Tag: circulation planning

Comments on Dorchester Ave Planning Study

Comments on Dorchester Ave Planning Study

June 22, 2016

Lara Merida

Director of Neighborhood Planning

Boston Redevelopment Authority

Boston City Hall

1 City Hall Square

Boston, MA 02201

Re: The South Boston Dorchester Ave Planning Study

As the city and state’s principal advocate for pedestrian safety, access, and utility in improving individuals’ health, WalkBoston thanks you for the opportunity to comment on this planning study.

It is unusual when a municipality is able to consider preparation for so massive a prospective change for an existing neighborhood. The area served by Dorchester and Old Colony Avenues appears to be a prime candidate for such change. This corridor has direct links to Downtown Boston and to the close-knit neighborhood of South Boston, where the market for new housing is strong.

The plan will form the basis for proposed rezoning of the 144-acre site between Dorchester Avenue and Old Colony Avenue, reaching nearly a mile between the Broadway and Andrews MBTA stations, and could prepare for an influx of between 14,000 and 16,000 new residents. Because there are few existing streets within the study area other than the two well-known arteries, it is critical that the plan address the movement needs of drivers, bicyclists and walkers to prevent the crowding of streets and sidewalks.

Circulation planning

• The plan proposes creation of a network of streets with sidewalks, midblock walkways, bike lanes, and vehicular ways that may double the amount of space currently provided for all kinds of circulation. Except for the existing streets, the network will be created through a zoning process that requires developers to include streets, sidewalks and midblock walkways as parts of their proposed developments. With the exception of the midblock walkways, the new circulation facilities may be required through zoning to be primarily on the periphery of a site that is proposed for development. With small block frontage this may be adequate for walkers. With larger sites, it may not suffice, as pedestrians may be faced with longer, perhaps inconvenient walking routes.

• The historical nature of this space as industrial has created a layout that is not conducive to walking. Distances are relatively long for access to the subway. In addition, walkers are confronted by four intersections that pose a major barrier to pedestrian access to and from the redevelopment zone:

1. Old Colony Avenue and Columbia Road

2. Dorchester Avenue, Dorchester St, Preble St, and Boston St.

3. Dorchester Avenue, Damrell St, and D Street

4. Dorchester Avenue, Old Colony Avenue, W. 7th St, and B St.

The use of Complete Streets circulation principles

Boston and the state agencies both espouse Complete Streets principles in designs for streets. Application of these principles to existing facilities may bring challenges. For example, the principles applied to Dorchester Avenue may change the character of the street considerably. As a two-lane facility with parking on both sides of the street, change may be essential to incorporate safe bicycle lanes and sidewalks, along with landscaping treatment that may involve a row of new street trees within the study area.

However, the street’s right-of-way may not be sufficient to incorporate all of these competing uses unless care is taken in the design. To maintain continuity of design and treatment, this suggests a very strong role for the city in overseeing or providing facilities for private landowners.

By contrast, with 4 lanes, Old Colony Avenue provides more space for incorporation of changes in movement patterns and in redesign to add amenities that can support the extensive development anticipated here.

Park planning

• The thoroughfare called Ellery Street is planned to be extended as a street with a contiguous greenway through much of the study area. The greenway would be constructed on land adjacent to a street and to buildable parcels created in specific locations. There are several questions that come from this proposal: Will the greenway be designed and constructed by the businesses? What role will the city play? Who will be responsible for maintenance of the greenway?

• For the proposed pedestrian/bike way running along the frontage road/train tracks, where will the funds for construction and maintenance come from? Can this path and bikeway be constructed as part of the street proposed for the edge of parcels that abut the rail yards?

• The plan calls for the creation of a 1-2 acre park by asking developers to consolidate their open space requirements into a single area. We are concerned that businesses may not want to consolidate their open space requirements. In that instance, where would the funds come for the construction and maintenance of this space?

• The creation of a park and pedestrian greenway requires the commitment of businesses willing to participate in density bonus measures that provide the city with open space. If businesses opt out of those density bonus plans then this area is reduced to 45-foot tall buildings with no parks, no open spaces, and no network of connectivity.

The pedestrian experience

• Retail amenities encourage walking. Much of the frontage of both Old Colony and Dorchester Avenue is planned to be retail – a very good idea if the demand for the space remains solid. However, there are clear indications that sales of goods in massive quantities on the internet are drying up many of the opportunities for brick-and-mortar sites for retail activities. It seems doubtful that the current market for goods will change significantly.

• Services such as dry cleaners, restaurants, banks, etc. are, of course, likely to require physical operating space. It is possible that projections of space needs specifically for services may be required to more closely balance space allocations with likely demand. However, many services do not require physical space adjacent to a sidewalk. To the extent that proposed zoning can be tailored, services might be used to occupy the space that may be zoned for retail activities. Restaurants immediately come to mind as an opportunity area. Perhaps a focus on food services may be an appropriate alternative that should be nurtured.

• It is important to note that a positive pedestrian experience requires a seamless network of spaces and attractions. If in the process of constructing on sites in this large area, businesses are filing commercial spaces at large physical intervals, it deters walking, while simultaneously promoting driving and crime by creating dead zones of activity.

While there are many admirable aspects of this plan including potential pedestrian networks and implementation of Boston’s Complete Streets Guidelines, much remains vague. Rezoning can allow for certain types of redevelopment, but in no way ensures the creation of those possibilities. If rezoning does occur as planned, we suggest that the developer guidelines and site plan review process be rigorous and keep walkability at the forefront of the development goals.

This rezoning plan allows for the creation of many great things for pedestrians, but in no way ensures those aspects of the plan will be implemented in the long run.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this emerging plan.


Robert Sloane

Senior Planner