Friday, October 31, 2014

Casey Arborway Halloween Treat: The Ghost of Stony Brook

MassDOT landscape designers under the supervision of George Batchelor have created a nod to the rich history of the Forest Hills and Jamaica Plain area with a landscaped indication of where the mighty Stony Brook once flowed, just east of the intersection where Washington Street and Hyde Park Avenue cross the Arborway.

The Ghost of Stony Brook in the Casey Arborway design runs diagonally under the trees from red car to red car in this image.

Running diagonally from the northeast to the southwest under the trees across sidewalks, bike paths and medians, the surface plans indicate the location of the important stream which now runs in an underground culvert to the Back Bay Fens. The banks of Stony Brook in Jamaica Plain hosted much of the area's earliest industrial activity and supplied the water for Jamaica Plain's numerous breweries. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Casey Arborway Bid Approved by MassDOT Board

On Wednesday, October  22, 2014 the Board of Directors of MassDOT unanimously voted to approve awarding the contract for the Casey Arborway Project to Barletta Heavy Division, a Canton, MA based company with 100 years experience building, maintaining and rehabilitating Boston's infrastructure. They have done extensive work for both MassDOT and the MBTA in the past. The lowest of four bids, the contract is valued at almost $60 million and includes substantial financial incentives for the Casey Overpass to be closed and through-traffic diverted to the adjacent service roads and ramps as soon as possible. There are per-day incentives if this is accomplished sooner than 90 days after a Notice to Proceed, and per-day disincentives if it is not.

Project Overview, Final - April 2014

Project Manager Steve McLaughlin stated at the board meeting that the MassDOT engineers are concerned that the existing structure cannot safely withstand another winter and they want it closed as soon as possible. The overpass is already reduced to one lane in each direction and weight-limited. MassDOT would also like to have substantial demolition of the structure take place over the coming winter months when residents' windows are closed in order to alleviate sound and dust disturbance in the neighborhood. McLaughlin said that three public involvement staff members would be assigned to the project to serve as liaisons to the public and to address questions or concerns.

It is expected that the Notice to Proceed will be issued very shortly, and that soon the Project team will hold a public information meeting to share their final plans and construction staging time lines.
Needless to say this has been a long, complex and sometimes contentious process to date. The resulting final design was improved at every opportunity by the dedicated professionalism of the MassDOT staff along with their consultants and contractors. It has included the input and advice of dozens of organizations advocating for greenspace, bike paths, pedestrians, transit users, neighborhood associations and more. The process engaged hundreds of local citizens whose ideas helped shape the outcome in very real and positive ways. The project promises to transform the area with improved vehicle traffic patterns, revitalized and newly created civic plazas in four locations, a newly expanded upper busway, a new head house at the terminus of Southwest Corridor Park that will provide direct access to the Orange Line platform from the north without crossing the Arborway, bicycle paths throughout the project area and a net gain of 400 trees.

But first will come a little more than two years of construction which will challenge local residents and commuters alike. #ArborwayMatters applauds this milestone and looks forward to the community learning more about the many benefits that will make the inconvenience worth it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

More Fear-mongering and Truth Bending

An #ArborwayMatters Editorial

In a recent Op-Ed piece published online by the Boston Globe, the authors make all manner of inaccurate claims in support of their discredited notion that a replacement bridge should be built where the Casey Overpass now stands.

They claim that no new transit will be created. If by that they mean no new transit amenities, in fact the entire project area will be revitalized in a manner that provides enhanced efficiency and access for all modes of transit, not just cars: pedestrians, cyclists, motor vehicles, and MBTA riders of both the Orange Line and the several bus routes that originate or terminate at Forest Hills station.

They claim that "all left turns" are banned when in fact — and as they well know—that is far from the truth. They dismiss long-term maintenance costs to the citizens of the Commonwealth for their mythical new bridge as being irrelevant. They reject MassDOT's professional engineering studies showing the Overpass to be dangerously beyond repair, citing earlier apples-to-oranges studies to bolster their claims of nefarious intent.

To them it is simply "inconceivable" — despite all the peer-reviewed data and the will of the community engaged in the process — that life without an overpass might not be as horrible as they claim.

But in reality, and improved by public input at every turn in dozens of meetings the authors attended, the Project calls for revitalized plazas on both the north and south sides of Arborway at the Forest Hills station. The all-new northern plaza will feature a new head house offering direct access to the Orange Line platfrom for commuters seeking the station from the north — without the necessity of crossing the Arborway at all. The dismal station-side plaza which now sits in the shadow of the overpass and harbors the idling buses of the Route 39 terminus, will be made newly inviting and the #39 will be relocated to a new upper busway. Contiguous on and off-street bicycle paths and pedestrian sidewalks will rim the entire area from Franklin Park to the Arboretum, from the Upper Arborway to Ukraine Way and provide safe access for commuters and recreational users of both modes throughout this broken portion of the Emerald Necklace corridor.

