Tag: 2002

WalkBoston’s Advocacy Work Continues to Soar

WalkBoston’s Advocacy Work Continues to Soar

Two of the most iconic by-products of Boston’s Big Dig — the Rose Kennedy Greenway and the Zakim Bridge — also stand today as symbols of WalkBoston’s earliest and most prominent pedestrian advocacy.

Founded in 1990, WalkBoston played a leading role throughout the 1990s in making sure pedestrians weren’t overlooked in the massive project to bury Boston’s Central Artery highway. Most notably, it persuaded transportation officials to reduce the number of proposed vehicle travel lanes on the Greenway from 10 to 6, with extra space devoted to pedestrians and bicyclists. It also persisted in seeing to completion the crucial pedestrian/bicycle bridge linking the Charles River Basin and Boston Harbor, a Big Dig commitment that languished until WalkBoston held a highly publicized walk in 2005 decrying its absence. The bridge was completed in 2012.

Those efforts and others are being recalled this month as WalkBoston marks the 20th anniversary of one of its most high-profile events: a Mother’s Day walk on the soon-to-be-opened Zakim Bridge on May 12, 2002. Co-sponsored with the Mass. Turnpike Authority, the walk drew 200,000 people — five times what officials anticipated — despite it being a cool rainy day.

The bridge walk idea came from then WalkBoston board member Catherine Donaher. 

“We had all gone through a very long and challenging fight to stop Scheme Z (a proposed I-90/Route 1 interchange over the Charles River) and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a walk across the bridge before it opened?’ ” Donaher recalled.

WalkBoston co-founder and then-president Ann Hershfang pitched it to Turnpike Authority chairman Matt Amorello. “I stood up at a meeting and said, ‘Would you be willing to have pedestrians be the first mode of transportation across the Zakim Bridge?’ and he immediately said ‘Yes!’ ” Hershfang said.  

“What happened was so wonderful,” Donaher said. “We need to do more things to bring people out to touch and feel projects like this and feel like ‘This is my bridge — I paid for this.’”

The Mother’s Day walk’s popularity prompted officials to hold a walk through the Big Dig tunnels in August 2002, and a dedication walk on the Zakim Bridge that October. Those two events drew 600,000 and 800,000, respectively.

“Our work on the Central Artery kind of elevated us in the public mind,” said Hershfang, “and the bridge walk also raised our profile. I can still see one of our bright orange WalkBoston banners stretched across the bridge!” The Fall 2002 WalkBoston newsletter noted that nearly 90 new memberships were received after the first two events.

WalkBoston has only continued to grow over the ensuing two decades. An organization that in 2002 had no full-time staff and an annual budget of just over $100,000 now has six full-time staff members, interns, and a budget in excess of $600,000. WalkBoston continues to broaden and diversify its walkability programs and advocacy efforts, which now includes the WalkMassachusetts Network, a statewide coalition of groups working on walking.

Help us continue to add to our legacy by becoming a member or making a donation at walkboston.org/donate.

News clippings of the event from 2002: