fbpx

Category: Comment Letter

WalkBoston, LivableStreets, Boston Cyclists Union Comments 244 – 284 A Street “Channelside” PNF

WalkBoston, LivableStreets, Boston Cyclists Union Comments 244 – 284 A Street “Channelside” PNF

October 9, 2020

Director Brian Golden
Boston Planning and Development Agency
Attn via email: Aisling Kerr

Secretary Kathleen A. Theoharides
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
Attn via email: Alexander Strysky

Re: Comment on 244 – 284 A Street “Channelside” PNF

Dear Director Golden and Secretary Theoharides:

WalkBoston, LivableStreets Alliance and the Boston Cyclists Union are Boston’s leading advocates for active transportation and transit access. We frequently provide comments on major public and private development and infrastructure projects, with a focus on how those projects serve and affect people walking, biking and taking transit.

We realize that these comments are arriving at MEPA after the due date. However, the City’s transportation focused project meeting occurred on September 16, and it’s urban design and resiliency meeting was held on October 7 and we felt that the content of these meetings was important to our understanding of the project. 

The development of the 244 – 284 A Street site along the Fort Point Channel will transform a large and unattractive parking lot into a major site for living, working, and enjoying the Harbor Walk and the large new open spaces that are planned. In a broad sense we believe that the scale and mix of uses is reasonable for the growing mixed-use neighborhood around it, and that the plan for most of the project’s users to access the site on foot, by transit or by bike is appropriate and absolutely necessary for the City to decrease its dependence on private vehicles with their intensive congestion and environmental impacts.

We believe that it is incumbent on the Developer and the City to work together to make sure that the site design, the mitigation and transportation access agreement committed to by the Developer, and the planning and implementation of City transportation improvements (some requiring the City to work with the MBTA, MassDOT and MassPort) are in place to ensure that the site and its surroundings work well for people walking, biking and taking transit.

Our comments therefore are directed jointly to the Developer and the City. We understand that the responsibility of the Proponent to remedy (some of) the off-site issues will be in the form of mitigation dollars rather than execution, so we urge the City to immediately take the steps necessary to plan and design the needed improvements and then include an appropriate contribution from the Proponent in its negotiations.

Project Site Plan

  • Explore reducing the amount of space devoted to vehicles within the site plan by removing Wormwood Street extension.
  • Rationalize bike routes (see comments below)
  • Describe mix of open space uses and include active uses such as playgrounds, basketball etc. to help create a true neighborhood not a “front door” to commercial use

Accessibility

As the Fort Point Channel area and the City’s “100-acre” plan district are developing into a significant residential and commercial neighborhood dependent on good transit and walking access, the need to address accessibility has become ever more evident. 

Walking route from South Station to the site – With a projected 70% mode share of walk and transit trips (which are thus also walking trips) this issue deserves careful attention. Improving the walking route from South Station to the site via Summer Street, particularly for people with disabilities who will not be able to use the stairway that connects Summer Street to the Harborwalk and then to the main entrance of this project is critical. We understand that the City has begun to look at these issues and request that information about the planned improvements be included in the next project filings for Channelside.

  • There is no curb ramp provided from Dorchester Avenue onto the Summer Street Bridge (south side of the bridge). A fully accessible curb ramp should be provided.
  • Accessible access from Summer Street will need to be provided via Melcher Street.  The sidewalk along the south side of Melcher Street 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. The slope of the sidewalk exceeds a safe path of travel and may require the addition of several “landing areas” to the sidewalk.  

Walking route from Broadway to the site

  • Walking access to the site from South Boston and Broadway Station via A Street and West 2nd Street also requires accessibility upgrades including curb ramps, sidewalk repair, and possible widening of the sidewalk where the path of travel is narrowed by hydrants, street light poles etc.

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, and between Broadway and the site. The proponent should work with adjacent property owners and business associations to assure good access to its site under winter weather conditions.

A Street Walking, Biking and Transit Improvements 

A Street is the “Main Street” of this part of Boston and needs to be safe and inviting for all street users. Balancing the needs of people walking, biking and taking transit with those of the cars and trucks using the street is a balancing act that has not yet been achieved. 

