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Comments on proposal for development of One Bromfield Street

Comments on proposal for development of One Bromfield Street

July 29, 2016

Brian Golden
Christopher Tracy
Boston Redevelopment Authority
City Hall Plaza
Boston, MA 02201

Re: Comments on proposal for development of One Bromfield Street

Dear Mr. Golden and Mr. Tracy:

WalkBoston reviews proposed public and private developments for their potential impacts on walker’s safety, convenience and amenity in municipalities across the Commonwealth.

We are particularly interested in the One Bromfield Street proposal because of its significant size and consequent effects on the pedestrian network in and around the Ladder Blocks in Downtown Boston. We recognize that the project proponent has been asked to reconsider the currently existing proposal to examine significant changes that might integrate the project more successfully into its proposed setting. In keeping with the process of reconsidering the designs of the project, we offer the following comments:

1. We are concerned that the project will significantly alter pedestrian patterns on surrounding streets. Impacts on Province Street are especially likely because so many of the project’s vehicular access points take place at its intersection with the narrow Province Court.

  •  All vehicles passing through Province Court have the potential for disrupting pedestrian flows on the sidewalks along Province Street, especially abutting this project’s site. Pedestrians will have to wait for vehicle movements from Province Street into Province Court in substantial numbers given the proposed size of the building. In addition, queues of vehicles may stretch from Province Court toward School Street – the principal access to the site – causing congestion of vehicles and potentially significant hazards for the many pedestrians using the businesses and residences along School Street, Province Street and Bromfield Street.
  • Trucks trying to get to the loading docks will have to maneuver forward on Province Street to get into a position where they can back into the docks located off Province Court. They will need to back in slowly because of the severe physical limitations of the access path. This may cause delays and safety issues for the many pedestrians walking on Province Street, and also contribute to traffic backing up along the narrow street.
  • Delivery vehicles will turn from Province Street into Province Court to get to the porte cochere area (also connected to Province Court) where there are slots reserved for them. Delays in deliveries caused by drivers carrying materials into or out of the building may cause delivery vehicles to gather in Province Street awaiting a slot in the porte cochere area.
  • Drivers of vehicles heading toward the parking area within the building are to be served by only two elevators a few feet off Province Court. Waiting for space on the elevators will result in vehicles waiting on Province Street, potentially double-parked on the street. Given the other activities taking place on Province Court, it is very unlikely that private vehicles will be able to wait for elevators within the narrow access provided by Province Court.
  • All privately-operated taxi or other carrying services will pass through this intersection into the porte cochere. Any congestion within the porte cochere will cause waiting vehicles to stand outside on Province Street prior to moving into the building.

2. The project emphasizes vehicular access.

  • The focus of vehicular access on both Province Court and Province Street will result in new traffic patterns and new vehicles that will be competing with pedestrian traffic on the narrow, pedestrian-scale streets in the area. Traffic congregating on Province Street will severely limit successful access to the project while enlarging its impacts on its surroundings.
  • Parking for the project’s residences and businesses should be scrutinized to ascertain if the scale is appropriate. Limiting the size of the building would reduce the need for some of the parking. Examining and detailing the market for residences in this location may result in a lesser need for so many spaces. Providing customer parking for any of the businesses appears unnecessary. It is difficult to discern why anyone would drive to this location and require parking on-site, given the difficulty of driving here and the location at the heart of the region’s transit system.

3. Bromfield Street has retained the look and feel of the historic Ladder District, which has been a prominent feature of planning for Downtown Boston for decades.

