City Unveils Proposed Designs for State Street in Downtown Boston

A quick-build protected bike lane has been added to State Street in downtown Boston, pictured in October 2020, as part of the city's Healthy Streets initiative. Courtesy of the City of Boston.
A quick-build protected bike lane has been added to State Street in downtown Boston, pictured in October 2020, as part of the city's Healthy Streets initiative. Courtesy of the City of Boston.

The City of Boston is proposing widened sidewalks, a permanent protected bike lane, and other upgrades for bike riders and pedestrians as part of a complete reconstruction of State Street in downtown Boston between the Rose Kennedy Greenway and the Old State House.

State Street is a heavily-trafficked pedestrian route for office workers and tourists, but its existing sidewalks are narrow, in poor condition and create accessibility issues for wheelchair users. The vast majority of the street’s public space is set aside for cars and trucks, even though, before the pandemic, nearly twice as many people used the street’s sidewalks.

About a year ago, city officials began reaching out to plan a major reconfiguration of the street – a project that’s expected to go under construction in 2021.

While a “car-free” design concept was among the early possibilities, that design option has since been eliminated in favor of designs that maintain a single, narrower lane for moving motor vehicles.

Ashley Biggins, Project Manager for the Boston Public Works Department, presented the project’s shortlisted design alternatives in a virtual project meeting earlier this week:

The biggest variations among the remaining alternatives concern how much on-street parking and loading areas will remain – and how much of that space could be repurposed for pedestrians instead. Four options are being considered for the block between Merchants Row and Broad Street, and two options for the block closest to the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

But no matter which options the city chooses, all of the alternatives under consideration share characteristics that will significantly improve State Street for the majority of people who use the space without a motor vehicle. Crosswalks will be shortened, sidewalks will be expanded, and bicyclists will get an upgraded connection – including a proposed protected intersection where State Street meets the I-93 Surface Road:

One of two design options being considered for a reconstructed State Street next to the Aquarium Blue Line station entrance in downtown Boston. A second option being considered for this block would narrow the sidewalks slightly and install a floating bus stop for tour buses on the north side of the street. Courtesy of the City of Boston.
One of two design options being considered for a reconstructed State Street next to the Aquarium Blue Line station entrance in downtown Boston. A second option being considered for this block would narrow the sidewalks slightly and install a floating bus stop for tour buses on the north side of the street. Courtesy of the City of Boston.

The city is also proposing that State be built as a “flush street,” or a street without curbs, in its narrowest section between the Custom House Tower and Kilby Street.

“A flush street provides opportunities to reconfigure a street for special uses or events,” explained Biggins during the city’s design presentation.

Biggins noted that a similar design was recently implemented on Union Street, just a couple of blocks away, and has proven itself invaluable as flexible space for nearby restaurants during the pandemic. Bollards, planters, and other street furniture would be installed along the vehicle lanes to prevent vehicles from parking on sidewalks and in bike lanes.

The city's proposed reconstruction plan for State Street next to the Custom House Tower would widen sidewalks and limit on-street parking at Broad Street. Courtesy of the City of Boston.
The city’s proposed reconstruction plan for State Street next to the Custom House Tower would widen sidewalks and limit on-street parking at Broad Street. Courtesy of the City of Boston.

The city of Boston is soliciting feedback on the proposed designs in an online survey.

A separate survey is also accepting feedback on the quick-build bike lanes that were recently installed on State Street.

The Public Works Department expects to choose a preferred plan in January, refine its construction plans over the spring and summer, and begin work before the end of 2021.

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