Calming A Street for everyone – This will be a first step to turning A Street into a main street and a number of approaches should be used including:

  • Improve the safety of street crossings with the addition of bumpouts, signals (where needed), parking and loading restrictions to ensure daylighting of crosswalks, etc.
  • Narrow travel lanes, add separated bike lanes, restrict parking to protect bus stops, provide bus shelters etc.
  • Add landscaping and benches

Improved Transit + Curbside Management: A Street serves as a critical transit connection between South Boston and South Station and will need to serve many more people as the neighborhood continues to evolve and grow. The City should explore implementing several of the below interventions to improve transit + curbside management: 

  • Work with the MBTA to determine the best bus priority interventions for current and future bus service. These may include a dedicated bus lane, cue jumps and/or transit signal priority. 
  • Improve the accessibility and comfort of existing bus stops on the corridor. 
  • Develop a curb management plan that includes designated loading zones for trucks, taxis + TNC services. The City should also explore time of day loading restrictions, in order to limit or eliminate loading activities along the corridor during peak travel hours. 

Provide Safe and Comfortable Bike Network Connections to and through the site. We appreciate the intention to provide a bike connection to the South Bay Harbor trail, Harbor trail and A Street through the site. However, these connections as they are currently described  are disjointed and potentially dangerous, especially at intersections and areas where cyclists and vehicles  mix. 

  • Weaving the bicycle connection to the South Bay Harbor Trail through the site creates multiple potential conflict points at Necco Street and on the Wormwood extension. A more direct connection on Binford Street may be preferable and should be explored in addition to ensuring there are safe bicycle accommodations on both Necco and Binford Street. 
  • Given the above mentioned transit and large truck uses on A Street, a more detailed plan for how cyclists will safely travel from the site to A Street is needed – specifically at the Binford Street and A Street intersection. 
  • Eliminating the Wormwood extension removes another potential point of conflict both along the street and at the A Street intersection.  

We look forward to working with Proponent and the City as the project planning and design continue.

Sincerely,

Stacey Beuttell
Executive Director, WalkBoston

Stacy Thompson
Executive Director, Livable Streets Alliance

Becca Wolfson
Executive Director, Boston Cyclists Union

WalkBoston Comments on Harbor Garage Redevelopment

WalkBoston Comments on Harbor Garage Redevelopment

October 9, 2020

Director Brian Golden
Boston Planning and Development Agency
Attn via email: Ebony DaRosa

Secretary Kathleen A. Theoharides
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
Attn via email: Alexander Strysky

Re: The Pinnacle at Central Wharf (Harbor Garage Redevelopment)

Dear Secretary Theoharides and Director Golden:

WalkBoston is Massachusetts’ leading pedestrian advocate. We frequently provide comments on major public and private development and infrastructure projects, with a focus on how those projects serve and affect people walking, biking and taking transit.

The redevelopment of the Harbor Garage has been under discussion for many, many years with major public disagreement about the appropriate scale and mix of uses that the project should comprise. We will not specifically weigh in on those issues because the Municipal Harbor Plan has now set the stage to allow a very large mixed-use development. And while a number of commenters will raise public process issues, broad public benefit issues and questions about the timing of required design and use standards as they apply to the timing and design of this project we look to others to provide detailed and focused attention on these issues.

Our comments focus on a more detailed and fine-grained set of concerns about the ways in which people walking, biking and taking transit to, through and next to the project will be affected.

From a site planning perspective, we believe that the current proposal has a better footprint and urban design than earlier development concepts. Improvements to the sidewalks, landscaping and scale of the pedestrian areas around the site will  contribute to a more comfortable and attractive streetscape than the existing conditions surrounding the garage. However we do have significant concerns.

Garage and loading access

Our significant and consequential comment is that garage access and egress should be removed from Atlantic Avenue in order to provide an acceptable site plan that will be safe for people walking and biking along Atlantic Avenue. 

The building site presents a complicated puzzle for the circulation of people and vehicles because all four sides of the site are public facing, each with its own personality and constituency.

Atlantic Avenue

  • Over many years, the advocacy community has invested an enormous amount of time and energy to establish and preserve the integrity of a wide and pedestrian-friendly sidewalk along Atlantic Avenue, both as a core walking route for thousands of people every day and as a component of the Rose Kennedy Greenway. We remain committed to maintaining the preeminence of this walking route. Atlantic Avenue’s significant pedestrian volumes can only be expected to grow in the coming years.

