“People’s Pike” is a group of citizens with concerns about the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s I-90 Allston Interchange project, the main goal of which has been to replace the deteriorating Massachusetts Turnpike viaduct. The People’s Pike group is concerned mostly with improvements to the project for local access. A new commuter rail and bus terminal has already been promised, but the management of traffic entering and leaving the Turnpike, and development of the adjoining 23-acre Beacon Yards, an abandoned railroad yard, raise many questions. An active task force with many People’s Pike members has met repeatedly with project planners and contractors, but many issues remain unresolved. I published the comments below as a post on the People’s Pike Facebook page. In the interest of finding a wider audience for my comments, I publish them here as well.
Bicycle and pedestrian access, and as suggested at last week’s Task Force meeting, bus access too, across the tracks at the new West Station are laudable improvements. So is the proposed replacement of the Franklin Street bicycle/pedestrian overpass.
A bicycle and pedestrian overpass over Soldiers Field Road is also certainly nice, but all of the connecting east-west routes which the project planners have proposed cross multiple multi-lane streets carrying traffic to and from the Turnpike.
Last week’s Boston Redevelopment Authority presentation showed a grid of 6-lane streets, with bicycle and pedestrian amenities alongside them, typical of what is built when there is no other choice but to put them in street corridors at grade level.
This is the story I’ve seen, over and over, at one meeting after another, with minor variations. There was no People’s Pike in the proposals at last week’s meeting, but instead, People’s Pillar to Post, with long waits at intersections and bizarre swerves across three lanes of motor traffic to prepare left turns.
It doesn’t matter whether the bikeway is behind a row of parked cars, as in the Boston Redevelopment Authority proposal shown at last week’s meeting, or in a nice green linear park on one side of New Cambridge Street, as shown at the MassDOT public hearing late last year. The heavy cross traffic at the intersections guarantees danger and delay. (Delay for motorists, too, not just bicyclists, I might add. There are only so many seconds in the minute, and dividing them up more ways to accommodate conflicting traffic streams gives each of them less time, and requires wider streets to hold the backup…)
The Mass Pike and Soldier’s Field Road at North Harvard Street and downstream of it have grade separations now and will have them in the new plans. There is a grade separation for the Paul Dudley White Path under the BU Bridge, and there is one planned at the Anderson Bridge.
If there is to be a People’s Pike, it too should have grade separations where it crosses the heavily-traveled streets which lead to and from the Turnpike. If not, we’re right back to the situation we have now, only with even more problem intersections.
We aren’t retrofitting an existing street network here. We are constructing an entirely new cityscape, offering the opportunity to do it right. The added cost is minor if the plan takes advantage of elevation changes which will be necessary anyway for West Station and the Turnpike ramps.
As the Beacon Yards project is on Harvard University property, I don’t think that I am being presumptuous in pointing out that there is already an important grade separation on the Harvard campus — in Cambridge, the Cambridge Street tunnel. That must have been very expensive to construct, as the four-lane street had to go below ground level, but Harvard and the City determined that it was worth the cost. Taking a path over or under a couple of Turnpike ramps is a much smaller challenge.
[Task-force member] Ari Ofsevit has already put forward a proposal for a connection from West Station to the Charles River, not crossing any streets. That is half of a People’s Pike, and it could be extended with all-important links to the Boston University east campus and to Cambridge.
At the other end of the project, there is width under the Cambridge Street Bridge for a path on one side or the other of the Turnpike, maybe both sides, with some careful design. Do we need a Turnpike ramp extending under the bridge, taking up the present empty space on the north side of the Turnpike? Will the railroad under the bridge on the South side need to have 4 tracks, as at present? If the answer to either of these questions is “no”, there you have it: a grade-separated connection from North Allston into the project area. (The south-side connection would use the Franklin street overpass — I like the north-side idea better, because the route is more direct.)
The signalized crossing at Lincoln Street also is tolerably good, if a tunnel under the Turnpike remains, as at present.
The remaining issue is of connecting the west end of the project with West Station on a grade-separated path. And while we’re at it, making this into a linear park.
That is the laudable goal which People’s Pike originally set out, and I don’t think for one second that any of us should settle for less.