Comments on The Draft Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Plan (DTW MHP) 11/18/16

Comments on The Draft Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Plan (DTW MHP) 11/18/16

November 18, 2016

Mr. Richard McGuinness
Deputy Director for Waterfront Planning
Boston Planning and Development Agency
One City Hall Square
Boston, MA 02201

Dear Mr. McGuinness,

We write to you with comments regarding the Draft Downtown Waterfront Municipal Harbor Plan (DTW MHP), with particular reference to the relationship of that plan to the future of the existing historic Northern Avenue Bridge.

Several elements of the draft plan are particularly relevant to our comments, and we have attached a number of citations from the DTW MHP and the Greenway District Planning Study Use and Development Guidelines that underlie our comments.

The Northern Avenue Bridge is an important contributing element to the downtown waterfront, and in fact, is a critical piece of the existing Harborwalk. Yet, the Bridge was seldom discussed at the public meetings. Mention of it was consistently dismissed or put on hold citing the City’s sponsored competition and unclear future plans for the fate of the historic bridge.

Part of the Downtown Waterfront vision included in the public realm plan includes clearly defined connections with well-­‐organized, high quality, and walkable pedestrian links. Failure to include a meaningful discussion of benefits and proposed interim connections to the Northern Avenue Bridge, we feel is shortsighted. As made clear from decades of resident and visitor use, the Bridge is key to enhancing pedestrian access and should be included and acknowledged in the Municipal Harbor Plan.

  •  The Bridge is a critical element of the walking environment providing the most convenient, attractive and harbor-­‐connected way for people to walk between the waterfront, downtown and the South Boston Harborwalk. This connection is called out as a core component of the MHP. Because the bridge is flat, is directly adjacent to the Harbor, and provides at-­grade connections to the street grid it is uniquely well suited to serve pedestrians and bicyclists.
  • The Bridge’s historic character is one of the most important contributors to District’s sense of place and connection to Boston’s industrial past. As stated in the DTW MHP (page 10), “Boston’s history and development are inextricably linked to the Downtown Waterfront District.” What better way to provide continuity than to keep the historic Bridge as a lively and well-­‐used element of the Harbor and Harborwalk.

We urge the City to include the Northern Avenue Bridge in the revisions to this draft Municipal Harbor Plan, with a discussion of the relevance of its flat profile, the proximity to the water surface that it provides for Harborwalk users, and the contribution of its industrial superstructure to the downtown waterfront environment. Not doing so is a conspicuously missing piece of what is otherwise an excellent draft plan.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on the draft plan.


Greg Galer, Boston Preservation Alliance
Jill Valdes Horwood, Boston Harbor NOW
Paul Farrell, Michael Tyrrell, Dan McNichol, Friends of the Northern Avenue Bridge
Sara McCammond, Joe Rogers, Fort Point Neighborhood Association
Wendy Landman, WalkBoston

Cc Matthew A. Beaton, Secretary, EEA
Bruce Carlisle, Director, CZM
Ben Lynch, Waterways/Chapter 91 Program Chief, DEP
Brona Simon, SHPO, Massachusetts Historical Commission
Susan Goldberg, Circuit Executive, First Circuit Court of Appeals

Relevant citations from the DTW MHC and Greenway District Planning Study Use and Development Guidelines

From page 5 of the DTW MHP: “The DTW MHP implements the goals established in the Request for a Notice To Proceed (“RNTP”). The six goals in the DTW RNTP are to: 1. Continue to Develop the District as an Active, Mixed-­‐Use Area that is an Integral Part of Boston’s Economy; 2. Promote Access to Boston Harbor, the Harbor Islands and Water Transportation; 3. Improve Waterfront Wayfinding and Open Space Connections; 4. Enhance Open Space Resources and the Public Realm; 5. Create a Climate-­‐Resilient Waterfront; and 6. Implement the Greenway District Planning Study Wharf District Guidelines.”

And, from page 30 where the goals for the plan are described: “Connectivity: Strengthened connections from Downtown to the Harbor, Downtown to the South Boston Waterfront, from the Greenway to the waterfront, and from north to south. Boston has an incredible wealth of linear park systems and paths, from the Freedom Trail to the Walk to the Sea to the Rose Kennedy Greenway. This plan is an opportunity to enhance these connections and their relationship to the waterfront, and strengthen the Harborwalk and the Greenway—to draw people along the water’s edge and along one of the great park systems of the city. The key priorities are:

  •  North-­‐south connections, along both the Harborwalk and the Greenway. • East-­‐west links between the Greenway and the waterfront, building on the
  • Crossroads Initiative.

o  Connections from Northern Avenue to the South Boston Waterfront.
o Increasing water transit opportunities and connections, both within the Inner
o Harbor and beyond to neighboring communities.
o  Increasing accessibility by all modes, with a special emphasis on the pedestrian.