Though the construction period will be no picnic for area residents or for pass-through commuters, these coming features are not the hallmarks of diminished quality of life for the residents of Forest Hills and Jamaica Plain. They represent a once in a lifetime opportunity to accomplish something grand for the future of the city, through a plan crafted by professionals and by engaged citizens who care deeply about that future.

In the end the authors fall back on an appeal to Boston's Mayor Marty Walsh, proclaiming that he has a "duty" to demand a moratorium on the project (as he called for early in his campaign). They are well aware that Mr. Walsh himself reversed that position once he became better informed about the issue and learned more about the dozens of public citizen's advisory meetings, the seven well-attended public hearings at English High School, and the hundreds of community members and organizations engaged in the process of devising a replacement for the crumbling bridge over the past three years. Reversing course again would be absolute folly and thwart the will of the community.

The authors should certainly know that members of this community will not sit idly by while falsehoods are promoted in the public arena. Happily, a glance at the comments section of the Op-Ed piece reveals the passionate support that the Casey Arborway project enjoys within the community. The authors and the Mayor should take note. Instead of trying to erect roadblocks in front of this important and beneficial project, they should be applying their energies towards leveraging the value of the $60+ million the Commonwealth is spending on the Casey Arborway by calling for access improvements in the surrounding neighborhoods adjacent to the project: improved sidewalks, crosswalks, lighting, and park maintenance are all relatively inexpensive in comparison, and could go a long way towards making Jamaica Plain and Forest Hills the greenspace and recreational mecca it can become.

Clayton Harper
Jamaica Plain

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Final Casey Arborway Corridor Overview

MassDOT has made available a final overview rendering of the Casey Arborway corridor.

Click the image for a larger version

External link to larger image

In addition to vastly expanded off-street and on-street amenities for pedestrians and cyclists throughout and newly revitalized connections between the Arboretum and Franklin Park, some of the highlights include (left to right, west to east):

  • A bow-tie u-turn lane at the Forest Hills Gate of the Arboretum. There will be no westbound left turns at South St/Washington and those seeking that route will need to reverse direction here. There will also be a pedestrian- activated crosswalk there, and a new northerly sidewalk from South Street to it.
  • The smaller, upper Arborway frontage road is going to be relocated approximately two car-lengths northward at South Street to create more queueing space at South/Arborway.
  • The 39 bus which currently terminates under the Overpass is being relocated to a newly expanded Upper Busway south of the T station. Residential neighbors here are shielded from noise & visuals by a bermed and landscaped hump between the busway and southerly Washington St. Bus exits are steered around a small island so that their headlights don't shine on residential homes.
  •  The current T station plaza south of the new Arborway is being revamped, and off-street east-west bike paths and sidewalks created. The taxi stand currently alongside the upper busway will be relocated to both sides of the Arborway, along with pick-up/drop-off space for cars.
  • At the end of Southwest Corridor Park a new plaza is being created that features a new head house for direct access to the T platform from the north side of the Arborway. Dedicated bike and pedestrian paths - including a bike rotary - as well as benches and new 'programmable space' for things like farmer's markets and fairs will be here too. The current mid-block crosswalk is being eliminated, and there will be substantial planting boxes and smaller flowering trees in the median above the tracks.
  • An eastbound bow-tie u-turn will be created in front of the Court House (there will be no left turns onto northerly Washington from eastbound Arborway). A crosswalk here leads to a Court House parking lot on the Arborway Yard site.
  • The north side between Washington Street and Franklin Park will have dedicated off-street pedestrian and cycling paths.
  • The Shea Circle rotary on the eastern end is being replaced by a signalized intersection dubbed Shea Square. On the north side, Franklin Park expands a little. South of the intersection will be a small park in front of Franklin Park Villa. Sidewalks are being added to and through the island at Forest Hills Cemetery.
There are more details not easy to spot in this rendering such as grade and surface differentials between pedestrians and bikes, corner "mixing zones" where they come together, refuges in the medians, a thoughtful mix of plants etc. Hollow trees shown are existing ones, solid trees are all new.

Some construction will begin in late 2014 and the project is still expected to be completed in late 2016.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

"No feasible and prudent alternative" - M.H.C.

The third consultation meeting between the Massachusetts Historical Commission and MassDOT concerning the future of Shea Circle rotary in Forest Hills and Jamaica Plain, a part of the Casey Arborway Project, was held on Friday April 4, 2014. The Commission's consultation role had been triggered by the site's inclusion in the state Registry of Historic Places as part of the Morton Street Historic District. MHC had previously found "adverse effect" in MassDOT's plan to create a signalized intersection known as Shea Square where the Shea Circle rotary now stands. The MHC consultation does not concern any other aspect of the Casey Arborway Project.