  • Buildings generally have a modest number of floors, reflecting a pattern of walk-up offices and residences. All buildings are small-scale, occupying only a few feet of street frontage thus allowing a clustering of many businesses into a short and very walkable street. Bromfield Street contained, in the recent past, a small cluster of owner-operated camera stores, as well as a few stores focusing on hobbies such as stamp collecting. Restaurants have occupied some sites, with new operations likely as Downtown recovers its economic footing.
  • The proposal’s frontage on Bromfield Street is out of scale with the existing street. The proposed massive opening of the vehicular exit on Bromfield is inappropriate, given present and anticipated traffic patterns of Downtown Boston, especially low-traffic ways like Bromfield Street. Any vehicular access should be kept narrow and unobtrusive in keeping with the pedestrian scale of the district. Small-scale shops on both sides of a vehicular exit would help integrate the street frontage into the historic fabric of Bromfield Street.
  • It seems unlikely that traffic on Bromfield Street will grow from sources other than this project. The pedestrianization of Washington Street will remain. New vehicular traffic from Franklin Street remains an unknown. Consideration is needed for potential access to the project site from Franklin Street – which in the recent past was used only for taxis and buses. Maintaining these limits on traffic will help retain the pedestrian feel of the street and actually make it safer for pedestrians by limiting the number of vehicles that will travel there.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important project. It seems clear that reducing the scale of the project and its accompanying vehicular access and trips is needed to reduce negative impacts on local pedestrian patterns and facilities. We hope that the City and the proponent will keep walkers prominently in mind during revisions to this project – the quality of life for pedestrians is what gives this neighborhood and this development the value that it has for existing and future residents, neighbors and visitors.

Sincerely,

Wendy Landman
Executive Director

Comments on the Final Environmental Impact Report for the Redevelopment of the Government Center Garage, MEPA #15134

Comments on the Final Environmental Impact Report for the Redevelopment of the Government Center Garage, MEPA #15134

October 24, 2014

Secretary Maeve Vallely Bartlett
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA)
Attn: MEPA Office EEA #14069
100 Cambridge St., Suite 900
Boston MA 02114

RE: Comments on the Final Environmental Impact Report for the Redevelopment of the Government Center Garage, MEPA #15134

Dear Secretary Vallely Bartlett:

WalkBoston has reviewed this document to identify potential implications for pedestrians. We offer the following comments.

Sidewalk Widths
The FEIR contains detailed drawings of sidewalk widths at all locations, and WalkBoston believes that the widths are completely adequate, except as noted below at the outer bus bays facing the Greenway. On map B.2 – Conceptual Improvement Plan, Bus Bays #4, 5, and 6 are shown with sidewalks that are only 8.5 feet wide, compared with those of Bus Bays #1, 2, and 3, which have 15 foot sidewalks without encroachments. Bays 4, 5, and 6 also appear to have a line of windbreaks that encroach on the 8.5’ width. No benches are shown, but the text response to our DEIR comments states that, “Additional measures, such as windbreaks and seating areas will also be incorporated into the reconfigured Haymarket Bus Station area.” The relatively narrow sidewalk coupled with windbreaks and potentially benches as well, could make the sidewalk uncomfortably narrow and crowded at Bays 4,5, and 6. We urge the proponent to consider a modest re-distribution of space to provide wider sidewalks at these bus stops.

Truck loading bays
WalkBoston continues to be concerned about loading docks that require trucks to back from the major adjoining streets into the building. Two of these streets are major access ways into Central Artery (I-93) and will require very careful operation to be safe for both pedestrians and other vehicles. Clear and enforced management should stipulate that they will not be used, except in emergencies, during daytime working and peak travel times.

Cut-ins on sidewalks
Cut-ins proposed on three sides of the East Parcel and two sides of the West Parcel should also be managed to reduce conflicts with pedestrians as loading and unloading occurs from vehicles. Management of the site should ensure that use of the cut-ins for deliveries (not for guest or resident drop off) is minimized during busy portions of the day or evening.

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

Sincerely,

Robert Sloane
Senior Planner

Comments on the DEIR for the Redevelopment of the Government Center Garage MEPA #15134

Comments on the DEIR for the Redevelopment of the Government Center Garage MEPA #15134

July 11, 2014

Secretary Maeve Vallely Bartlett
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA)
Attn: Holly Johnson
100 Cambridge Street, Suite 900
Boston MA 02114

RE: Comments on the DEIR for the Redevelopment of the Government Center Garage MEPA #15134

Dear Secretary Vallely Bartlett:

WalkBoston reviews significant proposed development projects to provide comments about their impacts on pedestrians, and to suggest measures that may mitigate negative impacts or generally improve the projects for walkers.

