Monday, November 28, 2016

Residences at Forest Hills proposal threatens Arborway recreational experience

A residential housing development proposed for the LAZ parking lot site on the corner of the Arborway and Washington Street in Forest Hills in its current form threatens the recreational experience of the Arborway portion of the Emerald Necklace by proposing to site one building directly on the verge of the under construction pedestrian and bike paths on the southern side of the Casey Arborway Project - including a six-story building with no setback at all from the sidewalk.
Site plan, with actual Casey Arborway plan

There are no buildings on the western or southern sides of the Emerald Necklace between the Fens and Franklin Park of such mass - with the exception of a proposed hotel on the industrial block along River Street in Brookline - and none with zero setback. These buildings will throw much winter shade over the Emerald Necklace, looming over the soon-to-be-restored recreational paths as the project's own shadow studies show.
Winter shadow studies
There is much to admire about the project's proposed density, architectural cladding and affordable housing allotment in this prime Transit Oriented Development-appropriate site, but in renderings provided in the project's PNF documentation, these under construction paths are depicted as if they are additions to the public good rather than public paths being treated as the front yard of the project.

Building B, with Arborway pedestrian and bike paths in foreground, looking southwest

Building B (left) and Building C (corner of Washington and Arborway) looking south

In my view, the lack of setback for Building B along Frederick Law Olmsted's nationally heralded and locally cherished Emerald Necklace is bad precedent, and a threat to the character of the recreational experience for generations to come - just as that experience is being restored in Forest Hills for the first time in sixty years.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Shade(s) of things to come on the Arborway

Mature 'Princeton' American Elms, representative of Casey plantings (but not to scale)
UPDATE 9/22/16: Some of the first 15 trees planted, view east
UPDATE 9/22/16: Some of the first 15 trees planted, view west
UPDATE 9/22/16: nine trees await planting
MassDOT recently announced that the first plantings in the Casey Arborway project area will begin during the week of September 18, 2016. They intend to plant the first batch of 'Princeton' American Elms in the mainline Arborway median from Shea Circle roughly halfway to Washington Street. These stately trees are the first of 578 to be planted within the project area before work is complete.

The existing Arborway and Jamaicaway trees are an aging monoculture of Red Oaks, all equally susceptible to disease and drought pressures. But MassDOT's landscaping plans for the Casey Arborway, prepared by a team of landscape architects including the consulting staff of Crosby, Schlessinger and Smallridge, HNTB, DCR, as well as George Batchelor and Robbin Bergfors of MassDOT, specify an astounding variety of species and cultivars - and in very large quantities.

Most plants specified are native or drought-resistant varieties known to thrive in urban settings. The overall plan is designed to compliment the neighboring Arnold Arboretum, with trees and plantings arranged in collections that bring the Arboretum's bounty and beauty out into the surrounding community and enhance wildlife habitat in the corridor through a great diversity of plant life.

Three hundred and fifty three deciduous trees will ultimately be planted, including four varieties of maple, two varieties of birch, yellowwood, beech, coffetrees, locust, larch, sweetgum, tulip trees, tupelos, hophornbeams, planetrees, two varieties of oak, stewartia, lindens, elms and zelkovas. Evergreen trees to be planted include holly and arborvitae.

But it is perhaps in the 186 flowering ornamental trees specified for the project where the landscaping will really shine, providing a long-lasting display of springtime delight nearest to abutting homes, three miles of new pedestrian sidewalks and three miles of bike paths. Ornamental tree plans call for five varieties of shad trees, four different redbud varieties, seven different dogwoods, four hawthorn varieties, fringetrees, five different magnolia varieties, four different crabapples, four varieties of cherry and two lilac tree variants.

Many of the 383 shrubs included in the design are flowering varieties as well. Forsythia, hydrangea, juniper, rhododendron and spirea are all on their way to the Casey Arborway.

There will be a huge amount and variety of groundcovers and bulbs too. 16,652 one-gallon bugleweeds, sweet woodruffs, spotted dead nettles and thymes will be planted. 150 Climbing hydrangeas will soften retaining walls. 1,965 daffodil bulbs in five varieties will be harbingers of spring, and there will be 77 irises and 1,120 violets as well. 2,444 Boston ivy vines, and some 6,000 grasses in many varieties (oak sedge, fountain grass, lilyturf, switch grass, saltmeadow cordgrass and little bluestem) are to be planted, with many providing seasonal flowering, color and structure.

