Tag: greenway

WalkBoston Comments on Harbor Garage Redevelopment

WalkBoston Comments on Harbor Garage Redevelopment

October 9, 2020

Director Brian Golden
Boston Planning and Development Agency
Attn via email: Ebony DaRosa

Secretary Kathleen A. Theoharides
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
Attn via email: Alexander Strysky

Re: The Pinnacle at Central Wharf (Harbor Garage Redevelopment)

Dear Secretary Theoharides and Director Golden:

WalkBoston is Massachusetts’ leading pedestrian advocate. We frequently provide comments on major public and private development and infrastructure projects, with a focus on how those projects serve and affect people walking, biking and taking transit.

The redevelopment of the Harbor Garage has been under discussion for many, many years with major public disagreement about the appropriate scale and mix of uses that the project should comprise. We will not specifically weigh in on those issues because the Municipal Harbor Plan has now set the stage to allow a very large mixed-use development. And while a number of commenters will raise public process issues, broad public benefit issues and questions about the timing of required design and use standards as they apply to the timing and design of this project we look to others to provide detailed and focused attention on these issues.

Our comments focus on a more detailed and fine-grained set of concerns about the ways in which people walking, biking and taking transit to, through and next to the project will be affected.

From a site planning perspective, we believe that the current proposal has a better footprint and urban design than earlier development concepts. Improvements to the sidewalks, landscaping and scale of the pedestrian areas around the site will  contribute to a more comfortable and attractive streetscape than the existing conditions surrounding the garage. However we do have significant concerns.

Garage and loading access

Our significant and consequential comment is that garage access and egress should be removed from Atlantic Avenue in order to provide an acceptable site plan that will be safe for people walking and biking along Atlantic Avenue. 

The building site presents a complicated puzzle for the circulation of people and vehicles because all four sides of the site are public facing, each with its own personality and constituency.

Atlantic Avenue

  • Over many years, the advocacy community has invested an enormous amount of time and energy to establish and preserve the integrity of a wide and pedestrian-friendly sidewalk along Atlantic Avenue, both as a core walking route for thousands of people every day and as a component of the Rose Kennedy Greenway. We remain committed to maintaining the preeminence of this walking route. Atlantic Avenue’s significant pedestrian volumes can only be expected to grow in the coming years.

Milk Street

  • Milk Street is the primary connection from Downtown and the Greenway to the Aquarium,  serves millions of visitors every year, and will be part of the Aquarium’s planned Blueway. Special attention to this walking link to the harbor is an essential component of the site’s redevelopment.

Harbor Walk

  • The Harbor Walk is the City’s waterfront front door and pedestrian corridor with critical public realm and resiliency functions and serving thousands of walkers every day. As one of Boston’s most loved and important pedestrian assets and spaces, the Harbor Walk deserves great attention to design, programming and management.

East India Row

  • East India Row provides access to both the project site and the Harbor Towers residential development. It is used by both pedestrians and vehicles as a key link between Atlantic Avenue and these sites.

Vehicle Access

As currently configured and programmed, vehicle access into the garage for most of the garage users and all of the building deliveries will require vehicles to cross the Atlantic Avenue sidewalk. Access via this garage entrance will be for all passenger vehicles for office, retail, Aquarium and public parking, and for all loading (residential, office, retail). Egress across the sidewalk will serve all loading (residential, office, retail). As shown on the plans in the PNF, the driveway serving the garage entryway looks almost as wide as Milk Street.

According to the PNF (Table 2-7), during the morning peak hour there will be 292 vehicle trips turning across the Atlantic Avenue sidewalk – or about 5 vehicles/minute. The pedestrian data provided in Figure 2-7B indicates that under existing conditions approximately 700 pedestrians walk along Atlantic Avenue during the morning peak hour – or about 12 people/minute. The volume of vehicles turning across this busy sidewalk, without traffic signals to provide a safe time for pedestrians to walk along the sidewalk, is comparable to the right turn volumes of 238 vehicles from Seaport Boulevard onto Atlantic Avenue during the weekday PM peak hour (see Figure 2-6B), and the pedestrian volume walking along Atlantic Avenue of 738 people is also comparable. (PM pedestrian trips along Atlantic Avenue at the project site are even higher than AM trips, so a shift from garage access to garage egress would create even greater conflict.)