We have reviewed the DEIR for the Redevelopment of the Government Center Garage and find exciting aspects of the project that will benefit walkers. These include:

Enhancement of a major pedestrian-transit hub
The East Parcel contains a high-volume transit hub with extensive pedestrian access. Access to the Orange and Green Line Haymarket Station access points will be maintained, as will access to the many MBTA bus services. Some of the difficult pedestrian crossings to the site will be improved by narrowing the width of the New Sudbury Street and thus the length of the crosswalks at its intersection with Congress Street.

The sidewalk through the East Parcel
The new pedestrian connection proposed for this project between Congress Street and Canal Street respects a traditional walking route between Downtown and North Station. This route will see more intensive use over the coming years as the significant developments at North Station and at this site occur, and the proposed design reflects the many circulation activities that are required of this parcel.

A new signalized intersection for Bowker Street
The proposed signalized intersection at New Chardon Street and Bowker Street is a welcome addition for pedestrians. The nearby intersection of New Chardon and Congress Street is skewed in such a way that the crossing is very long and is inconvenient for walkers going to the courthouse across the street. The new crosswalk makes the move much more convenient.

Improvements to on-site parking
As parking ceases to be the principal use of this site, the plan is much less auto-oriented. A reduction of number of available parking spaces reduces vehicles circulating around the site for access. This is accompanied by a reduction in the number of places where vehicles must cross sidewalks, enhancing pedestrian safety. The removal of garage access from New Chardon Street and its potentially busy sidewalks is a major pedestrian benefit of the proposal.

In addition to these project benefits, we also note several issues that need more attention.

Weather protection for walkers
The current garage has the unusual benefit of covering the bus waiting area and access to the transit station below, thus protecting walkers from rain and snow. Removing the garage and opening up the area for new development is beneficial to the project, and we believe that Figure 1.8 shows that the new structure will also provide cover for the bus station area. However, no cover for the subway entrance area is shown. The diagrams are less than clear on this point and we ask the developer to clarify how the bus waiting area and subway entrance areas will be designed and whether they will be covered.

Widths of sidewalks
Pedestrian improvements included in the project will improve safety at crosswalks and along the major streets. A note suggests that the current sidewalks widths are varied throughout the project, and are “rarely less than eight feet wide.” We trust that the standards for future sidewalk widths in this pedestrian-friendly project will be considerably wider and in keeping with the City’s complete street guidelines.

Services provided at the bus station
Six bus stops are proposed in the redesign of the bus station. Three of the stops will be in the area where they are now located, and three stops will be provided by a nominal widening at the side of the Central Artery Surface Road. The design and operation of the bus stops is critical for pedestrian safety and convenience. We ask that the proponent provide detailed diagrams and sketches of how this area will operate and ensure that bus patrons are well served by the new design.

Truck loading bays facing New Chardon Street
New Chardon Street is the major Downtown/North End access to and from the Central Artery (I-93). Four truck loading docks are proposed for the section of New Chardon between Congress Street and the on- and off-ramps leading to the I-93. The site plan suggests that trucks will back into these docks from the street travel lanes across the sidewalk on this side of the East Parcel. Unless use of the docks are restricted to the middle of the night it is difficult to comprehend how trucks backing into place across the sidewalk on a ramp to I-93 can be safely accommodated. We request that the proponent describe this element of the project in detail, including how pedestrian safety will be maintained.

Cut-ins on sidewalks
Cut-ins are proposed on three sides of the East Parcel and two sides of the West Parcel:
1. New Seabury Street near the Surface Artery
2. New Chardon Street near Canal Street
3. New Chardon Street near Bowker Street
4. Congress Street Near New Sudbury Street toward Leverett Circle
5. Congress Street near New Sudbury Street toward State Street

Although not well defined in the DEIR, a cut-in appears to be a pull out lane that reduces the width of the sidewalk to accommodate vehicles. The drawings in the DEIR show these indentations only vaguely but imply that a cut-in is a lane for vehicles separate from the adjacent thoroughfare but parallel to it.