After years of contentious debate and years more of disruptive construction, Forest Hills and the Casey Arborway will become one of the true gems of the Emerald Necklace parkway system, a revitalized transit hub for Jamaica Plain, and a beautiful and accessible recreational corridor for Boston connecting Southwest Corridor Park, the Arnold Arboretum and Franklin Park.

The first trees being planted soon are only the beginning, shades of things to come on the Casey Arborway.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

DCR should update community on Arborway redesign

It has been eleven months since the DCR last updated the community on efforts to address multi-modal safety and access on the Arborway in Jamaica Plain. A public meeting on the project's status is now long overdue. This portion of the Emerald Necklace Parkways is dangerous to all users and after two decades of traffic research, consultant design work and public hearings action is needed to make these roads safe for cyclists, pedestrians and the thousands of cars that use it daily. I encourage all interested parties to write to DCR Commissioner Leo Roy calling for just such a meeting. My own letter follows:

August 31, 2016

Commissioner Leo Roy
Department of Conservation and Recreation
251 Causeway Street, Suite 900
Boston, MA 02114

Dear Commissioner Roy,

I write to declare my support for the DCR's ongoing efforts regarding "Improved Multi-Modal Safety & Access to Emerald Necklace Parks in Jamaica Plain (Arborway)" and to urge the DCR to hold public meetings updating the community on progress towards that goal as soon as possible.

I attended the two kick-off meetings in February 2015 as well as the follow-up meeting in October 2015 which included updates on related efforts regarding the Parkman Drive/Perkins Street Intersection at Jamaica Pond, the Centre Street corridor between the VFW Parkway and the Murray Circle rotary along with the Arborway section between Kelly Circle and the Casey Arborway including Murray Circle. In an effort to inform the surrounding community about these meetings and presentations, I described them fully in a blog I edit called ArborwayMatters available at the following links:

Over the last one hundred years the Emerald Necklace parkway corridor has evolved away from its original Olmsted-era recreational intent and is now, particularly in the study area of the Arborway and vicinity, quite dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists as well as the many vehicles that try to navigate it daily - very often at speeds far in excess of posted limits. Accidents occur regularly in the corridor, some resulting in fatalities. Murray and Kelly Circle are both poorly designed hazards to all users, are located within residential communities, and are vitally in need of improvement.

I was greatly encouraged by the thoughtful and innovative preliminary research and design work conducted by your contractor Toole Design in particular, and impressed by their responsiveness to community feedback in the work they did between the two meetings. I can also attest based on blog traffic to the above summaries and a well-attended Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council meeting last night where the topic was discussed, that Toole's work to date has been well received by many local residents and by drivers, pedestrians and cyclists who look forward to a more rational road network and significant traffic calming on the Arborway.

The community was assured at the October 2015 meeting that a 25% Design Plan for Phase 1 would be presented at a 25% Public Meeting to be held in "Winter/Spring 2016" and that Design Plans and Permitting for Phase 1 would be finalized between "Summer 2016 and Fall 2017" when construction was to begin.

The community eagerly awaits an update on the current state of design and the construction timeline. Thank you for your support of these important endeavors.

Clayton Harper

Secretary Matthew Beaton
Executive Office of Energy & Environmental Affairs
100 Cambridge Street, Suite 900
Boston, MA 02114

Steven Kadish
Chief of Staff
Office of the Governor
Massachusetts State House Room 360
Boston, MA 02133

Michael Harris
Director of Governmental Affairs
Department of Conservation and Recreation
251 Causeway Street, Suite 900
Boston, MA 02114

Office of State Representative Jeffrey Sánchez
Massachusetts State House, Room 236
Boston, MA 02133

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Projects on the Emerald Necklace

All up and down the Emerald Necklace corridor of parks, from the Fens to Franklin Park, there are projects underway or in the planning stages that will help to preserve, protect, restore and improve access to this vital recreational, pedestrian, cycling and commuting parkway. In partnership with DCR, the City of Boston, Brookline, several green space and neighborhood groups and other sponsoring entities, careful stewardship of Frederick Law Olmsted's legacy will ensure the health of these parks for years to come. The following provides a brief and incomplete summary of many of these projects as well as links to additional information about them. 
You may visit
for a consolidated list of these resources.


