Tag: GoBoston 2030

Comments on Planned Development Area for the Air Rights Parcel 12 Project

Comments on Planned Development Area for the Air Rights Parcel 12 Project

July 22, 2019

Aisling Kerr
Boston Planning & Development Agency
City Hall, 9th Floor
One City Hall Square
Boston, MA 02201-1001

Re: Development Plan for the Planned Development Area for the Air Rights Parcel 12 Project

Dear Ms. Kerr:

WalkBoston has reviewed the proposal for the development of Parcel 12 in Boston’s Back Bay, and believe that it will significantly improve the pedestrian environment on what is now a wind- swept and uncomfortable bridge above the MassPike. The site design shows significant attention to the movement, comfort and amenities of people coming to and through it, and should provide an inviting new space for people to walk and linger. We are pleased that the tunnel under Mass Ave will be reopened allowing people to make intermodal transfers between buses, blue bikes, and walking and the Green Line without crossing Mass Ave. We do have some thoughts about some of the complex pedestrian and bicycle movements that the site must accommodate and would like to share the following comments.

Our Understanding of the Parcel 12 Development Project

The proposed development of Parcel 12, located between Newbury and Boylston Streets, and fronting on Massachusetts Avenue, consists of two towers – an office tower and a residential/ hotel tower on either side of a park located above the Turnpike. The two towers are located partially on existing terra firma and partially on air rights above the Turnpike and the commuter rail tracks. The proposed park, situated primarily on a platform using air rights above the Turnpike, contains facilities for both pedestrians and bicycles.

Public open space for the project totals 28,000 square feet on three levels. The public space facing Mass Ave is likely to be the most heavily used space for pedestrians and is described as a public gathering space where 16,000 square feet on the street level is dedicated to primarily pedestrian activities. The remainder of the open space is located either along Boylston Street or on two raised levels that bridge the space between the two dominant on-site buildings.

In the 16,000 square feet of open space along Mass Ave – a large triangle – a significant number of activities are planned. These include generous sidewalks of varying widths along Mass Ave and along the facades of the two proposed buildings. The open space also contains landscaping, bicycle facilities, bike racks, trash receptacles, lighting, street trees in raised planters, an expanded bus shelter on Mass Ave, a new headhouse (called a kiosk) with elevator and stairway to Hynes Green Line Station via a tunnel under Mass.Ave, and seating elements integrated into the rim of the bicycle path or in treed areas. Outdoor dining areas line two sides of the triangular open space.

The lobby entrance into the hotel-residential building faces this Mass Ave oriented open space, and the lobby entrance of the office building is located on Boylston St.

Access to the frequent buses on Mass Ave is a dominant use of the Mass Ave fronting sidewalk. The existing bus stop shelter is to be replaced next to a wider Mass Ave sidewalk with a larger shelter to serve the 140’ long bus stop on Mass Ave which can serve as many as three buses at a time. A new connection to the Green Line is provided, connecting the Parcel 12 site and the entrance to the subway on the east side of Mass Ave via on-site access to a stairway and elevator that links to an abandoned under-street tunnel for pedestrians. In addition to the Mass Ave sidewalk, a broad and generally parallel sidewalk leads from the Boylston Street entrance to the site to the Newbury Street entrance. A bicycle path is located between this sidewalk and the Mass Ave sidewalk.

Signal timing

The Project will include a full intersection redesign and the installation of new traffic signal equipment at the intersection of Mass Ave and Newbury Street, with a more limited set of intersection and signalization improvements planned for the intersection of Mass Ave and Boylston Street.

  • Per the MassDOT Separated Bike Lane Design Guide, pedestrian signal timing near separated bike lanes should include sufficient clearance time for a pedestrian to cross the entire roadway including the bike lanes and street buffers. Both intersections fit this description, and should have that additional time included for people walking.
  • In the Boston Smart Utilities filing (p 584-585), ‘Adaptive Signal Technology’ is referenced as a consideration, “where appropriate, and feasible.” We would encourage the proponent to adhere to the forward-looking signal policies put forth in the GoBoston 2030 plan, since the City of Boston’s current Signal Timing Guidelines do not yet reflect that same vision. ‘Smart Signals’ should be able to ‘see’ and serve the needs of people walking and biking as well as people in vehicles. Likewise, we urge the timing be used to improve bus service along Mass Ave and not be allowed to delay buses along Mass Ave in order to push more vehicles through the Mass/Newbury intersection to access the I-90W ramp.

