Thursday, September 26, 2013

Under the Overpass - A Visual History


Have you ever wondered what the Arborway in Forest Hills looked like before the Casey Overpass was built? Or what the Overpass was built to span? (All images will enlarge if you click on them)

photo: Jamaica Plain Historical Society
In 1898, these handsome trolleys rode through Jamaica Plain heading for Forest Hills Square:

 But soon the elevated subway line now known as the Orange Line ran down Washington Street to the end of the line at Forest Hills.

photo: Boston Public Library
photo: Boston Public Library
photo: Boston Public Library
By 1910, Frederick Law Olmsted's Arborway parkway was barely hanging on just north of the new elevated line's Forest Hills Station. The Arborway itself was not yet paved, since motor vehicles were still uncommon.

Further west past South Street, the Arborway was a green parkway heading for the Arboretum and Jamaica Pond, lined with Red Oaks and flowering shrubs.

Past this handsome granite heavy rail viaduct carrying the Boston & Providence line, South Street continued towards the southwest much as it does today near the present day VFW hall and the State Lab. Two carriage ways, two bridle paths and a pedestrian path traveled under these five arches originally.

photo: Jamaica Plain Historical Society
The trolleys on South St had grown larger and longer by 1939 as they bustled under this viaduct and the El on their way to the Arborway Yard.

photo: David Wilson

photo: Marty Bernard,
photo: Paul Joyce,
All these transportation hubs - trolleys to the Yard, heavy rail passenger and freight traffic, elevated subway lines, two side-by-side train stations, taxi stands, buses and yes, private vehicles - came together in a very small space, all weaving through and around each other to get where they were trying to go. Above, a trolley way winds under the elevated lines from Arborway Yard on it's way to South St - approximately where New Washington Street is today.

1929 aerial view of Forest Hills. The Arborway is where the trees are in the upper left.

photo: Library of Congress/HAER

Arborway under the El, 1948. photo: Boston City Archive
Hyde Park Ave, one-way north beside El Station, 1948. photo: Boston City Archive
The elevated trains and embankments made ground-level navigation difficult for other modes. With metal supports substituting for the massive cement piers found closer to the station (under where the Overpass was built), pedstrians, cars, cabs, trolleys and buses jostled for space.

photo: Anthony Sammarco/Jamaica Plain Historical Society
By mid-century, the post-war growth in private vehicle ownership led to Eisenhower-era plans to span Forest Hills with an overpass, but it's huge piers and abutments made things even worse for local traffic on the ground, and further severed the northern portions of the Emerald Necklace parks from Olmsted's and the City's crown jewel: Franklin Park.
Atop the heavy rail viaduct of the New Haven line with the Casey above, 1962. photo: Tom O'Toole
Arborway trolley en route to South St. 1984  photo: Paul Joyce
Casey Overpass high above (back to front) Hyde Park Ave, the El, the B&O rail and South St
photo: Jamaica Plain Historical Society
The El's Forest Hills Station from the west near Bussey Woods, Casey Overpass on left
 photo: Library of Congress/HAER
photo: David Wilson
Massive cement piers of both the El and the Overpass make the ground-level almost impassable
photo: Library of Congres/HAER
A trolley heads for South St under the Olmsted-era rail viaduct, Casey Overpass above. Photo: Richard Heath
Through the S-curve to the Yard  photo: Jamaica Plain Historical Society
All three: El, Overpass above, viaduct in background
photo: Library of Congress/HAER
The last days of the viaduct, in 1986
photo: Richard Heath

 The heavy rail viaduct and the elevated lines lasted until both lines were sunk into the Southwest Corridor trench and the current MBTA station was built beside the original:

Today the El is gone. The trolley no longer runs down South Street to the Yard. The massive rail viaduct has been demolished, it's granite blocks re-purposed in Southwest Corridor Park - the nearly five mile long ribbon of greenways, footpaths and bikepaths that runs from the Back Bay to Forest Hills. And the Orange Line and the Amtrak run in a sunken trench beside and beneath the park.

But the broken connection in Boston's Emerald Necklace remains.

