Digging in on snow

Digging in on snow

By Wendy Landman/WalkBoston senior policy advisor

One thing stays true for Massachusetts: It snows. And 11 years after it was written, WalkBoston’s report on better sidewalk snow clearance, Keep It Clear: Recommendations for Sidewalk Snow and Ice Removal in Massachusetts, remains shockingly relevant (download at walkboston.org/snow). While some cities and towns have adopted a more proactive approach to better clear sidewalks, walking after a snowstorm is still a challenge statewide.

Whether it’s from individuals with disabilities or parents who push strollers, each year WalkBoston receives calls and emails from people across the state—especially older adults—asking how we can help improve the conditions of sidewalks, curb ramps, traffic islands and paths.

While we would love to see municipalities take full responsibility for sidewalk clearance, today’s budget realities make this an unlikely scenario. However, the actions described below could significantly improve winter walking conditions at a much more modest cost.

  • Require municipal sidewalk snow clearance plans that set priorities for both public and private clearance, (municipalities)
  • Clear key walking routes—sidewalks and curb ramps—that provide access to transit, schools, public buildings, and senior housing, (municipalities, MassDOT)
  • Prioritize enforcement of private sidewalk clearance by zones that reflect walking demand. For example, homeowners in low-density areas with low demand might be exempt from clearing their sidewalks, while businesses in shopping areas with high demand would be ticketed promptly if they fail to shovel. (municipalities)
  • Develop engineering design improvements for curb ramps, intersections and raised crosswalks that specifically address the need to reduce slush and run-off pooling at the base of curb ramps. (MassDOT)
  • Establish protocols for snow plow operators to reduce amounts of snow piled up on curb ramps. (MassDOT, municipalities)
  • Create and disseminate a well-funded, multi-year public campaign about the importance of sidewalk snow clearance to the safety, health and economic strength of Massachusetts. (WalkBoston with MassDOT, Mass Department of Public Health/MDPH, and Executive Office of Elder Affairs/EOEA)
  • Develop guidance and legal mechanisms to help create a robust set
    of volunteer and paid programs to recruit snow shoveling assistance for people who cannot do this work themselves. (MassDOT, DPH, EOEA, municipalities)

Massachusetts sits in a climate zone that is especially slushy—with many freeze and thaw days that make winter walking conditions particularly difficult. Better sidewalk snow clearance is a critical component of Governor Baker’s commitment to be an Age-Friendly state, to Boston’s GoBoston 2030 transportation plans, and to the quality of life and economic development goals of every community in the state. Together, let’s take action to keep our sidewalks clear this winter.

This article was featured in WalkBoston’s January/February 2020 newsletter.
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Comment Letter: General Electric Headquarters Project EA 15547

Comment Letter: General Electric Headquarters Project EA 15547

September 30, 2016

Matthew Beaton, Secretary
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
Attn: MEPA Office, Alex Strysky
100 Cambridge Street, Suite 900
Boston, MA 02114

Re: General Electric Headquarters Project EA 15547

Dear Mr. Beaton,

WalkBoston has reviewed the Expanded Environmental Notification Form for this project and we
offer our comments below.

We are excited that GE is locating its headquarters in Boston, and is proposing a project that has such an urban plan where the great majority of trips to the site will be by people walking – about 70% if both walking and transit/walking trips are included. Ensuring that walking connections to the site are convenient, accessible and attractive will be critical to welcoming the public and GE staff to the headquarters.

We think there are several aspects of the site that are exciting for pedestrian access, and where great attention to the details of the walking environment will provide important access benefits.

1. The Fort Point Channel setting – The public realm improvements associated with the project are substantial and will take advantage of the waterside site for its many users.

• The project will include a major building entrance facing a widened 18-foot Harborwalk. On the water’s edge overlooks are provided to heighten contact with the Channel and its water views. A seating zone along the Harborwalk is provided as an extension of the central plaza between Brick Buildings and the New Building. We hope that GE will include site programming that takes advantage of the waterfront portion of the site.

• A path network connects the site with the Harborwalk, including accessible paths. It is likely that many pedestrians will use the stairway from Summer Street to the Harborwalk as this is the most direct route between the site and South Station. The route should be well marked with pedestrian wayfinding signs.

• We recommend adding shade trees along the Harborwalk, and amenity that is mentioned quite often in walkers’ comments.

2. Site entrance on Necco Street – Compared with the Harborwalk entrance, the Necco Street entrance design seems less well developed in the EENF. However, this will be the principal entrance to the site for residents arriving from the Fort Point and Seaport Districts, South Boston, and for people driving to the site. Also, Necco Street will of necessity be the route for people with disabilities because the Harborwalk access is via a stairway from Summer Street and the site.
• The Necco Street entrance should be designed to be as important and attractive as the Harborwalk entrance. The sidewalk is shown as widened to 12’, but is narrowed to carve out a lengthy vehicle drop-off lane along much of the site’s frontage. The sidewalk also accommodates the loading zone and garage entries, and bicycle storage on the sidewalk is also suggested. In combination, this mix of service uses would diminish the quality and functionality of the Necco Street sidewalk. We request that the proponent re-examine the sidewalk design to provide a gracious and welcoming entrance along Necco Street.

• Necco Street should be designed as a tree-lined street. In the 100 Acres Plan (2007) that includes this site, Necco Street is proposed to provide walking access to the proposed parkland that extends from the Fort Point Channel to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. The street is privately owned, suggesting the possibility for joint action with neighboring properties to improve it. The street right-of-way is nearly 60’ wide which could readily incorporate a design that accommodates two 10-foot travel lanes, two 7-foot parking lanes, and a wide tree-lined sidewalk along the site that also includes
benches and additional landscaping.
• The sidewalk at the main entrance to the buildings should have additional width to accommodate the many potential users. A compelling and elegant front door might be incorporated into the plans for reconfiguring the Brick Buildings.
• A Necco Street crosswalk should be provided at Necco Court to accommodate safe crossing from the large Necco Street Parking Garage across the street.

3. Off-site approaches to the Necco Street site entrance – The existing walking route from Summer Street (and thus South Station) to the boundary of the site is difficult for persons with disabilities to travel. The proponent should take the lead in ensuring that walking improvements are made to this route. This may require significant coordination with the City and with neighboring landowners, but will result in improved access for all users of the neighborhood.

• There is no curb ramp provided from Dorchester Avenue onto the Summer Street Bridge (south/GE side of the bridge). A curb ramp should be provided.

• Accessible access to GE from Summer Street will need to be provided via Melcher Street. However, the sidewalk along the south side of Melcher Street appears appears to have an excessive cross slope that is hazardous for persons with disabilities, and difficult for anyone pushing a stroller or pulling a suitcase. This cross slope will need to be fixed.

• Between Melcher Street and Necco Court on the west side of Necco Street, the sidewalk appears to be 8’ wide, but curb ramps are not provided where driveways cross the street. The sidewalk should be rebuilt to meet ADA requirements and provide a gracious walking route between GE and South Station.

4. Winter weather conditions and general maintenance –

• Management and operations planning should ensure good snow clearance between the site and South Station along the Harborwalk and the sidewalks of Necco and Melcher Streets. The proponent should work with adjacent property owners and business associations to assure good access to its site under winter weather conditions.
• The proponent should explore a greater degree of enclosure and a weather-resistant design for the GE Plaza walkway, a portion of which will be covered by a translucent canopy suspended between Brick Buildings and New Building. The current plan appears to work primarily in warm months, and multi-season use will add interest and vitality to the site.

5. Off-site issues – We urge the proponent to work with the city and the neighboring property owners to bring all nearby pedestrian facilities up to date.

• For example, the sidewalk at the bend of Necco Street (just south of the proponent’s site) needs to be completed, and there are uneven and heaved bricks in the Necco Street sidewalk from the bend to A Street. In addition several areas of the A Street sidewalk toward the Broadway Red Line station are not ADA compliant, because they are too narrow or have missing or insufficient curb ramps.

• The proponent should work with the City to ensure that traffic signal timing works well for pedestrians at intersections near the site.

We appreciate your consideration of our comments and your responses to them, and we look forward to working with GE, the City and other Fort Point community members on this exciting project.

Please feel free to contact WalkBoston with questions you may have.

Wendy Landman
Executive Director

Cc Peter Cavanaugh, GE Ecosystem Transformation Leader


Comments on the Marine Wharf Project ENF 95585

Comments on the Marine Wharf Project ENF 95585

September 23, 2016

Matthew Beaton, Secretary
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
Attn: MEPA Office Analyst: Alex Strysky
100 Cambridge Street, Suite 900
Boston, MA 02114

Re: Marine Wharf ENF 95585

Dear Mr. Beaton,

WalkBoston appreciates the opportunity to comment on this project and the pedestrian services it provides. The project is very interesting as it occupies a key site in the South Boston Seaport District.

The site is proposed to be developed as a 245 room hotel, which will be able to take advantage of the good and direct walking access to major sites nearby: within a radius of about 2-3 city blocks (1/4 mile) are the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, the Black Falcon Pier and Cruise Terminal, and the Boston Design Center. In addition the site is about 300 feet from a direct view of the Reserved Channel and its port activities – an exciting area of the Seaport District.

Other sites in the Seaport District are more difficult to access from the development site. Although both the performance space at the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion on the waterfront and the Harpoon Brewery and Beer Hall are within ¼ mile of the site, they are accessible only via Harbor Street, through a heavily industrial district dominated by truck traffic – not uninteresting, but somewhat unpleasant as a walking route.

Bus service along Summer Street is excellent, connecting both to South Boston and Downtown. An adjacent transit service that is somewhat complex is the Silver Line, which runs a branch along Black Falcon Avenue that connects into the main tunnel to the World Trade Center Pier and South Station. To reach the airport via the Silver Line, riders must transfer at Silver Line Way Station, not far from this site, but difficult to access because there is no direct walking route leading to it. The proponent may want to work with public agencies to secure more direct and safe pedestrian access to Silver Line Station, which is nearby – slightly more than 500 feet away as the crow flies.

Waterfront walks in the area surrounding the site are not encouraged, despite the location adjacent to the Reserved Channel. The Boston Harborwalk will someday pass directly through the Raymond Flynn Marine Park adjacent to the site, because it is a major land connection between the Seaport District and South Boston. However, at the moment the Harborwalk route is not completely signed between Northern Avenue and the South Boston parks and historic sites, leaving this area without a designated portion of its route.

Wayfinding signs would help hotel patrons find the many attractions of the South Boston Seaport more easily. The proponent should work closely with the group of organizations that have been planning and experimenting with wayfinding networks throughout the Seaport over the last year.

Sidewalks surround the proposed development on both Summer Street and Drydock Avenue. The lovely Raymond Flynn Marine Park, immediately adjacent to the site, affords additional open space for hotel patrons, but has not been incorporated into plans for the building and service areas.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to submit these comments.


Robert Sloane
Senior Planner

Comments on South Boston Waterfront Transportation Center EEA 8505

Comments on South Boston Waterfront Transportation Center EEA 8505

September 12, 2016

Matthew Beaton, Secretary
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
Attn: MEPA Office Analyst: Page Czepiga EEA 8505 and 13367
100 Cambridge Street, Suite 900
Boston, MA 02114

Re: South Boston Waterfront Transportation Center EEA 8505 and 13367

Dear Mr. Beaton,

WalkBoston appreciates the opportunity to comment on the current proposal for the South Boston Waterfront Transportation Center. We have focused on pedestrian issues associated with this project.

This proposal is quite forward-looking for pedestrians who will be using the facility and/or passing through the site. Users of the Center will be served by pedestrian paths through the site, by the adjacent MBTA Silver Line World Trade Center station and by parking on 9 levels with pedestrian access via elevators and stairs to both D Street and the World Trade Center Avenue Viaduct. As the nine parking levels will be partly located below and partly above the principal level of the Center, the principal pedestrian movements will be centralized at a midway garage floor that corresponds to the level of the World Trade Center Avenue Viaduct. Pedestrian access between transportation modes and exits into the surrounding area will take place primarily at the level of the viaduct.

Several significant pedestrian facilities have been proposed at the viaduct level to integrate the Center into the Seaport and provide connections to business centers and activities in the area, as well as transportation modes that are focused in the area. These viaduct level facilities include:

1. A garage floor that also serves a concentration of a large number of pedestrian movements made at this level.

  • Pedestrian paths could be marked or painted for walkers on the garage floor or developed with imaginative lighting. These walkways would make walking through this large garage safer for walkers by providing a clear path and a physical reminder and warning to drivers. The viaduct level in particular will have many pedestrians.
  • It would be helpful to begin the proposed wayfinding system within the garage with emphasis on information at the elevators and at the viaduct level of the garage. A substantial installation of signs could direct arriving patrons from parking locations toward appropriate exits and show the multiplicity of potential destinations that can be reached by each of the major exits.
  • Smart phone apps could be developed to provide detailed information for pedestrians to use on their phones or pads to find specific routes to desired destinations.

2. A proposed pedestrian bridge between the Transportation Center and the existing Waterside Place building for residents who will be using the garage. The bridge will be connected into the pedestrian network provided for the viaduct level of the Center.

  • Although the bridge will not be used for access between the Center and Congress Street by non-residents, it should be integrated with the wayfinding and pathway system devised by the proponent.

3. A midblock pedestrian walkway between D Street and the World Trade Center Avenue Viaduct on the south side of the Center structure is proposed to aid pedestrians in reaching the variety of destinations around the Center. The walkway provides pedestrian connections from the World Trade Center Avenue Viaduct and the John Hancock and other buildings along D Street. The walkway, to be built primarily at viaduct level (although it slopes down to meet the grade of D Street), will be approximately 18’ wide, well-lighted and roofed for the majority of the distance between the streets that act as a boundary of the Center.

  • This long (xxx) walkway does not seem to be overlooked by any people other than those on the walk itself. We request that MassPort provide some details about how the security of walkers will be assured.
  • This walkway should be weather-protected on the side facing the MassPort Haul Road.
  • The walkway should be signed to guide pedestrians to destinations on either side of the Center. Signage should be integrated into the overall wayfinding network for the Center and proposed networks for the surrounding area.
  • The walkway could be enhanced by the addition of facilities such as benches for walkers and intervening electronic posters or interactive displays to enliven the area.

4. Pedestrian plaza facing D Street. The D Street (east) side of the Center will include a generous landscaped plaza as a major contribution to upgrading the current appearance and softening the edges of the structure.

  • This plaza should also be signed and designed with paths to guide pedestrians to destinations on either side of the Center. Signage should be integrated into the overall wayfinding network for the Center and the district.

5. Pedestrian plaza facing World Trade Center Avenue Viaduct. A large public open space will be provided on the viaduct (west) side of the Center. It will provide space for direct access from the viaduct into the Transportation Center, with connections into the adjacent MBTA World Trade Center Station, a shuttle bus drop-off location on the street, landscaping, bicycle parking (and possibly repair) and information kiosks. Significantly, it will include a covered walkway between the viaduct and the Center. This covered walkway will become part of an extended covered pedestrian facility that will extend between Congress and Summer Streets.

  • The new covered walkway will be a major feature of this project and a harbinger of the future pedestrian network that will extend beyond this location and connect between both the World Trade Center and the Boston Convention and Exposition Center. It should protect pedestrians in all weather conditions.
  • The covered walkway should also be an integral portion of the wayfinding network for the Seaport area. A central focus could be an interactive display that helps walkers find their desired destinations, and tells each how long the walk will be for them in the minutes 3 required to make the connection. The proposal calls for displays of real-time modal availability and schedule information, interactive kiosks and bicycle parking and possibly the availability of pedi-cabs.
  • This large setback seems to set the stage for a future land use that faces World Trade Center Avenue. We think that lively uses along the Avenue would be a good addition to the area’s pedestrian environment.

WalkBoston is excited about the generous additions of elements in this project that will enhance and encourage pedestrian movement throughout the area. Thank you for your consideration of our comments.


Bob Sloane
Senior Planner

Comments on the Final Environmental Impact Report for the Redevelopment of the Government Center Garage, MEPA #15134

Comments on the Final Environmental Impact Report for the Redevelopment of the Government Center Garage, MEPA #15134

October 24, 2014

Secretary Maeve Vallely Bartlett
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA)
Attn: MEPA Office EEA #14069
100 Cambridge St., Suite 900
Boston MA 02114

RE: Comments on the Final Environmental Impact Report for the Redevelopment of the Government Center Garage, MEPA #15134

Dear Secretary Vallely Bartlett:

WalkBoston has reviewed this document to identify potential implications for pedestrians. We offer the following comments.

Sidewalk Widths
The FEIR contains detailed drawings of sidewalk widths at all locations, and WalkBoston believes that the widths are completely adequate, except as noted below at the outer bus bays facing the Greenway. On map B.2 – Conceptual Improvement Plan, Bus Bays #4, 5, and 6 are shown with sidewalks that are only 8.5 feet wide, compared with those of Bus Bays #1, 2, and 3, which have 15 foot sidewalks without encroachments. Bays 4, 5, and 6 also appear to have a line of windbreaks that encroach on the 8.5’ width. No benches are shown, but the text response to our DEIR comments states that, “Additional measures, such as windbreaks and seating areas will also be incorporated into the reconfigured Haymarket Bus Station area.” The relatively narrow sidewalk coupled with windbreaks and potentially benches as well, could make the sidewalk uncomfortably narrow and crowded at Bays 4,5, and 6. We urge the proponent to consider a modest re-distribution of space to provide wider sidewalks at these bus stops.

Truck loading bays
WalkBoston continues to be concerned about loading docks that require trucks to back from the major adjoining streets into the building. Two of these streets are major access ways into Central Artery (I-93) and will require very careful operation to be safe for both pedestrians and other vehicles. Clear and enforced management should stipulate that they will not be used, except in emergencies, during daytime working and peak travel times.

Cut-ins on sidewalks
Cut-ins proposed on three sides of the East Parcel and two sides of the West Parcel should also be managed to reduce conflicts with pedestrians as loading and unloading occurs from vehicles. Management of the site should ensure that use of the cut-ins for deliveries (not for guest or resident drop off) is minimized during busy portions of the day or evening.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important project. Please feel free to contact us if there are any questions.


Robert Sloane
Senior Planner