|What became of the "crown jewel" of the Emerald Necklace?|
It's hard to believe now, but the Charlesgate was once the "crown jewel" of Frederick Law Olmsted's Emerald Necklace of parks in Boston. In the mid-60s it was covered by the Philip G. Bowker Overpass, in the urban renewal era when it was believed that urban freeways were the key to prosperity and blight elimination. State Senator Bowker was, apparently, the deciding vote in elbowing through the related Storrow Drive plan. Although the notion of building a parkway through the riverfront Esplanade was opposed by both Mr. and Mrs. Storrow, once they had died, elements in the state senate sought to install a major freeway in the parkland area that the Storrows had loved and supported. The first effort failed, but the second effort was held open until they got enough votes to push it through. With the induced traffic on Storrow Drive clamoring to get south to Boylston Street, and the construction of the Mass Pike Extension underway, it is only appropriate that Bowker's name got attached to this overpass.
|Example map with level-of-service grades. (courtesy: MassDOT)|
Regarding the traffic levels, Paul Nelson actually made an interesting comment, though I'm not sure he has followed it through to its conclusion: "traffic may move [to other roads] but other traffic fills its location." He was referring to the model results for ramps on the Mass Pike, but it seems that it escaped him that his comment also applies to the way widening of roads brings along new traffic, the phenomenon known as "induced demand."
Fred Salvucci was also there and made some comments supporting the removal of the Bowker Overpass. He suggested that it should simply be shut down, and the effect measured in order to determine what the best course of action was to take after that. It is a waste to pump $11 million in repairs into a bridge like this. Much of the traffic on the Bowker now is headed to Longwood. He pointed out that the Worcester line is going to be upgraded shortly because the state purchased it from CSX, and it will have double-tracking through Brighton and the Back Bay, greatly increasing its capacity. He also pointed out that three-car trains on the Green Line will become more common and that will greatly ease crowding in the trains right now. Both of those offer alternatives for Fenway and Longwood commuters; especially with the new Yawkey station as Marc, the blogger of Transit On the Line, noted. Fred also pointed to Octavia Boulevard in San Francisco as a comparable overpass removal project.
Some of the comments from other residents: John S. noted that neither Bowker nor Storrow would be approved today. Don C. asked why there was no alternative without ramps. Sarah F. noted that the Charlesgate was "a really special place" but the overpass is a symbol that cars were the most important thing. Several asked why Storrow Drive was not being included in this analysis. A few years ago, there was a similar effort to start emergency repairs of Storrow Drive, because one of the grade separation tunnels was falling apart in an unrecoverable way, requiring $300 million in repairs. It has been shored up for the past few years but it will become an issue again soon. Unfortunately, the folks from MassDOT continually refused to consider Storrow Drive alternatives in combination with the Bowker Overpass. They insisted that it would be too big a problem.
|(courtesy: Friends of the Charlesgate)|
I spoke with Project Manager Paul Nelson briefly after the meeting. He seems young, and a bit earnest. The issue I had in mind was that I have long been upset by the lack of a pedestrian walk phase on Charlesgate West at Comm Ave. Technically, there is no legal or safe way to cross that on-ramp to the Bowker Overpass. Thousands of people do it every day, since it is one of the only ways to get between Kenmore and the Back Bay. I often see people getting confused, or just dodging between cars to cross it. I asked Paul if, for the time being, he could take a look at fixing that situation in the short term. He was confused, and didn't know the place I was talking about. I said "you know, next to the comic shop." He then revealed that he "was new and unfamiliar with the area." Then he asked me "there is not even a [signal] head?" and I nodded, going on to say, "there's two phases: don't walk, and don't walk because there's a turn signal arrow directing cars across your path." He agreed to look into it.
That's where we're at. The MassDOT project manager is unfamiliar with the territory his work will affect. The rest of us are all too familiar with what it's like under there.
Related: On the McCarthy Overpass meeting in Somerville.