Stone Wall Restoration at Prince and Eliot Streets:
This historic wall has been holding up well, but recently has suffered some damage on the southern end. DCR has been made aware of the issue.

Gateway to theArborway Plan and Implementation:
The old chain-link fence was replaced by a new, lower fence along the Arborway median opposite the Arnold Arboretum. Sections of it have been repaired and relocated in order to improve pedestrian sight lines on the Arborway frontage road, but since that work new damage has occurred that needs to be repaired.
A DCR Partnership Matching Funds Project, the efforts to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety at the Hunnewell Gate crosswalk at the Arboretum are progressing. Expect to see improved signage and crosswalk signals, ladder-style paint and a safer median refuge between the mainline and the frontage road this year.
Annual hillside maintenance and woodlands management by citizen volunteers has resulted in efforts to control invasive species and the planting of many new hickories, redbuds and dogwoods. Many bags of trash were removed by volunteers early this spring.


A commitment to protect our precious green space includes sustaining the efforts already made previously and supporting new efforts. Some important projects are in the planning stages, some are being designed by architects and engineers, some are under construction, some are awaiting further funding, and some are conceptual gleams in the eyes of dedicated citizens trying to affect positive change in our community through civic engagement.

Now a little more than a year into what is expected to be a two-year construction process, the Casey Overpass has been demolished and substantial utility work is underway. As the spring and summer progress, we'll see more signs of the new permanent alignment of surface roads, plazas, sidewalks and bike paths, especially east, west and south of the MBTA station. For a detailed look at the demolition and the many positive changes coming to Forest Hills, see the ArborwayMatters blog.

Hazardous Tree Removal on the Parkways – DCR, Olmsted Tree Society, Emerald NecklaceConservancy
Over the winter DCR contractors removed 38 damaged and diseased trees in the corridor identified in a survey of Heritage Trees last year. You may have noticed the small, brass “dog tags” screwed into each mature tree on the sidewalk side about eight feet off the ground. These identify each and every tree in the inventory with detail about their location, size, and health. Though we're all sad to see some of the old trees go, many more new trees are being planted to replace those lost to the allée over the years. With care and maintenance, most will grow strong and tall in years to come. In honor of their 150th year, Ropes & Gray LLP has donated 150 red oaks and two years of their maintenance to the Emerald Necklace. The Emerald Necklace Conservancy’s Olmsted Tree Society in partnership with Boston Parks & Recreation, Brookline Parks and Open Space, and the DCR continue their important efforts to preserve our tree canopy.

Improved Multi-modal Access to Emerald Necklace Parks in Jamaica Plain - DCR
After several public meetings DCR continues work on ambitious plans to improve multi-modal safety and pedestrian and bicycle facilities in three areas of Jamaica Plain: the intersection of Perkins and Parkman Drive near Jamaica Pond, Centre Street between Weld and the Murray Circle Rotary, and the Arborway between the Pond and the Arboretum. These plans have benefited from engaged community input at every step. The challenges here are great but the potential is enormous for local residents, commuters and recreational users alike. ArborwayMatters has detailed the state of these complex plans as presented to the community in October.

Jamaica Pond and Surrounds
In recent years and months, the boardwalk around Ward’s Pond in Olmsted Park has been replaced and Councilor Matt O'Malley has been instrumental in the installation of a new water bottle refill station at Perkins and the Jamaicaway as well as a sunscreen dispenser at the Jamaica Pond Boathouse (a program now being rolled out nationally). Several benches have been replaced around the pond this spring, but as always with this heavily used and well-loved park, upkeep and maintenance are an ongoing challenge. Ssome of the stone walls along Parkman Drive are in need of repair. Efforts continue by Olmsted 2022 and the Friends of Jamaica Pond to protect the green and verdant backdrop of Hellenic Hill from development that would mar the experience of all who love this park.