The next stage of development of the project should include details of:

  •  Why the cut-ins are needed in each of the five locations?
  • How they are proposed to be used (back-in, parallel movement, etc.)?
  • How they relate to, or potentially conflict with, all major adjacent pedestrian flows?
  • Design guidelines that include minimum widths for adjacent sidewalks or crosswalks, as well as bollards or other protections for walkers. We are concerned that the sidewalks seem quite narrow adjacent to some of the proposed cut-ins.

We appreciate your consideration of our comments and look forward to your responses to them. Please feel free to contact WalkBoston with questions you may have.

Sincerely,

Wendy Landman                                 Robert Sloane
Executive Director                              Senior Project Manager

Comments on Plans for the Connect Historic Boston project

Comments on Plans for the Connect Historic Boston project

March 12, 2014

William R. Egan, PE
Chief Civil Engineer
Boston Department of Public Works
Boston City Hall, Room 714
Boston MA 02201

RE: Comments on the current plans for the Connect Historic Boston project

Dear Mr. Egan:

WalkBoston has reviewed the most recent plans for the four projects within the Connect Historic Boston program – Commercial Street, Union Street (and the Blackstone Block), Joy Street and Causeway Street). We offer the comments below.

Commercial Street
Of the four projects, we feel that this project does not seriously affect walkers. The Commercial Street project has been carefully designed to incorporate cycle tracks into the existing street layout without affecting pedestrian access or sidewalk availability. We note that the current design provides visual and physical separation between bicycles and pedestrians along the new cycle track/sidewalk proposed on the harbor side of Commercial Street.

Union Street/Blackstone Block
The proposed improvements on Union Street appear excessively vehicle oriented. The proposed sidewalk along the Blackstone Block side of Union Street is intended to encourage pedestrianism and sidewalk cafes, but does not appear to have enough space to accomplish both goals. Thus pedestrians will be walking in the raised street with vehicles. This suggests the need for a very low speed limit on this block (5-10 mph).

The space being devoted to parking could be incorporated into the raised and combined street/sidewalk and used only by pedestrians. Movement by vehicles would not be impeded by enlarging the area intended for pedestrians. One lane should be sufficient for the vehicles that would use this street in the future, and would serve emergency vehicles, and not general traffic. Loading for adjacent businesses might be accommodated in a time-based method, such as that used in the Downtown Crossing shared streets – Washington, Winter and Summer.

The sharing of Union Street between vehicles and pedestrians should be reflected in signage. The shared street area should be signed as a ‘Shared Street” at the entrance to the street with a speed limit of 5-10 mph. Drivers are not being deprived of movement through the area, because they have an alternative parallel street – Congress Street – which is very close. The speed limit should also reflect that this area, bounded by historic buildings and a park, is a prime tourist district, where walkers may not be aware that vehicles are likely to be alongside as they walk from the park to Union Street businesses.

Joy Street
Joy Street is also to become a shared street, with the street raised to sidewalk level. Streetsharing by vehicles and pedestrians requires appropriate signage at the entrance to this street, such as a ‘Shared Street” sign with an accompanying speed limit of 5-10 mph. This is especially important in this densely settled residential area, where Joy Street is often used as a vehicular cut-through street from Beacon Street to Cambridge Street.

Causeway Street
Raised street crossings for pedestrians at the intersections of Canal and Haverhill Streets had long been a part of the planning. We think that their removal is a serious mistake for pedestrian safety. Thus, we offer other suggestions that might be incorporated into the plan to improve safety for walkers. These include:

  •  A right turn lane at Canal and Causeway Streets
    The potential for drivers leaving Canal Street northbound and turning left onto Canal Street appears difficult to resolve. To avoid this issue, 3” bumps in the center of the Intersection of Canal and Causeway have been proposed. We feel these bumps are potential tripping hazards for the walkers who will surge across this intersection during morning and evening commuter rail commuting times and before and after major events at the TD Garden. In large groups of people, many will simply not see the bumps and may fall on encountering them.

Another way to prevent left turns is to change the street geometry. A very tight, single lane right turn lane could be provided to direct northbound traffic onto Causeway Street. A bulbout on the west side of the Canal Street intersection where it meets the sidewalk could divert all vehicles to the right, and could include a rollover curb to permit fire engines to make the left turn in emergencies.

