MassDOT to Transfer Control of Downtown Greenway Streets Back to City of Boston

Atlantic Avenue at its intersection with Oliver Street and Seaport Boulevard in downtown Boston, showing pedestrians crossing the street in front of a large truck and the I-93 on-ramp in the distance.
Atlantic Avenue at its intersection with Oliver Street and Seaport Boulevard in downtown Boston, pictured in February 2022.

A decade and a half after the official completion of the “Big Dig,” the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is getting ready to transfer a dozen surface street segments around the Rose Kennedy Greenway back to the City of Boston’s control.

A map of streets being transferred from MassDOT control to the City of Boston along the Rose Kennedy Greenway.
A map of streets being transferred from MassDOT control to the City of Boston along the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

The affected streets include Cross Street and Atlantic Avenue, the two streets that run along the east side of the Rose Kennedy Greenway, and the John F. Fitzgerald Expressway Surface Road and Purchase Street, on the west side of the Greenway, plus connecting cross-streets through the Greenway, between Hanover Street in the north, and Oliver Street/Seaport Boulevard in the south (see map at left).

“This was an agreement between the City of Boston and Commonwealth of Massachusetts prior to the construction of the Big Dig whereupon we gave control of particular streets to the Commonwealth for design and construction purposes until the project was completed,” explained Chris Coakley, a spokesperson for the Boston Public Works Department, in an email to StreetsblogMASS.

MassDOT’s petition to transfer these streets back to the city’s control was approved in a meeting of the Boston Public Improvements Commission on Thursday.

“This was a long time in coming, so I appreciate the work of the many people who got us here,” said Commission Chair and Chief of Streets Jascha Franklin-Hodge.

Coakley also told StreetsblogMASS that “at this time, no streetscape projects are planned” for the streets coming back into the city’s control.

Several of these street segments, including Oliver Street, Atlantic Avenue, and the John F. Fitzgerald Expressway Surface Road, are included in the GoBoston 2030 plan’s map of proposed “better bike corridors” where new bike facilities would be physically separated from motor vehicles.

In 2013, the segment of Atlantic Avenue between the North End and South Station was also envisioned as part of the “Connect Historic Boston” project, which would have built a loop of protected cycle tracks around downtown neighborhoods (pictured below). That plan won a competitive federal grant funding in 2013, but only two segments of that proposal – on Commercial Street and Causeway Street in the North End – were ever built.

The City of Boston's "Connect Historic Boston" greenway proposal of 2013. Despite winning a highly competitive federal grant, only a few segments of this plan were ultimately built.
The City of Boston’s “Connect Historic Boston” proposal of 2013 envisioned two cycletrack loops (highlighted in blue) around the city center. Despite winning a highly competitive federal grant, only a few segments of this plan have been built. Courtesy of the City of Boston.

“These streets are key pieces to a connected network, and should be a priority for the city in the next few years,” says Becca Wolfson, executive director of the Boston Cyclists’ Union (disclosure: Wolfson also serves on the StreetsblogMASS Board of Directors). “The Rose Kennedy Greenway is an important greenspace, especially with all the investment that the city has put into activating that space, but there’s no way to get to it or ride along it safely by bike.”

Wolfson also noted that the existing paint-only bike lanes on Atlantic Avenue and the J.F.K. Surface Road are frequently blocked by hotel valet parking, taxis, and rideshare vehicles in front of the numerous hotels that line the Greenway.

In fact, Mayor Michelle Wu made the same observation in 2016, when she was still a city councilor:

 

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