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.