditions.
• The proponent should explore a greater degree of enclosure and a weather-resistant design for the GE Plaza walkway, a portion of which will be covered by a translucent canopy suspended between Brick Buildings and New Building. The current plan appears to work primarily in warm months, and multi-season use will add interest and vitality to the site.

5. Off-site issues – We urge the proponent to work with the city and the neighboring property owners to bring all nearby pedestrian facilities up to date.

• For example, the sidewalk at the bend of Necco Street (just south of the proponent’s site) needs to be completed, and there are uneven and heaved bricks in the Necco Street sidewalk from the bend to A Street. In addition several areas of the A Street sidewalk toward the Broadway Red Line station are not ADA compliant, because they are too narrow or have missing or insufficient curb ramps.

• The proponent should work with the City to ensure that traffic signal timing works well for pedestrians at intersections near the site.

We appreciate your consideration of our comments and your responses to them, and we look forward to working with GE, the City and other Fort Point community members on this exciting project.

Please feel free to contact WalkBoston with questions you may have.

Sincerely,
Wendy Landman
Executive Director

Cc Peter Cavanaugh, GE Ecosystem Transformation Leader

 

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