75% stage Shea Plan

75% stage Shea Square aerial rendering

The working meeting began with an acknowledgement by MHC that MassDOT has "demonstrated that there is no feasible and prudent alternative" to MassDOT's plan. The meeting then proceeded to a discussion of mitigation measures that might reduce the impact of the decision. All other comments concerning the overall Casey Arborway Project were steered by MHC toward the purpose of the meeting: seeking mitigation suggestions.

MassDOT proposed a) a thorough documentation of the site as it exists and b) context-sensitive landscaping and design to mitigate the adverse effect. George Batchelor, Supervisor of Landscape Design at MassDOT made a visual presentation of the Final Design of the site beginning with an Overlay that showed the existing rotary superimposed upon the future Square. [Apologies for the quality of these hasty photos]

Rotary overlay on Square design

The design features dedicated pedestrian and bicycle paths and crossings, an allee of boulevard red oaks, the retention of the existing stone walls on the Franklin Park side and the creation of a feature-rich park to the south.

Final design showing expansion of Franklin Park

The new park in front of Franklin Park Villa will feature flowering trees, shrubs and bulbs, benches and an interpretive kiosk describing the history of the site.

New park detail with preliminary kiosk

Proposed flowering trees, shrubs and bulbs are all varieties that have survived well in Boston parks according to Batchelor, selected with an eye towards the history of the area, seasonal variety, flowering longevity and hardiness.

Proposed shrubs and bulbs

Proposed flowering trees
Next steps include MassDOT's drafting of a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between DOT and MHC concerning mitigation measures, and advertising the Casey Arborway Project for bids in the coming weeks. No revised timetable for the overall project was discussed.

Plans for the project call for the replacement of the crumbling Casey Overpass with an At-Grade boulevard, bike paths, pedestrian ways, as well as an expanded Upper busway, a new northern plaza at the terminus of SW Corridor Park and a new MBTA head house providing direct access to the T platform from the plaza. Earlier announced schedules had called for some traffic rerouting onto existing overpass ramps and then the demolition of a substantial portion of the Overpass to take place in 2014, with the project continuing through September 2016.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Open Letter to Massachusetts Historical Commission re: Shea Circle

I support MassDOT's plan for the future of Shea Circle in the Forest Hills area of Jamaica Plain which creates a signalized intersection to replace the unsafe rotary at the location now.

I am an abutting homeowner and resident of the area effected by the Casey Arborway project and have followed the lengthy public design process very closely. I am well-versed in the history of the Emerald Necklace, Franklin Park and the Casey Overpass and I'm convinced that the current favored design is most closely aligned with the most significant portions of that history and the actual intended purpose of Shea Circle: a mechanism that should serve as a safe and functional connector within the Emerald Necklace parkway system and an inviting southern entrance into Franklin Park for the citizens of Boston and the Commonwealth. In its current configuration, it serves neither purpose.

Shea Circle was created in the 1920s, long after the Frederick Law Olmsted's original landscaping, and its creation obliterated some of the remnants that had survived until then. As it exists today, Shea is a very dangerous place. Its large diameter serves no traffic-calming function for safe entrance or exit to any of the spokes of the rotary. Its existing red oaks are very near the end of their natural lives, and some are half-dead. Its lack of safe pedestrian and cycling access creates an imposing barrier for abutting residents and to Franklin Park recreational access.

My close study of the evolution of MassDOT's design, amended through strong and vigorous community input over many years now, leads me to conclude that MassDOT has been extraordinarily sensitive to the historical precedents of the Olmsted parkways plan. They intend to preserve all remaining remnants of the significant pre-1925 period and to serve the larger social good of creating safe access for all users: vehicles, pedestrians, bicycles. Their plans contain significant echoes of Olmsted's own landscape choices in the plantings proposed, in the park "furniture" envisioned, and in their proposed lighting choices. The members of the community engaged in the oversight of this design process have seen to it that a very strong effort is being made to reconnect Franklin Park with the Arboretum, the Arborway and the rest of the justly celebrated Emerald Necklace while enhancing safety. The proposed “Shea Square” design achieves this outcome far better than the existing Circle or any of the alternate plans considered.

I urge the Massachusetts Historical Commission to approve MassDOT's plans as other agencies and the vast majority of the public have done. The opportunity to enhance the overarching historic significance of the area and to enhance access to that legacy for generations to come is far greater than the preservation of this unsafe 1920s traffic rotary, with it’s ragged and isolated island of forlorn greenery.