Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Casey Arborway Project - a broad defense

The Casey Overpass was built 60 years ago to span three train line impediments to car travel that were eliminated nearly three decades ago.

Now the overpass has decayed beyond repair, creating a public safety hazard that has required the closing of lanes in each direction and the installation of safety netting to catch falling pieces.

Since the overpass and its ramps sit right on top of what once was the eastbound Arborway, removing it makes it possible to rationalize surface routes that currently require all local users to weave in and out of the bridge’s ramps and piers to get anywhere.

MassDOT’s peer-reviewed traffic studies and computer modeling out to the year 2035 have shown that an improved surface grid of roads and intersections can serve the needs of all users – not just cars, but pedestrians, bus and T riders, and cyclists – as well or better than a replacement bridge in almost every possible point-to-point direction throughout the area, and improve on the existing situation.

The at-grade plan is far less expensive than building an unnecessary overpass – some $20 million less - the project can include a number of infrastucture improvements and amenities that would otherwise be impossible.

There will be improved local commuting connections including a new plaza at the end of Southwest Corridor Park which provides direct access to the Orange line T platform without crossing the Arborway for riders from the north. There will be a revamped plaza at the station itself, a consolidated regional school bus hub and an expanded and landscaped upper busway along the western side.

The project enhances recreational opportunity in a portion of the Emerald Necklace that has been broken for sixty years. There will be three miles of new and improved sidewalks and crosswalks, three miles more of new bicycle paths and lanes. These landscaped paths will connect the Arnold Arboretum to Franklin Park and to Southwest Corridor Park in ways that will be simple for families and children to navigate. These routes are extremely difficult and dangerous now.

The important civic space of the West Roxbury District Municipal Courthouse will be opened up, re-landscaped and re-connected to the community as well.

The conversion of the 1930s era Shea Circle rotary near Franklin Park to a new signalized intersection will provide traffic calming for the corridor in a notoriously dangerous location while making it possible for pedestrians and bicyclists to safely reach Franklin Park from the south.

In all, the project creates 1.3 acres of new greenspace and adds 560 new trees from 60 different species – a 2-to-1 increase over today. The Arnold Arboretum’s staff participated in the planning process, and the landscaping plans compliment their collection with a wide variety of shade trees, evergreens, shrubs, bulbs and flowering ornamentals that will be beautiful in all seasons.

It’s a once in a generation opportunity to enhance livability and create a sense of place we all can be proud of where a crumbling overpass currently blocks the sky as well as the local traffic.

Even the most vocal critics have over the course of the lengthy public planning process contributed to improvements in the design, and neighbors should be grateful for their service.

However, the peer-reviewed data, the future traffic projections and the public process do not support their claims or their fears in any way.

A broad coalition of neighborhood, greenspace, cycling and pedestrian advocates that participated in the process - many of whom are local to the project area - support the project as designed, including the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, the Boston Cyclists Union, WalkBoston, LivableStreets, the Arboretum Park Conservancy, the Arborway Coalition and others. Their expertise is substantial, and their memberships run into the thousands.

Most individual supporters of the plan moved on from contentious argument about the project in 2012 when the at-grade decision was made, and they’ve been waiting patiently for construction to begin ever since.

The temporary inconvenience of construction will be quite difficult at times - but the end result will be well worth it for Jamaica Plain, for Boston and for the region.


  1. Clay, I would like to know if you really believe that the new trees will be watered and tended properly. There are so many dead saplings all around Forest Hills and also at other Orange Line stations (see Roxbury Crossing, for example). The City certainly does not properly care for the saplings, and the State does not either (see VFW Parkway, first block, southbound, for MANY dead saplings). So I have little faith in the great "green" promises.

  2. I believe that the contract specifies a two-year guarantee for the 560 new trees to be planted. As I understand it, that is double the typical time specification for state projects, and it should lead to the landscape contractor keeping them watered until they are well-established - otherwise they'll be replacing them. Ongoing maintenance is, as you point out, another matter. I can't say every one will survive to maturity, but I'm encouraged by those details. The new and re-vamped central plazas use permeable pavers near the plantings to try and capture and use as much rainwater as possible. There are other aspects to the landscaping plans that are compelling: Frederick Law Olmsted's original Arborway plans of the late 1890s specified that the parkway be lined with Tulip trees and Cucumber Magnolias - flowering varieties chosen to signal the approach to the Arboretum. But the park's superintendent of the time, John Pettigrew, changed the order to Red Oaks, which is why we have the monoculture of very old oaks in poor health from the Jamaicaway to Franklin Park. The plans under construction now call for more than 60 different tree species, carefully chosen for their suitability to the setting and to provide an ever-changing view as the seasons progress. There will be plenty of Scarlet Oaks, but also London Planetrees, American Elms, magnolias, dogwoods, maples, birch, redbuds, hawthorns, crabapples, cherries and more. There are also a large number of shrubs and bulbs being planted: a low extension of the retaining wall along the westbound ramp near South Street will have one hundred climbing hydrangeas planted at it's base, for instance. And there will be rhododendrons, junipers, forsythia, holly, grasses, sedges, irises, and daffodils too.

  3. Well, that is encouraging to hear. Thank you for such an informative, detailed response to my question.