Pedestrian and Bicycle Crossing at Route 9 and Olmsted Park - Brookline Construction is underway to improve one of the greatest safety hazards to recreational and commuter bicycle use along the Emerald Necklace Corridor – the missing Riverway link between Leverett Pond and River Road at Route 9 in the Broookline Village/Longwood area. Decades of planning and advocacy have created an opportunity for significant enhancement, and the Town of Brookline is moving forward with construction this year.

The Army Corps of Engineers continues their work to improve flood control, water quality and habitat restoration in the Fens while rehabilitating historic Olmsted landscapes in the Muddy River watershed. Phase One of this extensive project which alleviate flood concern and opens portions of the river long buried in culverts to the sky is nearing completion and will transform the look and appeal of the parkland between Park Drive and Avenue de Louis Pasteur.

With bicycle commuting increasing dramatically in the city and with a transformed Forest Hills on the horizon, WalkUP Roslindale is spearheading a plan for a safe and direct bike link between Roslindale Village and Forest Hills. Other organizations participating include Rozzie Bikes, the Arnold Arboretum and the MBTA. The proposed path begins at the Roslindale Square commuter rail platform, continues on a level grade along the southeastern edge of the Arboretum parallel to the commuter rail tracks before connecting with the Bussey Brook Meadow path and continuing to Forest Hills. Simple, useful and easy to implement, the path could provide lasting benefit to the area.

Allandale Woods
The City of Boston is undertaking trailhead maintenance and improvements in the urban wilds of the Allandale Woods, while the Friends of Allandale Woods remains engaged with developers and the BRA over a proposed residential project at 64 Allandale Street.

Engaged participation, watchful care, diligence and responsible stewardship of our shared public resources are an important part of how these projects come about. Your interest and efforts are greatly appreciated and demonstrably effective.

Thank you for your interest and support,

Sarah Freeman, Arborway Coalition
Gerry Wright, Friends of Jamaica Pond/Community Service Care
Clay Harper, ArborwayMatters

Friday, April 29, 2016


Along the entire length of Boston's Emerald Necklace corridor - from the Back Bay Fens to Franklin Park - projects are being planned or are underway that will restore Frederick Law Olmsted's linear park landscape and improve recreational and commuter access. This collection of links provides access to meeting presentations, detailed descriptions of projects, advocacy efforts and sources of additional information.

Muddy River Restoration Project
A flood control and habitat restoration effort underway in the Fens by the Army Corps of Engineers
Muddy River Maintenance and Management Oversight Committee
Army Corps of Engineers project site

Emerald Necklace Conservancy
On going advocacy and public/private partnerships throughout the corridor
Emerald Necklace Conservancy
Olmsted Tree Society efforts

Bicycle facilities on the Arborway
A complex series of challenges being met with ambitious plans
Narrative description of project at ArborwayMatters
Public meeting presentation (PDF)
Centre Street reconfiguration from VFW to Murray Circle Rotary (presentation pdf)

Route 9 Crosswalk in Brookline
After years of advocacy, the Town of Brookline has begun construction of a new crosswalk between Leverett Pond and River Street that will fix a dangerous missing link for pedestrians and cyclists using the corridor for recreation and commuting.
Media write-up with maps

Jamaica Pond - Perkins/Parkman intersection improvements
Safety and access enhancements for a notoriously dangerous intersection.

Meeting presentation (PDF)

Arboretum Crosswalk improvements at Hunnewell Gate 
Efforts are underway to improve safety.
Presentation (PDF)


Casey Arborway Project
Demolition of the old overpass is complete and construction underway for a newly reconfigured surface grid of roads, bike paths and sidewalks.
Project website with construction look-aheads
Many benefits of the project detailed at ArborwayMatters

Proposed Roslindale Gateway Path 
WalkUP Roslindale and Livable Streets Alliance have proposed a new path between Rozzie Square and Forest Hills along the rail right of way and Aboretum edge. The plan has recieved strong community backing.
WalkUP Roslindale
Meeting presentation with maps (PDF)

Hazardous Tree removal and replanting on the DCR parkways
DCR tree news (pdf)

Olmsted 2022 and Friends of Jamaica Pond

Allandale Woods
Friends of Allandale Woods
BRA and Developer material

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Arborway One Hundred Years Ago

The Arborway in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts - part of the linear parks and parkway system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the late 19th century and now known as the Emerald Necklace of Boston - is going through a period of dramatic change and is in the planning stages for even more.

