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Tag: Cambridge Esplanade

Comments on the Charles River Resource Management Plan

Comments on the Charles River Resource Management Plan

October 31, 2014

Secretary Maeve Vallely Bartlett
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA)
100 Cambridge St., Suite 900
Boston MA 02114

RE: Comments on the Charles River Resource Management Plan

Dear Secretary Vallely Bartlett:

WalkBoston reviews public planning documents to identify potential implications for pedestrians. The following comments are based on our review of this document:

We are very excited about the opportunities presented for potential improvements in the 3- mile long section of riverfront between the Harbor and the BU Bridge. Because the document gives each proposed improvement a priority ranking, we are able to sense where DCR is moving in its schedule to improve the Lower Charles River Basin.

Many of the improvements proposed are essential for all users of the parks and nearby neighborhoods. We commend DCR for its foresight in working toward protection from flooding that might be anticipated in the wake of Hurricane Sandy two years ago. Improvements to the dam between the river and the harbor will protect the basin, and much of the Back Bay and portions of Cambridge, from flooding.

We are also happy that DCR has been active in working on both the proposed South Bank Bridge behind North Station and the “drawbridge walkway” to be constructed as part of an MBTA replacement bridge. These measures will complete the connection of the riverfront paths with the Harbor Walk.

A related improvement is the proposed walkway behind the Science Museum that would provide connections into the museum, pass over the locks with a new bridge and perhaps through the state police barracks to connect with riverside paths and the existing sidewalk in front of the Museum. This improvement would add capacity of the paths around the basin by providing a new pathway for walkers and runners who currently have no option other than the narrow sidewalk that lies along the reconstructed Craigie Dam roadway.

The partnership of DCR and The Esplanade Association has resulted in proposals that are also moving forward. The relocation of Storrow Drive under one of the Longfellow Bridge arches will provide new park space. Overall goals of the Association’s Esplanade 2020 proposals include revitalizing the area around the Hatch Shell with redesigned paths, a café, and areas for audiences attending Hatch Shell performances. One of the recurring issues in the Hatch Shell work has been the mixing of pedestrians and bicycles at the proposed café that cannot be avoided until a high-speed bicycle path, separated from pedestrian ways, is provided under the Fiedler Footbridge.

We are very pleased the concept of providing separate paths for pedestrians and cyclists is a major feature of the report. In some cases, this kind of separation already exists, as in portions of the Boston Esplanade. In others, such as the Cambridge Esplanade, it will be a major improvement to separate paths for a substantial portion of the riverfront. This design provides high-speed bicycle commuters a special route away from quieter activities, such as strolling or playing with children. We trust that the users of the Cambridge Esplanade will benefit from a proposed greensward with trees and a slight differential in elevation that promotes safety by discouraging a mix of fast cyclists and slower users of the paths.

The report also cites several management issues that require relatively small expenditures. For example, the attention given to removing or controlling geese is important because the birds have become dominant in some sections of the Basin, interfering with safe, healthy and pleasant walking on paths near the River. Snow removal is extremely important to walkers and runners who use the riverside facilities during all months of the year.

However, WalkBoston is concerned that the aspirations expressed in the document do not extend as far as they might. We hope that DCR will explore giving more attention to the following issues.

Minimum widths for paths
The report points out that some stretches of paved paths are only five feet wide. This is insufficient to serve the mix and volume of users, often including both pedestrians and bicyclists. It is clearly inadequate for a multi-use path.

Reliance on multi-use facilities
Pedestrian volumes in the riverfront between the BU Bridge and Boston Harbor are significant. These volumes are reflected in user surveys undertaken by DCR and others, where “walking for pleasure” was shown to be the single most important purpose for many people using the parkland. In another survey, 55% of the respondents cited “congested pathways” as an issue they hoped would be addressed. In the same survey 86% of the respondents would support “separating paths by user types.” 67% of respondents reported a negative experience in using the park, with the majority citing the conflict of pedestrians and cyclists.

These surveys indicate that walkers desire safe and pleasant alternatives to multi-use paths. While it is not feasible to provide separate pedestrian paths along the full length of the corridor, it is clearly a desirable feature to include throughout the wider portions of the park. Multi-use paths would thus be limited to those locations where there are no other options such as narrow stretches of parkland or the recently completed North Bank Bridge.

Provisions for runners and joggers
One of the goals stated in the report calls for safe and continuous bicycle, skating and pedestrian access along the entire length of the park. We would add to that list of users the many runners and joggers who use River paths because they are relatively safe and removed from vehicular traffic.

While runners and joggers do not directly compete with pedestrians for space, they are better served by softer surfaces than asphalt or concrete. “Soft surface” paths have been discussed in locations such as the Greenough Boulevard reconstruction, where separate paths are proposed to serve cycling, walking and running. While the separation of walking and cycling paths is a recurring theme in the report, the possibility of also providing a separate path for runners is not. We would suggest including it in any revisions that might be forthcoming. The presence of so many “goat paths” adjacent to the paved paths clearly point to the need.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important project. Please feel free to contact us with any questions.

Sincerely,

Robert Sloane
Senior Planner

Walking Map of Bridges and Esplanades along the Charles River

Walking Map of Bridges and Esplanades along the Charles River

For a great cinematic view of Boston take a ride over the Charles River on the Red Line across the Longfellow Bridge between Kendall Square and Charles/MGH Stations. The train accelerates as it leaves the station to meet the rising curve of the bridge, and the short spell of darkness in the subway tunnel dissolves on a sunny day in a flash of blue sky and open water.

This walk takes a longer look at the views of the Lower Charles from a succession of vantage points along the bridge. It encompasses what appears to be one of the most visible and carefully preserved natural features of Boston. However, during the mid-19th century the shallow basin was lined with tenements and industries; at low tide it was a vast expanse of sewage-laden mud flats.

The reclamation of the riverbanks began with the Cambridge Esplanade in 1883 and continues to this day. This walk takes in many of the Charles River’s loveliest and most historic sites–not to mention its incomparable views of the city.

Click for “Bridges and Esplanades Along the Charles River” Walking map on Google maps