Comments on Old Northern Ave Bridge 2/24/16

Comments on Old Northern Ave Bridge 2/24/16

February 24, 2016

Kevin Kotelly, P.E.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
New England District
696 Virginia Road
Concord, MA 01742-2751

Brona Simon
Massachusetts Historical Commission
220 William T Morrissey Boulevard
Boston, MA 02125

Re: Old Northern Avenue Bridge

Dear Mr. Kotelly and Ms. Simon:

WalkBoston has been engaged in discussions about the Old Northern Avenue Bridge for more than 15 years – a remarkably long time for action to be taken on one of the City’s iconic and important pieces of infrastructure.

As a participant in the City’s informal review process during spring 2015, WalkBoston was one of the eleven groups1 that voted to support the rehabilitation of the bridge (two groups supported a new bridge). After being asked by the City to participate in an in-depth review and discussion process, we feel that this strong support for rehabilitation should weigh heavily in the City’s final decision about the future of the Bridge.

WalkBoston is a strong supporter of rehabilitating the existing bridge and doing so immediately to restore an important element of the City’s pedestrian network, end the endless debate, and maintain a piece of the city’s character. Specifically, rehabilitating this bridge, rather than replacing it with a new structure is important for the following reasons:

• The ONAB was, and should again be, the route of daily walking for thousands of Bostonians. Maintaining a level crossing for pedestrians between the waterfront and the seaport significantly enhances the walking experience by being easy, allowing walkers to have full views as they walk between the districts, and giving walkers the experience of being close to
the water and the harbor. The arched Moakley Bridge is less comfortable and less attractive for walkers than the Old Northern Avenue Bridge (and used less by walkers when the ONAB was open to pedestrians). This is the opposite of what we should be thinking about for the future of this important connection.

• The industrial character of the Bridge is an enormous part of its charm, and creates an everyday link to Boston’s working and seafaring past – we should not lose this important part of our personality. Perhaps the bridge also presents an opportunity to link our old technology with the arrival of GE and its focus on new technology. New York’s High Line is a wonderful and evocative example of how old industrial infrastructure can be a source of joy and economic development – the ONAB should be thought of in that same creative way. A “Friends of the Old Northern Avenue Bridge” group should be formed to immediately and creatively raise funds and develop a plan for rehabilitating and re-using the Bridge.

• The ONAB is an important element of the Harbor Walk, and in its existing place and configuration is one of its most interesting spots.

• WalkBoston does not oppose allowing emergency and high occupancy vehicles to use the Bridge, but we are skeptical that allowing general vehicle use of the Bridge will do anything to alleviate the transportation problems of the Seaport, and will only result in more cars jammed into a portion of Atlantic Avenue that cannot accommodate them. In fact the opposite may occur. As a very attractive and pleasant way for walkers to get around the City, the ONAB will encourage walking, biking and transit use – exactly what we need to be doing for the future of the Seaport and all of Boston.

• While WalkBoston strongly and emphatically supports the rehabilitation of the ONAB, we believe that this may not necessarily entail a full and meticulous restoration of every element of the structure. We think that it is important to capture the functionality, spirit and identity of the bridge, while also acknowledging that timely and cost-effective implementation is of great importance.

We hope that the ACOE and MHC will support the rehabilitation of the Old Northern Avenue Bridge and we would be pleased to answer any questions you might have about our position.


Wendy Landman
Executive Director

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