 

  •  Level crossing on sidewalks on each of the side streets
    All of the side street pedestrian crossings along Causeway should be raised to sidewalk level at the entrance to intersections. This would help to reduce speeds and assist in warning drivers to make only safe and permitted movements. A level crossing could be combined with the right turn lane suggested for the Canal Street crossing.

 

  • Canal Street intersection striped from corner to corner
    The volume of pedestrians crossing the Canal Street intersection is one of the largest in the city. Surge traffic from commuters and the attendees of TD Garden events suggests that the intersection needs significant protection for pedestrians. We urge the painting of the entire intersection (curb-to-curb in both directions) to indicate that pedestrians may cross safely anywhere within the intersection. Within this ultra-wide zebra crossing, a modification could be made by painting with a different color the route of the cycle track within the intersection.

 

  • Elimination of right turn on red at all Causeway Street intersections
    It is appropriate to have vehicular traffic in all directions stopped to permit walkers to cross safely and to prohibit any kinds of turning movements that might infringe on walking movements. For example, at Canal Street, forbidding right turns during pedestrian crossing cycles would help protect walkers.

 

  • Wider crosswalk between T station entrances on Haverhill Street
    The crosswalks on Causeway Street at Haverhill Street connect directly on both ends to subway access points. This crosswalk has the potential of attracting numerous pedestrians. The crosswalks should be enlarged beyond the standard widths to accommodate surge flows. • Cobble warnings Cobbles or other rough paving should be placed on the approaches to both the Canal Street intersection and the Haverhill Street intersection to warn drivers of pedestrian concentrations ahead. The cobble warnings should be supplemented with signs indicating that pedestrian crossings are ahead.

 

  • 20 mph speed zone
    The frontage along Causeway Street is about to become even more intensely used than at present. In addition to the rail commuters and event attendees, a very large development with millions of square feet and many new residents and workers is to be placed between the Garden and the front of the property. This intensely developed area will increase the pedestrian concentration at all intersections, but principally at the Canal Street crossing. Because of the many modes of transportation and the concentration of pedestrians at this location, the speed limit should be made a cautious 20 mph on Causeway Street for the safety of all.

We appreciate your consideration of our comments and look forward to your responses to them. Please feel free to contact WalkBoston with questions you may have.

Sincerely,

Robert Sloane
Senior Project Manager

Government Center Garage Redevelopment Environmental Notification Form EOEA #15134

Government Center Garage Redevelopment Environmental Notification Form EOEA #15134

February 7, 2014

Secretary Richard K. Sullivan, Jr.
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA)
100 Cambridge Street, Suite 900
Boston MA 02114

RE: Comments on the Government Center Garage Redevelopment Environmental Notification Form (ENF)

EOEA #15134

Dear Secretary Sullivan,

WalkBoston appreciates the opportunity to provide comments on the Environmental Notification Form (ENF) for the Government Center Garage Redevelopment.

The proposal calls for partial demolition of the underutilized Government Center Garage as an early action, with subsequent demolition and redevelopment to take place over a number of years. Initial demolition will result in opening Congress Street to daylight and allowing redevelopment of the East Parcel, including a new public plaza and pedestrian connection between the Bullfinch Triangle and Greenway. The east parcel is a critical pedestrian link between Downtown Boston and North Station/Bulfinch Triangle, as well as a link to the Rose Kennedy Greenway. The total development will include 812 new housing units, 196 new hotel rooms, over one million gross square feet of office, and 82,500 gross square feet of retail. The garage will continue to provide sufficient parking for the new onsite uses, commercial parking for transient users as well as overnight resident parking.