As noted above, the DTW MHP includes as one of its goals the implementation of the Greenway District Planning Study Use and Development Guidelines that include the following Wharf District Guidelines:

“The Hook Lobster Site (15 Northern Avenue), the U.S. Coast Guard Building and 400 Atlantic Avenue together frame important new connections to the emerging South Boston waterfront. These include the Old Northern Avenue Bridge, a part of the Oliver Street/Northern Avenue Crossroad, and the Moakley Bridge. While these sites are limited in size and development potential (particularly the Hook site), they nonetheless offer the possibility of increased legibility for both pedestrians and motorists where it is currently lacking. These parcels should contribute to the continuity and accessibility of the Harborwalk, which presents a significant challenge where the Moakley Bridge ramps up above grade. (Page 20)

“All developments in the Wharf District should enhance the continuity and accessibility of the Harborwalk by providing additional points of connection from the Greenway and by “repairing” breaks in the community caused by grade changes and buildings or other obstructions.” (Page 21)

Comments on Old Northern Ave Bridge 2/24/16

Comments on Old Northern Ave Bridge 2/24/16

February 24, 2016

Kevin Kotelly, P.E.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
New England District
696 Virginia Road
Concord, MA 01742-2751

Brona Simon
Massachusetts Historical Commission
220 William T Morrissey Boulevard
Boston, MA 02125

Re: Old Northern Avenue Bridge

Dear Mr. Kotelly and Ms. Simon:

WalkBoston has been engaged in discussions about the Old Northern Avenue Bridge for more than 15 years – a remarkably long time for action to be taken on one of the City’s iconic and important pieces of infrastructure.

As a participant in the City’s informal review process during spring 2015, WalkBoston was one of the eleven groups1 that voted to support the rehabilitation of the bridge (two groups supported a new bridge). After being asked by the City to participate in an in-depth review and discussion process, we feel that this strong support for rehabilitation should weigh heavily in the City’s final decision about the future of the Bridge.

WalkBoston is a strong supporter of rehabilitating the existing bridge and doing so immediately to restore an important element of the City’s pedestrian network, end the endless debate, and maintain a piece of the city’s character. Specifically, rehabilitating this bridge, rather than replacing it with a new structure is important for the following reasons:

• The ONAB was, and should again be, the route of daily walking for thousands of Bostonians. Maintaining a level crossing for pedestrians between the waterfront and the seaport significantly enhances the walking experience by being easy, allowing walkers to have full views as they walk between the districts, and giving walkers the experience of being close to
the water and the harbor. The arched Moakley Bridge is less comfortable and less attractive for walkers than the Old Northern Avenue Bridge (and used less by walkers when the ONAB was open to pedestrians). This is the opposite of what we should be thinking about for the future of this important connection.

• The industrial character of the Bridge is an enormous part of its charm, and creates an everyday link to Boston’s working and seafaring past – we should not lose this important part of our personality. Perhaps the bridge also presents an opportunity to link our old technology with the arrival of GE and its focus on new technology. New York’s High Line is a wonderful and evocative example of how old industrial infrastructure can be a source of joy and economic development – the ONAB should be thought of in that same creative way. A “Friends of the Old Northern Avenue Bridge” group should be formed to immediately and creatively raise funds and develop a plan for rehabilitating and re-using the Bridge.

• The ONAB is an important element of the Harbor Walk, and in its existing place and configuration is one of its most interesting spots.

• WalkBoston does not oppose allowing emergency and high occupancy vehicles to use the Bridge, but we are skeptical that allowing general vehicle use of the Bridge will do anything to alleviate the transportation problems of the Seaport, and will only result in more cars jammed into a portion of Atlantic Avenue that cannot accommodate them. In fact the opposite may occur. As a very attractive and pleasant way for walkers to get around the City, the ONAB will encourage walking, biking and transit use – exactly what we need to be doing for the future of the Seaport and all of Boston.

• While WalkBoston strongly and emphatically supports the rehabilitation of the ONAB, we believe that this may not necessarily entail a full and meticulous restoration of every element of the structure. We think that it is important to capture the functionality, spirit and identity of the bridge, while also acknowledging that timely and cost-effective implementation is of great importance.

We hope that the ACOE and MHC will support the rehabilitation of the Old Northern Avenue Bridge and we would be pleased to answer any questions you might have about our position.


Wendy Landman
Executive Director

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