The Casey Arborway Project of MassDOT has demolished a huge overpass that spanned Forest Hills and is replacing it with an improved network of surface roads, bike paths, plazas and sidewalks that will reconnect portions of the Arborway that have been broken for a very long time. Concurrently, planning is underway to improve vehicle safety and access for pedestrians and bicycles on the northern portion of the Arborway between Centre and Eliot streets. These plans involve enormous multi-modal complexities as the community, engineers and designers grapple with the 21st century need to balance the desires of drivers, public transit users, bikers, pedestrians, abutting neighbors and emergency services. And all this within a mature neighborhood graced with a world-famous park that provides recreational opportunity, the rejuvenating power of nature and a respite from hectic city life just as the visionary Olmsted had intended.
Jamaica Pond

One hundred years ago, as the parkways entered their third decade, the challenges were simpler than they are today. The Arborway itself consisted of two unpaved carriage ways, two bridle paths for horse riders and a pedestrian way that separated each mode of travel from each other.
View west from Washington Street. Elevated train above, granite heavy rail viaduct in distance
A horse drawn carriage and car in distance, heavy rail viaduct where Southwest Corridor is today
Trolley in distance beyond heavy rail granite viaduct

Elevated orange line looking west

South Street and Arborway. Bussey Institute on left where State Lab is today.

Contrary to Olmsted's specifications for Cucumber Magnolias and Tulip Trees along the Arborway - flowering varieties that were intended to signal and celebrate the adjacent Arboretum - Parks Superintendent Pettigrew had instead planted Red Oaks with an understory of flowering roses and snowberrys.
By 1915 the initial plantings along the parkway had matured in ways that were becoming problematic. Poor sightlines around curves and at crossroads were making for unsafe conditions. The Olmsted firm documented these concerns in a series of photo albums now available online at the Olmsted Archive's Flickr site.

Overgrown Hampstead Road entrance, 1915
Arborway along the Arboretum

Between Centre Street and Jamaica Pond, steps were taken to remove this understory and create the parkway views that are familiar today. Eagle-eyed locals will recognize "The Castle", a massive 1890s home that still dominates the western side of this block of fine residential homes.

In 1915, not all lots along the Arborway had been built upon. Note For Sale sign.

Almost all of these images come from the wonderful photo collections made available online at Flickr by the Olmsted Archives, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site (Brookline), National Park Service.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Improving Multi-Modal Safety and Access to Emerald Necklace Parks in Jamaica Plain

In mid-October DCR and the Emerald Necklace Conservancy hosted a public meeting to unveil revised planning for safety and access improvements on the Arborway. The project area runs from Eliot Street to South Street in Jamaica Plain, including the Kelley Circle and Murray Circle rotaries - features installed long after Frederick Law Olmsted's original designs for the parkways.

Preliminary plans had been formulated by Toole Design Group with the help of community and advocate input over two chilly nights in February. I described those meetings here:
Blog post on February Meetings

Before their revised plans were revealed, traffic modeling was reviewed, community comments were considered, and revisions were made to the plans.

Toole reviewed the traffic data for the meeting, which showed a few quirks known well to locals: the a.m. peak traffic tends to be split between the center lanes and carriage road, while in the p.m. peaks the geometry of the existing roadways at Kelley Circle sends most of the traffic along the carriage road side, close to the abutting homes. The traffic counts in the chart above were done prior to the Casey-Arborway construction, and reflect typical expected peak volumes. 

In February Toole's research showed that high rates of vehicle speed and poor road design was contributing to an extraordinarily large number of crashes:

Toole then took time to review the safety benefits of modern roundabouts in parkway situations such as these. Signalized intersections can create many points of conflict while modern roundabouts create fewer, which can lead to safer conditions for all modes - cars, bikes and pedestrians:

Project heads announced a phased plan for the project, stating that improvements south of Murray Circle towards Forest Hills - including the Arborway Frontage Road opposite the Arboretum - would have to wait for "Phase 2" because of grading differentials on the mainline Arborway lanes that make that portion of the project more complex and expensive than first anticipated.

