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Eyes On the Street: An Upgraded Freedom Trail Across the New North Washington Street Bridge

Two people sit on a wide granite bench with wood slats on the benchtop beneath a canopy of cantilivered steel blades on an under-construction bridge. To the left water is visible beyond a chain-link fence.

In the middle of the new North Washington Street Bridge, the sidewalk widens to make room for benches where people can take in views of Boston Harbor.

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After several years' worth of delay, the new North Washington Street Bridge between the North End and Charlestown partially opened to the general public earlier this month, while work continues on the western (upstream) portion of the new bridge.

For the past four years now, all bridge traffic – including foot traffic along Boston's famous Freedom Trail – has been confined to a narrow 3-lane "temporary" bridge running just upstream from the construction site, while workers demolished the old bridge and started building the new one.

Two weekends ago, MassDOT shifted traffic off of that temporary bridge and onto the eastern part of the new bridge. Over the course of the next year, workers will demolish the temporary bridge, then and start finishing the western portion of the new bridge, including a second sidewalk and the southbound protected bike path.

Here's a diagram of the new traffic pattern for the next year or so (Paul Revere Park in Charlestown is in the upper right, and the North End is on the left):

A diagram of construction work on the new North Washington Street Bridge. A green area in the upper right indicates Paul Revere Park, and a blue area in the middle indicates the Charles River. Through the center of the image run four colored horizontal bands: at the top, a bent red band indicates the location of the temporary bridge that was in use for the past 4 years. Labels pointing to the red band indicate that "Lovejoy Walkway closed to public access until fall 2024" and "Temporary bridge closed to public during planned demolition". Under the red band is a shorter yellow band labelled "Construction of west portion of new bridge." At the bottom is a dark grey band with a purple stripe along its bottom edge. The purple stripe is labelled "pedestrian access" and the wider grey band is marked with three lanes for motor vehicle traffic.
Courtesy of MassDOT.

At the North End entrance to the bridge sidewalk, signage notifies people on bikes that they're expected to dismount and walk across (based on our observations Thursday afternoon, compliance with this request is pretty low).

An orange sign attached to a chain-link fence reads "DISMOUNT AND USE SIDEWALK OVER BRIDGE" under a bike icon. To its left, several pedestrians walk on a sidewalk towards a bridge. In the middle of the sidewalk is a red stripe that denotes the Freedom Trail. Several pine trees are on the other side of the chain-link fence.
Bicycle users are encouraged to walk their bikes across the new North Washington Street Bridge while construction is still underway. The sidewalk (pictured) is still narrow in places, although there's more space on the northern half of the bridge.

You can see here that the sidewalk is pretty narrow here with a large utility cabinet in the middle of the walkway, but there's considerably more space further on.

In the photo below, the big canopy of cantilevered steel fins marks the midpoint of the bridge:

A pedestrian walks on a sidewalk next to some temporary crash barriers on a new bridge. To the left several cars drive on fresh asphalt, and on the left edge a crane is visible among some orange construction barrels.
Between the North End and the middle of the new North Washington Street Bridge, a temporary crash barrier and these large concrete blocks that hold temporary streetlight fixtures crowd into the sidewalk while construction proceeds on the western half of the new bridge.

Once the construction on the other side of the bridge is complete, traffic will shift further away from the sidewalk here, opening up more space for pedestrians. Most of the space between the sidewalk and the yellow lines in this photo will become a protected bike lane, as in the photo below, which shows the more-complete northern half of the bridge:

An MBTA 93 bus drives across a new bridge while several pedestrians use the wide sidewalk along the right edge of the photo.
On the northern half of the new bridge, the construction zone is narrower, and so there's more space for people. Pictured are the sidewalk and northbound protected bike lane looking towards Charlestown.

This final photo was taken just beyond the midpoint of the new bridge, looking north into Charlestown. Eventually, both sides of the new bridge will look like this, with wide new sidewalks and protected bike lanes in each direction.

According to MassDOT's current project schedule, the rest of the bridge will open to traffic sometime in late 2024.

Watch a video tour of the new bridge on our Instagram account.

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