Milk Street

  • Milk Street is the primary connection from Downtown and the Greenway to the Aquarium,  serves millions of visitors every year, and will be part of the Aquarium’s planned Blueway. Special attention to this walking link to the harbor is an essential component of the site’s redevelopment.

Harbor Walk

  • The Harbor Walk is the City’s waterfront front door and pedestrian corridor with critical public realm and resiliency functions and serving thousands of walkers every day. As one of Boston’s most loved and important pedestrian assets and spaces, the Harbor Walk deserves great attention to design, programming and management.

East India Row

  • East India Row provides access to both the project site and the Harbor Towers residential development. It is used by both pedestrians and vehicles as a key link between Atlantic Avenue and these sites.

Vehicle Access

As currently configured and programmed, vehicle access into the garage for most of the garage users and all of the building deliveries will require vehicles to cross the Atlantic Avenue sidewalk. Access via this garage entrance will be for all passenger vehicles for office, retail, Aquarium and public parking, and for all loading (residential, office, retail). Egress across the sidewalk will serve all loading (residential, office, retail). As shown on the plans in the PNF, the driveway serving the garage entryway looks almost as wide as Milk Street.

According to the PNF (Table 2-7), during the morning peak hour there will be 292 vehicle trips turning across the Atlantic Avenue sidewalk – or about 5 vehicles/minute. The pedestrian data provided in Figure 2-7B indicates that under existing conditions approximately 700 pedestrians walk along Atlantic Avenue during the morning peak hour – or about 12 people/minute. The volume of vehicles turning across this busy sidewalk, without traffic signals to provide a safe time for pedestrians to walk along the sidewalk, is comparable to the right turn volumes of 238 vehicles from Seaport Boulevard onto Atlantic Avenue during the weekday PM peak hour (see Figure 2-6B), and the pedestrian volume walking along Atlantic Avenue of 738 people is also comparable. (PM pedestrian trips along Atlantic Avenue at the project site are even higher than AM trips, so a shift from garage access to garage egress would create even greater conflict.)

Bike volumes in the Atlantic Avenue bike lane are approximately 60-80 bikes/peak hour under existing conditions.

The PNF does not include projected walking and biking volumes (it does include those projections for vehicle trips). Given the rising numbers of walking and biking trips that we are seeing across downtown Boston, we request that these projections be included in the Draft EIR and PIR.

No specific information is provided about the number of loading trips that will enter and leave the building across the sidewalk. This information should also be provided in the Draft EIR and PIR.

In addition to the safety hazards of vehicles turning across people walking and biking, we also believe that vehicles exiting (and possibly entering) the garage will queue up across the sidewalk as they wait to enter the travel lanes along Atlantic Avenue (or potentially as they wait to enter the garage itself).

We do not believe that a garage and/or loading entrance into the project site should be allowed on Atlantic Avenue because it would require vehicles to turn across the sidewalk and bicycles traveling along Atlantic Avenue. We ask the City to require a shift of garage access to East India Row where it will impact far fewer people walking and biking, and where it will not negatively impact one of Boston’s premier walking routes. 

Aquarium and Harbor Towers Parking Long-Term and During the Construction Period

Because the site will continue to provide parking for the Aquarium (as required under the Municipal Harbor Plan) and also for the Harbor Towers, as well as serving the Project’s commercial, retail and residential occupants, it is not realistic to ask that the garage use on the site be eliminated. However, we urge the Proponent, the City, the Aquarium and Harbor Towers to re-examine the amount of parking included and reduce it to the greatest extent possible.  Additionally, we urge the developer to explore the feasibility of repurposing any reduction  of parking into maximizing the number of onsite affordable housing  units.. As the City is in the midst of revising its maximum allowable parking regulations, this Project should at a minimum adhere to these new lower limits. Any reduction in total vehicle trips into the site will reduce the Project impacts on people walking and biking as well as its contributions to traffic and greenhouse gas emissions.

We understand that publicly available parking spaces are needed for the Aquarium to maintain its operations – and especially in light of the financial hardship caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical to insure the Aquarium’s healthy operations when the Harbor Garage is out of service. Given that the City and the Proponent will be working closely with the Aquarium to develop a parking plan for the approximately 3-year construction period when there will be no parking at the site,  we believe it would be valuable to explore if any of the short-term parking mitigation sites may serve as a better long-term parking solution than building 500 new parking spaces.