That prohibition should not (but does currently) delay the installation of two raised-table crosswalks on the Arborway Frontage Road proposed in the initial design: one at the Hunnewell Gate/Arboretum crosswalk and another proposed at St. Rose Street to cross to the Arborway Hillside trail. That crosswalk was inserted to slow vehicles coming down the Arborway Hillside and to create connectivity towards the Forest Hills Gate of the Arboretum and new Casey-project sidewalks to be built on the eastern side of the Arborway next year.

For now, the main project area is as follows (in all these maps, North is to the right where Jamaica Pond lies):

The revised plan took into consideration community input and local objections to some of the original ideas floated, and now maintains both Prince and Orchard Streets as existing one-ways southbound. Toole also re-evaluated how the Pond/Prince/Parkman roadways interact west of Kelley Circle (towards the top of the image above). 

In the current plans, the Carriage Roads between the existing rotaries become one-way roads that travel in opposite directions from the nearest center lanes of the Arborway. All thru-traffic will be directed towards these center lanes. Bike lanes between the roundabouts will be created on the median side of the Carriage Roads, which will now carry loads more comparable to a neighborhood street than to a busy thoroughfare. For that reason, Toole has recommended that these bike lanes between the roundabouts be painted lanes rather than fully protected (other than by virtue of their placement in a 'local traffic only' one-way street). There was considerable blowback on this lack of physical separation from the bike advocacy community in attendance.

Reconfiguring the roadways with traffic calming features added is expected to slow down the speed of traffic within the project area, but the elimination of three traffic signals is expected to lead to very similar end-to-end travel times. The proposed roundabouts and access routes reduce conflict points between vehicles, pedestrians and bikes while also creating conditions for an orderly flow of traffic at peak volumes. Northbound Arborway "slip lanes" have been added near the rotaries since the February plan, allowing a single lane of thru-traffic to avoid the rotaries entirely (but not the crosswalks).

This image of the revised Kelley Circle near the pond help illustrate many notable features:

Pedestrian sidewalks are shown in black. Bike paths between the sidewalks and roadways are yellow. Every crosswalk and bike crossing is a raised-table: low and wide humps which slow vehicles to speeds estimated by Toole to be 20 mph rather than the 45 mph and more typically experienced in the corridor. Pedestrians and bikes cross where cars are traveling at their slowest. Deflection islands for entering and exiting roadways at the roundabouts encourage cars to stay in their lanes and change directions at slow speeds. The central islands have wide aprons around them to allow for larger emergency vehicles like firetrucks. The surface of the roads is "reversed-cambered". Rather than tilt into the curve as they would on an interstate highway they tilt outward, which tends to discomfort drivers traveling at speed and leads to safer and slower travel. All intersections on the main corridor and roundabouts of the project area are "Yield-controlled" rather than signal controlled - the plan eliminates three traffic signals:

The Murray Circle Rotary is to be reconfigured as a modern Dual Roundabout which slows traffic, reduces conflict and serves the needs of all users. In the western lobe, Centre Street heads towards Faulkner Hospital in the top left corner. As with the Kelley Circle drawings, pedestrian sidewalks are black and off-street bike lanes are yellow, with raised-table crosswalks where traffic is slowest. There is a large deflection/refuge island between the two Murray Roundabouts.

The Arborway continues toward the lower left. Centre Street enters from the Monument area at the bottom, and Prince and Orchard enter from the right.

Toole Design Group produced two animated renderings showing the performance of these proposed roundabouts during Peak AM and Peak PM periods based on actual observed data:


This image shows an overlay of how the new configuration is built from the old. White shows the existing roadways while orange shows the new design:

Bicycle routes are shown here. Safe off-street bike lanes everywhere except between the roundabouts where they are on the newly calmed local traffic carriage roads:

Pedestrian routes shown here, with crossings via raised-table crosswalks:

The reconfiguration of Greenspace is shown in this rendering:

The tentative timetable for the project was outlined as follows:

DCR is seeking public comments on this proposal through November 5, 2015. DCR's page for public meetings, with an opportunity to review materials, presentations and provide input during the comment period is available here (you can scroll down to February 3 & 5 for the extensive material from the first round of meetings):DCR's public meetings page link