The surface roads here are handicapped by the ramps and massive supports of the 60 year-old Overpass. They take up so much space that the Overpass cuts off Forest Hills from the rest of Jamaica Plain, and Jamaica Plain from Roslindale and West Roxbury. The pedestrian and vehicular navigation required to get around and under it makes for a complex mess of frustration for drivers, walkers and cyclists alike.

photo: author

photo: author

photo: author

photo: author

This is the legacy that the Casey Arborway project addresses, straightening and rationalizing routes throughout the area; coordinating traffic signals; dedicating paths for cars, bikes and pedestrians; returning trees and sky to an area long-overshadowed by an outdated and now crumbling Overpass.

photo: author


Friday, September 20, 2013

Boston mayoral candidates weigh-in on Casey Arborway

Mayoral candidates were recently asked about the Casey Overpass in a Transportation & Livable Communities Mayoral Questionnaire. The full questionnaires covering a wide range of related topics and video from the public forum on transportation issues is available here:

The candidate's excerpted responses pertaining to the Casey question (alphabetical by candidate) are here: 

Q: Communities across the city have embraced smaller roadways and better, cheaper alternatives to large, expensive overpasses and underpasses. As mayor, would you support the City's endorsement of the surface road for Rutherford Avenue in Charlestown, the state DCR's endorsement of a surface road to replace the Casey Overpass in Forest Hills, and a surface road in lieu of the Bowker (Charlesgate) Overpass in the Back Bay? What else would you do to bring Boston's roads back to a human scale?

Felix Arroyo: We have great opportunities with these projects to create beautiful, livable spaces as we have seen done in other cities all over the world. We need to be forward thinking in our city planning especially as we face rising fuel costs, climate change and health disparities in our city. I am personally impacted as a neighbor by the project to demolish the Casey Overpass and replace it with a surface option. I believe as a community, our focus should be on ensuring that this project moves forward in a way that improves the flow of traffic and people, best connects our communities, creates green space and also adequately accommodates for growth in our city. As is in the case in Forest Hills, I believe that development in Charlestown, Back Bay, and all of our neighborhoods should be led by a planning process and the community should lead planning

John Barros: In general, I'd support more community-human scale roadways and NOT spend lots of money on over or underpasses. We can save money and rethink how these roadways can be incorporated back into the fabric of our neighborhoods. That said, each of the cases is different and need to be looked at based on its role in the transit system and the community that its in. Community planning process needs to be inclusive and comprehensive. I know the City's Rutherford Ave plan and state's Casey Overpass plan are already advanced in their process, but I have heard that the planning process could have been more engaging.

Charles Clemons: I agree that overpasses are costly to maintain and are aesthetically unattractive. I support developing grade level upgrades.

John Connolly: In general, I think it's great when we can take opportunities to knit communities back together. You don't need to look any further than the North End, which is no longer physically isolated from the rest of downtown by the expressway, to see how much this can improve quality of life in a community. As our infrastructure ages, we need to reexamine our overpasses and underpasses and make changes wherever we can to improve the level of service for all modes, not just cars. I believe there are two critically important considerations as we go about this work. First, we need to make sure that when we make these changes, they are truly improvements for all road users. Second, whether it's a city or state project, we need to make sure that we have robust, transparent community processes that give all community members the opportunity to get involved and make their voices heard.

Charlotte Golar Richie: I generally support these initiatives, and I definitely support a shift away from supporting vehicular convenience rather than making significant improvements to public transportation. Boston's roadway system is, if anything overbuilt. We need to begin an era of unprecedented focus on other modes of transportation. I will take advice from community activists and transportation experts about the impacts on mobility and the environment. We cannot take action that may help and have a negative impact elsewhere. Our transportation network has to work as a system, and as mayor I will take into account how specific actions will impact mobility.

Mike Ross: I have been a strong advocate for many years of alternatives to overpasses where they can be used. I believe that overpasses create dead, underused space within neighborhoods and creates divisions between them. In my own City Council district, I have worked with the Friends of the Charlesgate for many years in their fight to remove the Bowker Overpass on the Kenmore/Back Bay line. I personally worked to set up meetings with MassDOT to advance these neighbors plan to remove the crumbling, unsafe overpass and to replace it with a surface-level road.
Residents of Forest Hills and surrounding communities have invested a significant amount of time and energy into debating the options for the Casey Overpass. The resolution of that planning process is the proposal to remove the Casey Overpass and replace it with surface roads. While I understand that there are many residents who would like to replace the crumbling structure that now stands with a new overpass, I support the results of the community planning process to replace the overpass with surface streets. As Mayor, I would work closely with all stakeholders to advance a smart street design for the area that was focused on multi-modal uses of the roads, appropriately managed MBTA bus routes, and aggressively sought to mitigate congestion. The potential to re-knit the community by following the community plan to remove the overpass is tremendous and I look forward to strengthening the Forest Hills community