Bike volumes in the Atlantic Avenue bike lane are approximately 60-80 bikes/peak hour under existing conditions.

The PNF does not include projected walking and biking volumes (it does include those projections for vehicle trips). Given the rising numbers of walking and biking trips that we are seeing across downtown Boston, we request that these projections be included in the Draft EIR and PIR.

No specific information is provided about the number of loading trips that will enter and leave the building across the sidewalk. This information should also be provided in the Draft EIR and PIR.

In addition to the safety hazards of vehicles turning across people walking and biking, we also believe that vehicles exiting (and possibly entering) the garage will queue up across the sidewalk as they wait to enter the travel lanes along Atlantic Avenue (or potentially as they wait to enter the garage itself).

We do not believe that a garage and/or loading entrance into the project site should be allowed on Atlantic Avenue because it would require vehicles to turn across the sidewalk and bicycles traveling along Atlantic Avenue. We ask the City to require a shift of garage access to East India Row where it will impact far fewer people walking and biking, and where it will not negatively impact one of Boston’s premier walking routes. 

Aquarium and Harbor Towers Parking Long-Term and During the Construction Period

Because the site will continue to provide parking for the Aquarium (as required under the Municipal Harbor Plan) and also for the Harbor Towers, as well as serving the Project’s commercial, retail and residential occupants, it is not realistic to ask that the garage use on the site be eliminated. However, we urge the Proponent, the City, the Aquarium and Harbor Towers to re-examine the amount of parking included and reduce it to the greatest extent possible.  Additionally, we urge the developer to explore the feasibility of repurposing any reduction  of parking into maximizing the number of onsite affordable housing  units.. As the City is in the midst of revising its maximum allowable parking regulations, this Project should at a minimum adhere to these new lower limits. Any reduction in total vehicle trips into the site will reduce the Project impacts on people walking and biking as well as its contributions to traffic and greenhouse gas emissions.

We understand that publicly available parking spaces are needed for the Aquarium to maintain its operations – and especially in light of the financial hardship caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical to insure the Aquarium’s healthy operations when the Harbor Garage is out of service. Given that the City and the Proponent will be working closely with the Aquarium to develop a parking plan for the approximately 3-year construction period when there will be no parking at the site,  we believe it would be valuable to explore if any of the short-term parking mitigation sites may serve as a better long-term parking solution than building 500 new parking spaces.

Site Design, Operations and Management Comments

  • Pedestrian circulation around and through the development site
  • Site grade in relation to the surrounding waterfront
  • Public programming to support a lively public realm and welcome a diverse set of visitors
  • Shadow, wind and microclimate
  • Coordination with existing and future waterfront resiliency efforts that will affect people walking

Pedestrian circulation around and through the development site

Pedestrian circulation around the building, on the site and through the building seems to provide attractive pedestrian routes and easy access to all the public spaces within the development. The Proponent has noted that a variety of sidewalk, accessibility and landscape improvements will be made to enhance the walking environment.

We could not find a description of whether the diagonal interior pedestrian passage through the building would be open to the public 24/7.  We ask that the Proponent describe the operating plans for this pedestrian circulation in the next filing.

Relationship between the raised grade of the proposed site plan and the surrounding waterfront

The document provides a description of the proposed grade changes to raise the site level above projected water levels in future years, but it is not clear to the lay reader how the transition between this site and adjacent sites will affect the experience of people walking on this site or adjacent sites. Please include a detailed description and diagrams in the next project filing.

Public programming to support a lively public realm and welcome a diverse set of visitors

While the document provides several sentences describing the Proponent’s intent to provide site programming worthy of this important site and significant development, very little detail is included. We ask that the following questions be addressed in the next filing.

  • How will the Proponent ensure that people of all races, ethnicities and income groups feel welcome and included in both the interior and exterior spaces of the project?
  • What low and no-cost activities will be provided?
  • What will be the annual budget for programming of public activities on the site and how many years of programming will the Proponent provide?
  • Will there be children’s programming to align with Aquarium? Will the Aquarium have the opportunity to provide (and be compensated) for such programming?
  • How will the Proponent enliven the site during winter months?