Plaza level bicycle path

The bicycle path is a potential problem for people circulating throughout the new plaza, raising several issues:

  • Both north and south of the boundaries of Parcel 12, the bicycle lane is a protected lane located behind a row of parked cars along Mass Ave on the west side of the street. On the proposed plaza between Newbury Street and Boylston Street, the proposed bicycle path leaves the street and crosses the land included in the new park provided by Parcel 12. Although this appears to have been planned to avoid having bicycles compete with buses on-street, it results in bicycles having to compete for space with pedestrians.
  • Bicycles on the bike path will intersect at a right angle with an important pedestrian route between the bus stop and access to the Green Line in the new kiosk. At this location, many transit riders are changing modes (bus to Green Line, Green Line to bus). People who are connecting between these two transit services will be required to cross the bicycle path to make the connection, unless they cross Mass Ave midblock illegally or use the Boylston St. or the Newbury St. crosswalks. We are concerned that the large pedestrian volumes in this area, and especially the potentially large groups of people transferring between buses and the Green Line, may result in conflicts between people walking and biking. We would encourage a close examination of this issue with the use of projected bus transfer, pedestrian and bicycle volumes.
  • There are potential bicycle/pedestrian conflicts at the crosswalks on Newbury and Boylston Streets. Bicycles make the move from the street-based bike route north of the site into the on-site bike path across pedestrian flows on the crosswalk at Newbury Street and leave the Parcel 12 site by crossing pedestrian traffic on the Boylston Street crosswalk to reach the street-based route of the bicycle path on Mass Ave south of the site. We would encourage making the spaces for pedestrians and cyclists waiting to cross the street generous, to discourage further conflicts and enable efficient crossings.
  • The proposed open space containing the Mass Ave sidewalk, the bicycle path, the wider sidewalk between Newbury and Boylston Streets, the bus stop and the kiosk leading to the underground tunnel to the Green Line Hynes Station comprises a 16,000 square foot destination. We urge you to compare the proposed space with the downtown park at the intersection of Washington Street and School Street, sometimes called “Readers Park.” The plaza and street area in both locations are roughly similar in dimensions. The Downtown plaza is occupied by outdoor tables, landscaping, benches, the Irish Famine Memorial, benches and street trees. A wide sidewalk stretches along Washington Street, and an even wider sidewalk fronts onto Walgreens. Both are flooded with pedestrians every day, and the plaza seems to offer little space where a bike path could be threaded through it. It would be interesting to compare projected numbers of pedestrians in Parcel 12 with the actual numbers at Readers Park.

We encourage the proponent to consider some options that could minimize potential conflicts between the on-site bicycle path and pedestrians including the following:

  1. Keep bicycles on-street on Mass Ave. This could be a shared bus/bike lane allowing a direct continuous path for cyclists on Mass Ave since southbound cyclists north and south of Parcel 12 are already in the street and not potentially conflicting with pedestrian space on the sidewalk.
  2. A separated, on-street bike lane with a floating bus stop. As an alternative, consider the possibility of a separated, marked bike lane on-street with a floating bus stop: similar to what is being built in the Commonwealth Ave Phase 2A Project, even if it means taking space from the plaza. This would avoid requiring cyclists to leave the Mass Ave pavement, and cross several different pedestrian paths at north and south crosswalk entrances to the Parcel 12 development to get to a 260’ long bicycle path through this busy plaza.
  3. Move the Green Line kiosk and stairway east, to be closer to the bus stop. It may be possible to reposition the kiosk with access to the Green Line via elevator and stairs closer to the bus stop. This shortens and makes the route more direct between the bus stop and the kiosk, and would allow the bicycle path to be moved a bit further away from potential conflicts with transit riders making connections between buses and the Green Line, but bicycles would not be trying to move through the group of people making the connection.
  4. Design the proposed bicycle path 2”-3” lower than the pedestrian areas. A 2”-3” vertical difference drop with angled edges would emphasize the path, and make its edges less abrupt. There would need to be one or more raised crosswalks, especially for the potentially heavily used route between the bus stop and the Green Line access kiosk. The raised crossing would clearly help direct pedestrians while signaling to, and slowing down, bicycle riders as they pass through the pedestrian crossing. There may need to be warning signs to avoid pedestrians tripping at the edge of the path. The proponent could add tactile longitudinal strips to guide visually impaired people and further warn pedestrians near the bike path. The proposed parallel row of bollards helps to define the bike path, but some cyclists view bollards as dangerous if one needs to jump in or out of the bike path.
  5.  Make sure that there is a back on the “bench” that is next to the cycle track behind the bus stop to eliminate people sitting facing Mass Ave with their legs going into the cycle track.

Boylston Street Access

  1. Another design issue that we believe should be re-considered is the Boylston St. vehicular access to the office building. At the loading zone and vehicle entrance to the office building on Boylston Street, trucks may have to back into the loading zone area, creating a difficult safety issue for pedestrians walking along the street, as well as the traffic disruption that backing vehicles may cause on Boylston St. Requiring police units to help trucks or parkers seems to indicate that a certain level of difficulty in using this space is anticipated and the difficulty cannot be resolved in the present design. Perhaps the proposed parking spots along Boylston St. could become truck loading zones to alleviate the problem.
  2. The proponent and the City should evaluate requiring all vehicles exiting the parcel to turn right on Boylston Street. We believe that left-turning vehicles would pose a hazard to pedestrians walking along the sidewalk and would also disrupt traffic on Boylston Street. We do not believe that the proponent will be able to have a police officer directing traffic at all times.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on this important project.


Wendy Landman
Executive Director

Comments on Sullivan Square/Rutherford Avenue Design Project 3/31/17

Comments on Sullivan Square/Rutherford Avenue Design Project 3/31/17

March 31, 2017

Deputy Commissioner James Gillooly
Boston Transportation Department, 7th floor
1 City Hall Square
Boston, MA 02201

Re: Sullivan Square/Rutherford Avenue Design Project (SS/RA Design Project)

Dear Deputy Commissioner Gillooly,

WalkBoston has been engaged in and following the planning and design of Sullivan Square/Rutherford Ave. for many years. We have consistently and persistently noted that the redesign of the streets and roadways for this part of Boston should reflect what the people of Charlestown, Somerville and Everett deserve as a hub for walking and transit, and should create opportunities for the redevelopment of what has long been a neglected, dysfunctional and unsafe auto-­centric wasteland.

We strongly believe that an at-­grade street system with opportunities for at-­grade redevelopment of parcels (that do not require air rights or decks) presents the greatest opportunity to create a sense of place, answer the long-­term transportation needs of this dense urban location, provide for safe mobility for all street users and allow for climate resilient designs.

Over the last decade transportation planners and engineers across the United States have come to understand that adding roadway capacity in multi-­‐modal, dense urban environments simply means that more people will drive their cars and fill up the roads. We’ve learned from years of mistakes that building large roads that look and feel like highways through communities encourages high speed traffic, attracts more vehicular traffic and traffic congestion, cuts off parts of neighborhoods.

The roadway, transit and sidewalk network at the heart of the Boston metro area should meet the multi-­‐modal needs appropriate to the land uses and neighborhoods that surround the roadway network. With I-­‐93 directly adjacent to Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue, this part of the region already houses a regional road system that serves longer distance travelers.

Slowing traffic down on Rutherford Ave and keeping regional traffic off of local roads will better protect Main St, Bunker Hill St and Medford St. the local streets are 1-­lane in each direction, with parking on both sides, and a number of traffic lights. It is counter-­‐intuitive to think that anyone might navigate off of Rutherford Ave and onto these streets in order to go faster. Waze and other similar tech services will always show drivers the fastest routes – if Rutherford Ave is faster than I-­93, Waze will route even more drivers through Charlestown.