We offer the following comments:

1. We believe the proposed development will improve the area for pedestrians compared to existing conditions. The existing garage is a large, foreboding structure from the pedestrian viewpoint. While the potential removal of the garage and the reopening of Congress Street to the sky is appealing in its own right, the proposed development offers additional benefits. As the project is refined during subsequent reviews, MEPA and the BRA must ensure that these benefits are not lost during revisions or project changes. We trust that any project approval will condition the following proposed improvements to ensure they are included in the final design:

  • The removal of overhead parking decks and associated office space, returning sunlight to Congress Street.
  • The proposed pedestrian-only extension of Canal Street through the newly-configured east parcel that greatly benefits heavy rush-hour foot traffic to/ from North Station.
  • The narrowing and redesign of Sudbury Street, including elimination and replacement of angled Police Department parking from the right-of-way.
  • The extension of Bowker Street to make it a through street, eliminating the stairs between Sudbury Street and the existing dead end of Bowker Street.
  • The project could potentially provide very substantial benefits that would have a lasting effect on the built environment of the immediate neighborhood and the entire downtown core of Boston. Careful attention must be paid to the pedestrian experience in and around the site to take advantage of its tremendous pedestrian and transit access. The project is positioned to capitalize on these features and it is incumbent upon MEPA, the BRA and the City of Boston to ensure that the final design fully accounts for these opportunities.

2. Curb cuts for the garage – All curb cuts provided for the new garage should be kept to a minimum width, should enter the street at a right angle, and should be at sidewalk grade (no curb cut for pedestrians). Appropriate vehicle exiting warning signs must be provided for pedestrian safety. The existing garage access drives are too wide and pedestrians on the sidewalk are often threatened by automobiles traveling at high speeds into and out of the garage’s overly wide parking access ramps.

3. MBTA on-site improvements – The project should not interfere with normal MBTA bus operations, and allowance must be made for continued bus and subway service connections on-site. The proponent and the MBTA should commit to additional design work to improve the walking environment in this area to accommodate the large number of pedestrians using transit, along with the additional pedestrian volumes that will be generated by this very large project.

4. Hawkins and Bowker Streets – Bowker Street should become a through street with a changed gradient that allows an ADA compliant sidewalk. If Hawkins Street cannot also be made a through street, the stairs that connect its dead-end at Sudbury Street should be re-graded into an ADA compliant sidewalk.

5. North End Access – While the project claims to reconnect long divided Boston neighborhoods, it fails to offer the North End the same pedestrian benefits it does for the West End, Government Center and Bullfinch Triangle. In fact the project design seems to turn its back on the North End. A North End pedestrian connection should be explored in greater detail. The connection should work to interconnect the north-south walkway through the east parcel, North End residents, the two Green and Orange Line MBTA subway stations, and the Greenway.

6. Walk Signals – The existing pedestrian walk signals at the intersection of New Chardon Street and Canal Street will need to be adjusted. The pedestrian service from Canal Street through the newly configured east parcel will siphon existing North Station foot traffic away from adjacent streets. As a result, this pedestrian walk signal and the narrow mid-crossing island may be overwhelmed by the additional foot traffic on Canal Street. All walk signals on New Chardon, Friend, Sudbury and Merrimac Streets should be adjusted to handle the additional pedestrian traffic that the project will create.

7. Narrowing Sudbury and New Chardon Streets – A detailed study of the potential for narrowing both Sudbury and New Chardon Streets is essential. Such a study should include provisions for wider sidewalks, coordinate with improvements being planned for neighboring streets as part of the Crossroads Initiative and potential bike lanes. Further pedestrian crossing improvements should be explored including the elimination (or infill) of the truck turning lanes at the corner of Merrimac Street and New Chardon Street, and at the corner of New Chardon Street and Congress Street.

8. Other pedestrian ways – The document does not address whether the proponent will maintain or improve pedestrian connections that skirt the northwestern edge of the site, from New Chardon Street, up the Brattle Way pedestrian mall and ultimately out towards Cambridge Street. This pedestrian mall/walkway and associated small park area is well used during the day and it should be considered with the project’s design. The short length of Brattle Way could be an excellent candidate for expanded pedestrian use.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the ENF for the Government Center Garage Redevelopment. We believe this site provides an opportunity to develop a transit-oriented, mixed-use project that could showcase pedestrian friendly sidewalks and streets. We hope our comments on the ENF/PNF are incorporated into your requirements for the next phase of design and permitting documents.

Please contact us for any clarification or additional comments that would be useful.

Sincerely,

Wendy Landman                                    Robert Sloane
Executive Director                                  Senior Planner