Site Design, Operations and Management Comments

  • Pedestrian circulation around and through the development site
  • Site grade in relation to the surrounding waterfront
  • Public programming to support a lively public realm and welcome a diverse set of visitors
  • Shadow, wind and microclimate
  • Coordination with existing and future waterfront resiliency efforts that will affect people walking

Pedestrian circulation around and through the development site

Pedestrian circulation around the building, on the site and through the building seems to provide attractive pedestrian routes and easy access to all the public spaces within the development. The Proponent has noted that a variety of sidewalk, accessibility and landscape improvements will be made to enhance the walking environment.

We could not find a description of whether the diagonal interior pedestrian passage through the building would be open to the public 24/7.  We ask that the Proponent describe the operating plans for this pedestrian circulation in the next filing.

Relationship between the raised grade of the proposed site plan and the surrounding waterfront

The document provides a description of the proposed grade changes to raise the site level above projected water levels in future years, but it is not clear to the lay reader how the transition between this site and adjacent sites will affect the experience of people walking on this site or adjacent sites. Please include a detailed description and diagrams in the next project filing.

Public programming to support a lively public realm and welcome a diverse set of visitors

While the document provides several sentences describing the Proponent’s intent to provide site programming worthy of this important site and significant development, very little detail is included. We ask that the following questions be addressed in the next filing.

  • How will the Proponent ensure that people of all races, ethnicities and income groups feel welcome and included in both the interior and exterior spaces of the project?
  • What low and no-cost activities will be provided?
  • What will be the annual budget for programming of public activities on the site and how many years of programming will the Proponent provide?
  • Will there be children’s programming to align with Aquarium? Will the Aquarium have the opportunity to provide (and be compensated) for such programming?
  • How will the Proponent enliven the site during winter months?

Wind, shadow, and microclimate

We are pleased that the developer has explicitly worked to design a building façade/skin that is intended to reduce the wind impacts of the building and we look forward to seeing the wind studies that will be provided in future filings.

A project of this scale will have unavoidable shadow impacts on the streets, sidewalks and open spaces around it and this project is no exception.

Given the hope that this project will invite many people to enjoy the waterfront, we urge the developer to look in detail at ways to create comfortable outdoor spaces that are sheltered from the existing windiness of the waterfront; are shaded in the summer; and take full advantage of the sun in colder months. We suggest that the design team look at best practices for creating human-friendly microclimates on the site. This could mean spray stations for the summer, seating with solid legs and backs and wind protection for the winter, and different orientations to take advantage of the sun at every season. We look forward to learning more about the designs in the next filings.

Coordination with existing and future waterfront resiliency efforts that will affect people walking

The development plan meets the City’s resiliency guidance for the development site itself. We ask that the developer formally commit to working with the City and with other waterfront property owners and managers to ensure that public access to the HarborWalk will be safe and attractive over the long term as sea levels rise.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this significant new project. WalkBoston would be pleased to answer any questions about our comments and to meet with City or development team staff.

Sincerely,

Stacey Beuttell
Executive Director

WalkBoston testimony to a joint meeting of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board and the MassDOT Board

WalkBoston testimony to a joint meeting of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board and the MassDOT Board

Testimony as prepared for joint meeting of the MBTA Fiscal and Management Control Board and the MassDOT Board, September 21, 2020. During the COVID-19 pandemic, public comment to the Boards is via short phone messages that are played to the Board members at the beginning of each meeting. The I-90 Allston Project was on the agenda for the meeting and the following comment was provided by WalkBoston as a phone message.

Good morning Board members.

This is Wendy Landman, WalkBoston’s member of the I-90 Task Force and a veteran of the many-year I-90 environmental process.

I would like to begin my comments by thanking Secretary Pollack for specifically calling out walking and biking access to the Charles, and planning for dual paths along the Charles in her recent Boston Globe op ed.

As the Board and MassDOT turn to selecting a preferred alternative for the project I would like to remind you of the following sentence from the purpose and need section of MassDOT’s I90 Scoping report:

…“including service that provides a north to south connection through the Project Area as well as for options that do not preclude future intercity rail service and transit service on the Grand Junction Rail line.”