The City’s new plan, Imagine Boston 2030 states the case that WalkBoston is making here: Sullivan Square has the potential to be “a walkable job and housing center with access to quality transit,” and goes on to note that this would require that “strategic infrastructure investment, potentially including open space, would be needed to address congestion and flooding vulnerability in Sullivan Square and nearby areas.”

The many comments that the City will receive about the project will provide both detailed technical and moving personal information about the project and its impacts on the Charlestown community. To put the project in a larger context, WalkBoston has reviewed the City’s plans for transportation (GoBoston 2030), resilience (Climate Ready Boston), and long range planning (Imagine Boston 2030). The table below puts the SS/RA in the context of the goals that these plans set for the City. We believe that the goals clearly point to the surface option as the right choice for the project.

If the City carries both options to further levels of refinement, we ask that several technical assessments be included:

1. Estimated number and severity of total traffic crashes for the entire roadway system from the Mystic River to Austin Street for each mode: pedestrians, bicycles, transit users and vehicles. We believe that the crash statistics cited on page 29 of the 2/28/17 slide show do not represent an accurate picture of the impacts of the project designs on all crashes. (see note below)

2. Measure the total land area devoted to roadway surface and “unbuildable” air rights parcels in each alternative.

3. Measure the longest distances that are not traversable by pedestrians between intersections: (1) from the bank of the Mystic River at Alford Street to the first pedestrian crossing, (2) from northern D Street south toward Baldwin Street), (3) north from Austin Street.

4. Estimate the walking travel time from the corner of Main and Bunker Hill Street to Sullivan Square Station.

5. Provide construction and fifty-­‐year operation/maintenance cost estimates for each proposal.

6. Describe in detail how vehicles using a Rutherford Ave tunnel will be slowed to 25-­‐30 mph when they emerge onto the surface portions of Rutherford Ave.

Let’s not put the design of Sullivan Square/Rutherford Ave on the wrong side of history. We don’t want to build new streets with underpasses that are “relics” before they are built.

Thank you for your consideration.

Best Regards,

Wendy Landman
Executive Director

Cc Chris Osgood, Chief of Streets, Transportation and Sanitation
Commissioner Gina Fiandaca, Boston Transportation Department
William Conroy, Project Manager Boston Transportation Department
Tad Read, Boston Planning and Development Agency
Peter Furth, Northeastern University
Amy Branger, Liz Levin, Emma Rothfeld Yashar, WalkBoston Board members and advocates from Charlestown

Note: Peter Furth provided WalkBoston with the following information about the cited crash statistics. “They are using Highway Safety Manual’s general 42% reduction in crash rate when an at-­‐grade intersection is converted to a grade-­‐separated interchange. It’s obvious, but worth emphasizing: a grade separated interchange is NOT what’s proposed for Sullivan Sq; what’s proposed is a flyunder, akin to a flyover. The HSM has no data on flyover / flyunder conversions. They are making a logical leap by using a reduction that comes from complete grade separation. On the slide they write “*Applies to Underpass Movements Only,” meaning they intend to apply that reduction only to cars who will use the underpass. However, that suggests that a flyunder will leave all the other traffic unaffected. That is not proven (there is no data), and moreover, there are good reasons to expect that crash rate will go *up* for the other traffic. One reason is that the only traffic removed by the flyunder is thru traffic; all the turning traffic, which carries higher crash risk, remains, and furthermore will be concentrated. More importantly, the space required for the flyunder structure forces the at-­‐grade intersection to have an unfavorable geometry, with the left turn lanes that flank the underpass separated from each other in a way that results in interlocking left turns, which are less efficient and (probably) less safe. Nobody would ever lay out an intersection that way if they weren’t constrained by the structure of the flyover / flyunder. That change could have an unfavorable safety effect that erases the gains enjoyed by thru cars that get to bypass the intersection.”