Path Upgrades Under Discussion In Boston Common Master Plan

Planners say that 20,000 to 25,000 people per day walk through the park near the Park Street MBTA station.

Boston Common Master Plan Open House
Residents gather to discuss ideas at the Boston Common Master Plan Open House event held on Wednesday, January 15, 2020, at the Josiah Quincy Upper School.

Planners for the City of Boston are preparing a new master plan for the Boston Common under guiding principles that recognize that the park is an important crossroads for people walking between Back Bay, Beacon Hill and downtown Boston.

City planners and consulting landscape architects are midway through a 2-year planning process to create a new master plan for the Boston Common, America’s oldest park, with the recognition that the park also serves as an important transportation link for people on foot and for subway riders using the MBTA’s Boylston and Park Street stations.

City officials and project consultants from Weston & Sampson, a landscape architecture and engineering firm, held an open house for the project Wednesday evening at the Josiah Quincy Upper School in Bay Village. The project team has been soliciting public feedback since spring of last year, and they are in the early stages of developing concepts for park improvements.

For pedestrians using the park’s pathways and plazas, ideas under discussion include an improved wayfinding system, better accessibility for wheelchair users and other physically impaired visitors, and more shade along the park’s paths.

Park officials at last night’s open house said that a large number of public comments received so far have requested that the city calm traffic and improve safety on the gauntlet of dangerous, multi-lane roadways that currently surround the Common. Park officials said that major changes to those streets were outside the scope of this master plan, but another planning process underway from the Boston Transportation Department could improve access and safety on those roadways.

Planners also recognized that, while using bicycles inside the Common is technically not allowed, the lack of any other practical routes between downtown and major bikeways on Beacon Street, Commonwealth Avenue and the Charles River Esplanade means that many bicycle users ignore those rules and ride though the park anyhow. As a result, there is some discussion underway about whether an official east-to-west bike path through the park should be established.

 

Pedestrian traffic counts from Boston Common's pathways in September 2019. Courtesy of the City of Boston.
Pedestrian traffic counts from Boston Common’s pathways in September 2019. Courtesy of the City of Boston.

“It’s a major commuter route,” said Gene Bolinger, a landscape architect consulting on the planning process. “People are walking through the park to get to work, to shop… we want to make it convenient and comfortable.”

Bolinger also revealed that, of about 4500 people who responded to an online survey for the project, 80 percent said they most commonly used the park as a connector.

The master plan, which is scheduled to be finished by the summer, will then inform the City of Boston’s capital improvement plans. Some short-term improvements determined as priorities in this planning process could go under construction before the end of 2020.

Boston Common Master Plan Conceptual Rendering
A conceptual sketch of the Boston Common’s Charles Street entrance from the Public Garden, illustrating possible elements for improvement in one of the park’s primary pedestrian gateways. Courtesy of the City of Boston.

For more information, or to provide feedback to the planning team, visit:
www.bostoncommonmasterplan.com

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