Wind, shadow, and microclimate

We are pleased that the developer has explicitly worked to design a building façade/skin that is intended to reduce the wind impacts of the building and we look forward to seeing the wind studies that will be provided in future filings.

A project of this scale will have unavoidable shadow impacts on the streets, sidewalks and open spaces around it and this project is no exception.

Given the hope that this project will invite many people to enjoy the waterfront, we urge the developer to look in detail at ways to create comfortable outdoor spaces that are sheltered from the existing windiness of the waterfront; are shaded in the summer; and take full advantage of the sun in colder months. We suggest that the design team look at best practices for creating human-friendly microclimates on the site. This could mean spray stations for the summer, seating with solid legs and backs and wind protection for the winter, and different orientations to take advantage of the sun at every season. We look forward to learning more about the designs in the next filings.

Coordination with existing and future waterfront resiliency efforts that will affect people walking

The development plan meets the City’s resiliency guidance for the development site itself. We ask that the developer formally commit to working with the City and with other waterfront property owners and managers to ensure that public access to the HarborWalk will be safe and attractive over the long term as sea levels rise.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this significant new project. WalkBoston would be pleased to answer any questions about our comments and to meet with City or development team staff.


Stacey Beuttell
Executive Director

Moody Street Walk Assessment

Moody Street Walk Assessment

WalkBoston conducted an assessment of pedestrian infrastructure along Moody Street in the City of Waltham on April 6, 2016. The assessment focused on the most vibrant segment of Moody Street, from the Moody Street Bridge over the Charles River to the north, to the intersection with Maple Street/High Street to the south.

Read the full report here:

Mass Central Rail Trail – Wayside Branch, MEPA # 15133

Mass Central Rail Trail – Wayside Branch, MEPA # 15133

December 16, 2013
Richard K. Sullivan, Jr.
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs
Attn: Purvi Patel
100 Cambridge St., Suite 900
Boston MA 02114

RE: Comments on the Expanded Environmental Notification Form for the Mass Central Rail Trail – Wayside Branch, MEPA # 15133

Dear Secretary Sullivan:

WalkBoston has reviewed the Expanded Environmental Notification Form for the Mass Central Rail Trail – Wayside Branch. We are very pleased that this facility is being seriously examined for construction, as it is essentially the spine of a trail network that will eventually extend east-west across the full width of the state. As proposed, the new trail will extend 23 miles through eight communities, through a 19 feet wide corridor reserved for construction. The proposed trail will be 10’ wide. Its importance cannot be understated: it will serve as the main stem of a network of state-wide greenways.

Our analysis of this proposal suggests that design of the rail trail should ensure that it includes features attractive to a wide range of users, including more than pedestrians, cyclists, and in-line skaters. The trail should be designed to encourage extensive use by runners and joggers. We bring this suggestion into the current review process because it may lead to a consideration of additional width and different materials on a trail surface that provides the best possible conditions for runners and joggers.

Why is WalkBoston involved with runners and joggers? WalkBoston has become involved with runners and joggers because we work for all people on foot –whether they walk slow or run fast – all using the same facilities. For 6 years, WalkBoston has been the recipient of support from the running community through the Boston Marathon Charity program, first as a Boston Athletic Association team and subsequently with charity bibs provided by the John Hancock Insurance Corporation. Our runners have enjoyed partnerships with us and with our coaching team under a program we have called RunBoston. Our staff includes competitors who have run the Marathon and we now have a staff person who is a United States Track & Field (USATF) Certified Level 1 Coach and an Executive Board member of the Mass State Track & Field Coaches Association (MSTCA).

Why add space for runners and joggers? Running and jogging are growth industries. In 2012 over 29,000,000 people ran 50 or more days per year. Evidence of runners is often seen near pathways throughout the state, where they have made their own parallel trails, running in the grass until a semi-permanent dirt path becomes established. Recognizing that such running paths are beneficial to runners, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation has not only retained the informal paths, but is also thinking of new ways to add permanence to running paths that would fully incorporate runners and joggers in their path-making.

