Tag: BRT Corridor

Comments on the re-design of Melnea Cass Boulevard

Comments on the re-design of Melnea Cass Boulevard

June 8, 2015

Patrick Hoey, Transportation Planner
Boston Transportation Department
Room 721
Boston City Hall
Boston, MA 02201-2021

Dear Mr. Hoey,

WalkBoston is pleased that the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) conducted a public meeting that provided an opportunity for area residents and others to comment on the re-design of Melnea Cass Boulevard (MCB).

WalkBoston is well aware of the tremendous progress that has been made in trying to plan for and design an inviting, practical, pedestrian-friendly Melnea Cass Boulevard that will serve the local community as a city street and neighborhood asset. WalkBoston nevertheless finds that, despite significant improvements, the redesigned boulevard will continue to function primarily as an arterial roadway and not as a community-enhancing street.

The city’s decision to “reserve” a major swath of land along MCB for a possible future Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor seems to WalkBoston to be an obstacle to the boulevard’s ability to serve the neighboring community as well as it could.

As we have discussed, buildings sited close to a street will fall within a driver’s line of vision. This perceived narrowing of the street’s width automatically slows speeds and makes it easier, safer and more practical for people to cross the road and better use the corridor. BTD’s current approach of reserving open land for BRT passage means that buildings will not be developed bordering the boulevard, thus seriously compromising its ability to function as a multimodal city street.

Practically speaking, if the “Urban Ring” BRT is ever built, its passage through the high-income areas of the Longwood Medical Area, Museum of Fine Arts, Fenway, Boston University, Back Bay, Charles River and Cambridge will doubtless run through a tunnel. Putting the one-mile Roxbury MCB portion in a tunnel would be a much easier cut-and-cover proposition than the rest of the route. Roxbury deserves this option so that new buildings can be built closer to Melnea Cass and the road will be humane in scale.

If land is not reserved for the BRT the width of the re-designed roadway corridor can be substantially reduced, resulting in the preservation of many trees, especially those on the north side of the roadway. For example, between Shawmut and Washington the roadway is shifted 40-60 feet north to provide a 40-foot wide sidewalk in front of Parcel 9. We assume this excessively wide space is incorporated into the design to preserve the BRT corridor.

However, if this sidewalk’s width were reduced it would not be necessary to remove many mature trees. WalkBoston also notes that the inclusion of parking on several blocks along MCB results in a wider roadway corridor that would provide space for a future BRT. However, the parking also results in the removal of mature trees. Developments along MCB have on-site parking, such as Tropical Foods. Hence WalkBoston questions the need for creating new parking on MCB.

We support the proposed design elements mentioned in the letter from the Friends of Melnea Cass Boulevard (FMCB) – narrower curb radii (like those currently on MCB), improved signal timing and leading pedestrian indicators, and raised roadway crossings on streets intersecting with MCB. We also support recommendations made by Livable Streets to reduce traffic signal cycles to 80 seconds to encourage walker compliance, and bus stops located within 50 feet of a crosswalk and on the far side of the traffic signal to provide for signal priority. WalkBoston would like to discuss with BTD and its consultants how signal timing will work for pedestrians and how crosswalks might be straightened to shorten crossing distances. At high pedestrian crash locations such as MCB/Washington, perhaps an all-way WALK would be a safer signalization option for walkers, provided wait times were a reasonable length.

WalkBoston suggests wide crosswalk widths of 14-15 feet (such as those in Peabody Square in Dorchester and Huntington Avenue at the YMCA) with generous vehicle stop lines. We would also like BTD to assess whether more space could be found for wider sidewalks, for instance at areas like Tremont to Harrison Avenue and other locations.

Finally, we would like a fuller description of what is planned from Hampden Street to Massachusetts Avenue — trees, sidewalk, bicycle lanes, why parking has been added with the consequent loss of trees.

The issues of tree plantings and tree removal are of vital concern for pedestrians. Our 2013 summer walk showed how important mature trees are in providing shade and protection from traffic along MCB. WalkBoston hopes the City can find ways to preserve as many trees as possible as described above. Wider, tree-lined sidewalks are more appealing than specially built median strips put in place for trees. In our experience trees and plantings in medians rarely flourish, or even survive, and most importantly, they do not provide shade for walkers.

Currently the plans show two-way bicycle lanes on both sides of MCB. If the lanes were reduced to one lane on each side, the cycle track could be reduced from 10 to 8 feet or less, again, resulting in the preservation of trees. As suggested by other commenters, WalkBoston urges the layout of curving pathways for bicyclists and walkers in order to preserve mature trees.

We are uncertain about the redesign of this intersection and the elimination of the slip lane. It seems a desirable change until one considers the effect of two right-turn lanes into MCB plus an additional lane added on the Tremont crossing. Both seem to create difficult conditions for pedestrians. Thus, we request traffic information in order to help us to assess the impacts of this design. (A recent Transportation Research Board publication may provide some helpful information on pedestrian impacts and benefits from slip lanes: A Report on the Development of Guidelines for Applying Right-Turn Slip Lanes – available at: http://www.trb.org/SafetyHumanFactors/Blurbs/172629.aspx)

WalkBoston would like to see these and other adjustments to the current design in order to further improve the pedestrian experience along the redesigned boulevard. We would, of course, be glad to assist in this design effort.

In order to address our detailed questions regarding the MCB design, we request that you schedule a working session with BTD and its consultants. WalkBoston understands that the FMCB have requested or will soon request a similar meeting and we would be happy to have a combined BTD, FMCB and WalkBoston meeting on these areas of concern.

Thank you so much for the City’s detailed and extensive work with WalkBoston and the Roxbury community on this important street. We believe the outcome will be better for everyone.


Dorothea Hass and Ann Hershfang

cc: Representative Byron Rushing
Representative Gloria Fox
Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz
Austin Blackmon, Environmental Cabinet Chief
Councilor Tito Jackson
Councilor Ayanna Pressley
Councilor Michael Flaherty
Friends of Melnea Cass Boulevard
Livable Streets
Boston Cyclists Union
United Neighbors of Lower Roxbury
Whittier Tenants Task Force
Madison Park Development Corporation