Bill Walczak: I believe each of these roadways was built in the 1950s at a time when for many the American Dream of upward mobility meant, among other things, moving out of crumbling cities to well-manicured suburbs. This move was, literally, driven by an infatuation with the automobile - and it was largely supported by federal transportation policies that favored highway construction under the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. It was a different time with different priorities.
I support the decisions to replace these outdated roadways with surface roads. We no longer need roads designed to help people flee the city. And we no longer need roads that divide neighborhoods. For the first time in many years, Boston's population is growing. People are moving back in from the suburbs. And what we need at this point in the City's history are roads that bind neighborhoods together.
That said, I understand why these decisions are so controversial. And while I trust transportation engineers' analyses that show these changes will not lead to the kind of congestion and gridlock that many fear, I understand why residents of those neighborhoods would be skeptical.
They have every right to be skeptical because of the way planning has been done - or, more accurately, not done - over the past several decades. The last comprehensive review of Boston's zoning code was done in the 1980s and the last comprehensive transportation plan was done in 2000. Real estate development and transportation decisions have been done in such a piecemeal fashion over the past decades that one can hardly blame people for doubting the wisdom behind them. These three transportation decisions should have been made as part of a comprehensive planning process that engaged residents in developing an integrated transportation, housing, open space/environmental and commercial master plan to guide the decisions about Boston's future growth.

Marty Walsh: Community engagement and planning are vital to what is going to happen in the three mentioned situations. First of all, I plan to do a feasibility study of all of these projects and see what results they will generate. In regards to the Casey Overpass, after talking to neighbors in Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, Hyde Park and Roslindale, I am personally against tearing down the overpass. However, more community input is needed for a decision to be made. All of these decisions need to be looked into more, and as Mayor I will work with the communities most affected and make sure their voices are heard at the negotiation table.

Charles Yancy: Consequently, if eliminating overpasses and underpasses improves community livability, and survives a strong community process, then I will certainly support the city's endorsement of surface roads in Charlestown, Forest Hills, and in the Back Bay.

On September 21, four days later, Bill Walczak was quoted in the Jamaica Plain Patch and Roslindale Patch "Speak Out" Board as follows:

“I want to reiterate my support for keeping an overpass in Jamaica Plain,” said Walczak.   “While I support tearing down some bridges – this is not one of them.  I believe an at-grade roadway will cause greater congestion in the Forest Hills section of Jamaica Plain and hurt small businesses on Centre St., Washington St., and Hyde Park Ave, and I don’t believe the public was truly heard during the determination process.  As mayor, I commit to working with MassDOT to ensure the rebuilding of the overpass."

He appears to believe that we DO need roads that divide neighborhoods.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

New and enhanced plazas provide public space


The preliminary design of the Casey Arborway project proposes to create and enhance two public plazas where the shadow of the Overpass now falls. The southern plaza adjacent to the MBTA's Forest Hills Station will be re-vamped to create a more inviting place with new plantings and seating for pedestrians and useful space suitable for retail kiosks or carts. A dedicated bike path transits the northern boundary east to west.

Across the new Arborway, at the terminus of Southwest Corridor Park and the Pierre Lallement Bike Path, a mixed-use plaza surrounds the T's new headhouse which provides direct access to the train platform below. Proposed features here include permeable surfaces that take advantage of rainwater to irrigate plantings, a clear separation between pedestrian and bicycle paths, and a large plaza suitable for programmed activities such as farmer's markets and art fairs. An open, sloped lawn area that overlooks the plaza could serve as a potentially wonderful spot for music events accommodating hundreds of concert-goers.

In the draft design shown above (click to enlarge), orange rectangles represent vans or trucks servicing temporary art fair-style booths, shown in pink - to give an idea of the scale and scope of one such possible activity. The darker gray paths along the boundaries of both plazas are for bicycles, including a proposed "bicycle rotary" that may signal entry to the plaza from Southwest Corridor Park, which extends nearly five miles to the Back Bay and South End northward (or: up in this image). 

Other proposed features of the Casey Arborway project visible in this drawing include (clockwise from the upper left): 
  • "Don't block the box" roadway striping on South Street at Arborway Road (a notorious bottle neck for local traffic)
  • At the intersection corners there will be mixed-use pedestrian and cycle queing spaces, with clearly demarcated bike and pedestrian roadway crossings throughout. 
  • Flowering shrubs are shown as pink circles in this drawing. Because of the train tunnels below, the central portion of the Arborway median will feature a raised planter for shallower-rooted shrubs rather than the canopy trees used along the rest of the parkway AllĂ©e.  
  • Temporary parking for Pickup & Drop-off as well as Cab Stand space will be accomodated along the Arborway. 
  • At each major Arborway crossing, "safety islands" in the median shelter pedestrians and cyclists at mid-passage
  • New trees on both sides of southern Washington Street, and a redesigned Toole Square on the western side of Washington extend the greenspace southward towards the Arboretum's Bussey Woods
Astute local observers may wonder about the current #39 bus turnaround. As the bridge comes down, the #39 will be relocated to an expanded upper busway along southern Washington Street.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

New MBTA headhouse means many commuters won't have to cross traffic

#ArborwayMatters  The Casey Arborway project will provide direct access to train platforms from what is now the northern side of New Washington Street, approximately where the current mid-block crosswalk is currently.

This important benefit of the project means that thousands of daily subway commuters walking to or from the north will not have to cross the new Casey Arborway at all to get to their trains or back home again.

Preliminary designs show a bright, safe and well-lit facility complete with elevator. The current station can be seen in the background in the first view looking south - because the bridge is not there.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Nearly three years of community oversight

#ArborwayMatters Since March 2011 hundreds of community members have contributed to designing the Casey Overpass replacement.

A Working Advisory Group spent months evaluating traffic models, design concepts, bridges and bridge alternatives, busways, pedestrian paths, bicycle access and community input. 

They looked at reams of data and documents, they heard hours of presentations and offered the wisdom of the community and their constituencies to help shape MassDOT's decision to replace the Overpass with what has been called "The At-grade Solution" - a simplified series of street-level roadways, sidewalks and bike paths that make Forest Hills navigation easier. 

We encourage you to learn more about the lengthy and open process and to review the evolution of the planning at MassDOT's Casey Arborway website. 

Stand with ArborwayMatters


#ArborwayMatters The street level, at-grade Casey Arborway plan is the result of open, public, and spirited discussions by community members and professionals who weighed the merits of countless alternatives, including multiple overpass designs

#ArborwayMatters The surface road alternative was selected by the state in March 2012. For more than eighteen months, many community members have worked together to make the final plans better for all

#ArborwayMatters The plans include miles of bike paths, hundreds of trees and flowering shrubs, acres of additional greenspace, more blue sky and acres less hardscape

#ArborwayMatters Bridge ramps, piers and abutments waste valuable ground that will be used to simplify vehicle, pedestrian and cycle paths and create safer open spaces

#ArborwayMatters Peer-reviewed traffic studies show no appreciable delays in vehicle transit times with an at-grade parkway

#ArborwayMatters Air quality analysis shows no appreciable difference for any of the considered options - no increase in vehicle miles or hours traveled means no degradation of air quality

#ArborwayMatters A new Head House adjacent to Southwest Corridor Park will provide direct access to the MBTA station without crossing traffic

#ArborwayMatters A new public plaza at the end of Southwest Corridor Park provides community space perfect for Farmer’s Markets, Art Fairs, and neighborhood festivals

#ArborwayMatters Boston’s Emerald Necklace deserves a world-class connection between Arnold Arboretum and Franklin Park

#ArborwayMatters  This transformative plan for the Casey Arborway deserves your support. Stand with your community to replace the crumbling Casey Overpass with sensible streets and open space

The Casey Arborway is one of the most important neighborhood transit, parks and recreation initiatives for Boston in decades#ArborwayMatters stands with those who have made positive contributions to an open community process. Let your voice be heard. 
Stand with #ArborwayMatters. Write or call your elected representatives and local newspapers to voice your support for the Casey Arborway at-grade plan TODAY.

To learn more:

Arborway Coalition | Boston Cyclist Union | Emerald Necklace Conservancy
Arboretum Park Conservancy | LivableStreets | WalkBoston