Why are runners different from other trail users? Runners prefer a ‘soft’ running surface, yet rail trails are most frequently constructed with a firm surface such as asphalt or concrete, chosen because these surfaces can serve the maximum number of potential users. But nearly all runners agree that a softer surface would be preferable. Concrete is uniformly cited by runners as the hardest surface – the most harmful surface for runners who want to avoid physical injuries. Paths constructed of grass, dirt, wood chips or stone dust are the four top preferred options for surfaces for running, because these surfaces are less likely to result in physical injuries such as a twisted ankle, shin-splints, sprains, Achilles tendonitis or other impact-related injuries. Soft surfaces, such as stone dust, lacking pebbles or rocks that might make running dangerous, also provide runners with greater traction and more control over pace and muscle use.

What design features could encourage running? Parallel running paths could be on both sides of the trail or on only one side, where a path would need to provide for two-way running traffic. The running path could be immediately adjacent to the paved trail or separated from it by a few feet. The path could be from 2-6 feet wide and should be as nearly free of camber in cross-section as possible. The former use of the corridor for rail service means that the gradient of the trail will be easily manageable for runners. Special signage is not necessary, as the alternative trail surface provide explanation for the existence of the addition to the trail.

A separate, parallel path would be useful for runners and possibly walkers as well. Such a path could not only provide the running surface runners prefer, it would also remove runners from the stream of bicycle and pedestrian traffic on the principal portion of the trail. Walkers could also use the path if they prefer a soft walking surface or would like to be somewhat removed from other trail traffic.

Where have running surfaces and separate facilities been provided? The 10 mile long Battle Road footpath is the best-known example in Massachusetts, as it provides a stone dust surface for its entire length between Lexington and Concord.

In Janesville, WI, off-street sections of the proposed bicycle path system are designed to meet AASHTO guidelines and WisDOT recommendations. A 10-foot two-directional paved path is the intended design for most sections. These off-street path segments are required through local regulations to include a two foot wide crushed gravel shoulder on at least one side to accommodate runners and walkers.

In Colorado Springs, CO, the Design Guidelines for US 24 Rural Section 25 include two types of trails paralleling the highway: primary trails, usually 12’ wide and paved with concrete; and secondary trails, adjacent soft surface trails, varying in width and designed to accommodate walkers, joggers and equestrian users.

In Denver, CO, several local trails provide both hard-surface and soft-surface parallel trails. The same approach has also been used in St.Louis, MO, Scottsdale, AZ., Minneapolis, MN, Newark, DE, at several locations in Florida, and along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in Maryland.

How can a soft surface be added to the Massachusetts Central Rail Trail project?
The proposal for this rail trail includes a specified right-of-way (negotiated with the MBTA) 
that is 19 feet wide. Within this right-of-way, a 10-foot wide path is proposed to be constructed. The 9-foot space that remains will provide a buffer to neighboring land uses, but a portion of it might be used for a running path, which could be constructed at the same time as the proposed rail trail. This space may vary in width as the rail trail passes over or under bridges, or near physically dangerous, precipitous banks. Locations where it is impossible to construct a parallel path might be avoided by requiring runners to rejoin the main path for a limited distance.

What costs might be incurred? Anticipated costs for construction of a running path vary considerably, but brief research suggests that the use of stone dust appears to cost less than asphalt. This would need to be corroborated.

Adding separate elements for runners fits with the state’s self-image as the most well- known and important marathon running state in the country. The running trail would clearly support the burgeoning running shoe industry that includes three shoe-building companies with headquarters in Massachusetts. Because of its considerable length, the rail trail could well serve as a training facility for runners who are vying for a running bib for the Boston Marathon. It could serve the Boston Athletic Association, which has just declared its intention to form a high-performance elite team to dig in and focus on creating a national-caliber and, hopefully, a world-class-caliber team that lives and trains in the Boston area. The trail just might also provide the setting for preparing a winner for the annual race in April!!

We appreciate your consideration of our comments and look forward to your responses to them. Please feel free to contact WalkBoston with questions you may have.


Wendy Landman
Executive Director

Cc Joe Orfant, DCR
Dan Driscoll, DCR
Paul Jahnige, DCR
Craig Della Penna, Mass Central Rail Trail , Coordinator 

Join our Mailing List to keep up to date on advocacy issues. 