Of the three alternatives now under study by MassDOT, only the at-grade and hybrid options rebuild the little Grand Junction bridge over Soldiers Field Road which would permit twotrack rail service along the Grand Junction line to be added in the future. Because the highway viaduct option does not rebuild the little Grand Junction bridge, future Grand Junction service would require very significant, expensive and disruptive construction in the throat area again – essentially precluding such service. Hence, the highway viaduct option does not meet the project’s purpose and need as defined by MassDOT.

Among the alternatives under study, we believe that the at-grade alternative will best meet the project’s full purpose and need. We are pleased that conversations are now underway between some advocates, pro bono design teams and MassDOT to identify an atgrade alternative that serves all modes and all users of this critical transportation project AND helps restore the health and vitality of the Charles River and the Charles River Reservation.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the project.

Call for public input in the Cape Cod Bridge Replacement process

Call for public input in the Cape Cod Bridge Replacement process

Bob Sloane, who calls the Cape home for much of the summer, recently published an opinion piece in the Cape Cod Times describing the replacement of the Cape Cod bridges as a “big, expensive once-in-a-lifetime event.” For those of you who know Bob’s commitment to the Allston multi-modal project, these adjectives sound eerily familiar. Read about Bob’s latest call for public input here.

WalkBoston Comments on the South Boston Seaport Strategic Transit Plan

WalkBoston Comments on the South Boston Seaport Strategic Transit Plan

July 24, 2020 | WalkBoston Comments on the South Boston Seaport Strategic Transit Plan

To:
Brian P. Golden, Director Boston Planning & Development Agency
Chris Osgood, Chief of Streets
Councilor Wu, Chair Planning, Development and Transportation
Councilor Flynn, District 2

WalkBoston appreciates the opportunity to comment on the plan and are glad to see that a broad set of options are under consideration. We also are glad that a diversity of perspectives is represented by the four criteria used: Expand, Rely, Respect and Equalize.

We offer the following comments and look forward to hearing from you with responses to our comments and the opportunity to comment again as the plan is advanced.

  1. We are pleased that Improving Pedestrian Connections has emerged as one of the top candidates for short term implementation and agree that this strategy will serve many people and improve transit access and use for a broad range of users and locations.
  2. After reviewing the options for short term strategies that are now under consideration, we believe that an evaluation that gives greater weight to Equalize as a value would better serve the needs of the District and of Boston as a whole.

The strategies with the highest Equalize ratings are:

  • Expand Off-Peak Transit Service 100 points
  • Dedicated Transit Corridors 70 points
  • North Station – South Station – South Boston Seaport Direct Bus or Shuttle Service 61 points
  • Bus or Shuttle connection from Nubian Square to South Boston Seaport Link via Broadway 60 points
  • Bus or Shuttle connection from Central Square to South Boston Seaport via LMA and Nubian Square 58 points

While we are pleased that Expanding Off-Peak Transit Service has been flagged as one of the top strategies, we are concerned that Extend Private and Consolidated Shuttles on A St to Broadway has also been given a top rating as this is the ONLY strategy among all of those evaluated that received a negative rating for Equalize, and that it actually increases travel time for many transit users.

We believe that the Bus or Shuttle connection from Nubian Square to South Boston Seaport Link via Broadway or the Bus or Shuttle connection from Central Square to South Boston Seaport via LMA and Nubian Square (# 2 and 3 in overall ratings) should be included as one of the strategies to be advanced. These two options also directly serve some of Boston’s neighborhoods with the greatest number and density of people of color.

  1. There seems to be a disconnect between this BPDA Plan and the work of the Public Works Department on the Northern Avenue Bridge. As WalkBoston and a number of our fellow advocates have commented, we strongly disagree with the plan to allow shuttle buses to use a new Northern Avenue Bridge because it will negatively impact people walking and biking on the bridge, will require that the bridge be very large and expensive, and because it provides very little benefit to shuttle users.

None of the numerous bus service improvements suggested and reviewed in the South Boston Seaport Strategic Transit Plan (short or long term) are shown to be using a future Northern Avenue Bridge. The bridge itself is called out as a strategy, but it is not incorporated into any of the other strategies – all of the routes that cross the Fort Point Channel are shown using the Summer Street or Congress Street Bridges. We urge the Public Works Department to look again at its proposal and eliminate the use of the bridge for shuttle buses.

WalkBoston looks forward to working with you as this plan progresses.