Like our work? Support WalkBoston – Donate Now! 
Connect with us on Twitter and Facebook 

Environmental Notification Form (ENF) Alewife Brook Greenway MEPA #14431

Environmental Notification Form (ENF) Alewife Brook Greenway MEPA #14431

June 29, 2009

Secretary Ian Bowles
Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs 100 Cambridge Street, Suite 900
Boston, MA 02114

RE: Environmental Notification Form (ENF) Alewife Brook Greenway
MEPA # 14431

Dear Secretary Bowles:

WalkBoston is pleased to review the Alewife Brook Greenway Environmental Notification Form (ENF). We have found the proposal extremely interesting, as it expands the off-road network of trails and walkways that are so important to metro arearesidents for transportation and recreation. The ENF details improvements that will be made for both pedestrians and bicyclists on a corridor between Alewife Brook MBTA Station and the Mystic Valley Parkway that leads through Cambridge, Somerville and Arlington, and has connections to the Minuteman Pathway, the Linear Park/Community Path route into Somerville, the Mystic River parklands and future paths into Belmont and Watertown.

This is an extremely important piece of the regional trail network. We are happy to endorse its construction and even happier to realize that it may be constructed relatively rapidly as part of the national stimulus construction agenda.

In our review, we noted a few concerns of importance to pedestrians:

1. The proposed network does not provide for fully separated bicycle and pedestrian paths.
In two segments of the proposed improvement (1. Between the Mystic Valley Parkway and Broadway; and 2. between Henderson Street and Massachusetts Avenue) there appears to be a partial separation of bicycle and pedestrian paths. By contrast, there is only a single path between Broadway and Henderson Street and between Massachusetts Avenue and the MBTA Alewife Station. This will result in an effective capacity of two 10’-wide paths in the areas of separated paths and only one 10’-wide path in the other parts of the corridor. We are concerned about the safety of pedestrians in portions of the corridor where the capacity is limited. In those areas, consideration should be given to a wider cross-section on the path to accommodate potential demand.

2. The proposal does not indicate whether there will be signage to can foster safe walking. Pedestrian safety in mixed walking and cycling traffic can be an issue of concern, depending on the volume of traffic that uses the paths. While we would prefer separate facilities that are clearly designated as such, it does not appear to be feasible throughout the entire corridor. We therefore suggest that signing and warnings be provided to make the route safe for all users. This might include, for example:

  • Lane separation lines for the north and south directions.
  • Signs warning pedestrians to stay to the right of the path.
  • Signs advising cyclists to ring a warning bell as they approach pedestrians from behind.
  • Route signs designating a cyclist trail along the paths that abut Alewife Brooke Parkway.

3. The Boardwalk parallel to Alewife Brook Parkway has the potential for becoming a bottleneck, as it accommodates all path traffic in a narrow corridor. The boardwalk overlooks and is cantilevered over the river in the section extending north of Henderson Street and is one of the most accessible portions of the pathways for nearby residents. It is also close to Dilboy Field, which has occasional special sports events. If the boardwalk accommodates both pedestrians and cyclists and is closely fenced on both sides, it has the potential for becoming heavily used and potentially unsafe for people on foot. Would it be possible to widen the boardwalk to at least 12 feet in this location?

4. Seating and observation areas should be maximized.The path promises to be a very pleasant route. Many people will want to sit occasionally along the route, and children, among others, will be interested in closely examining the stream.

5. For the security of people who are using the path lighting may be appropriate. Lighting of the paths would extend their usefulness to walkers and cyclists in evening hours and in fall and winter.

6. Crosswalks may be needed in several locations. Near the Dilboy Park baseball diamonds, a fence opening and curb ramp have been provided that appear designed to help people cross Alewife Brook Parkway. The addition of a crosswalk in this location would be appropriate. Other crosswalks should be examined to cross Alewife Brook Parkway at Massachusetts Avenue, at Matignon Road, at Powder House Boulevard (two curb ramps), and at Broadway. For continuity of the path network, a Mystic Valley Parkway crosswalk should be considered at the north end of this project.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to provide comments on the ENF. Please let us know if you have any questions or need further detail.


Wendy Landman
Executive Director

Robert Sloane
Senior Planner

Cc Dan Driscoll, DCR Bicycle and Pedestrian Planner