The Boston Transportation Department (BTD) has announced plans to extend the Southwest Corridor to Downtown, Beacon Hill, and the West End, and will be holding community walks in the coming weeks to get feedback from residents about how the extension could help improve navigation and safety for pedestrians and bikers.
The Sun spoke with BTD Active Transportation Director Stefanie Seskin about the extension project. She said that it is one of the “priority projects” stemming from the GoBoston2030 plan that launched in 2017, and is based on the success of the Southwest Corridor in Jamaica Plain and Roxbury. “[It’s been] a really great way for people to enjoy walking and biking with families, and to get to and from their homes and transit stops,” she said.
But the Southwest Corridor currently ends in the South End, so residents of neighborhoods like Bay Village, Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and beyond do not have the same access as other neighborhoods. The vision for the project, Seskin said, is to “create a network where we can continue that idea of super comfortable walking and biking for people to get to work, access open spaces like the Public Garden and the Common, to connect in with the regional network,” such as places like Kendall Square, the Esplanade, or Charlestown.
BTD is currently looking at streets in the South End, Bay Village, downtown, and Chinatown to see how this could be achieved. They are also conducting studies on how many different pedestrians are using these streets and how they are using them, how many crashes occur, and where more accessible curb ramps are needed.
“Through the series of walks we are leading and meetings with neighborhoods, we are trying to understand experiences and stories about using these streets and listening to the places they identify as what they like or where they see challenges,” Seskin said, “so we’ll bring both of these together” when deciding what improvements to make and where to make them.
Though they are just in the beginning of the outreach phase, BTD has already met with some residents and neighborhood organizations to gather some feedback. Right now, “it’s a lot of questions and interest,” she said.
In addition to the pedestrian study, BTD will be conducting a more traditional traffic study on selected streets to see how vehicles are moving and interacting with MBTA buses, school buses, and especially downtown, tour buses. Seskin said they will also be looking at where people are going when driving through these streets.
As for cyclists, Seskin said that while there are existing sidewalks for pedestrians, there aren’t really any existing amenities for bikers on a lot fo downtown streets. “We’re trying to understand where bicyclists are coming from, where they’re going, what their preferences are,” Seskin said. She added that they also want to take into account how people from these neighborhoods are biking around when deciding how the bike network will be constructed.
Bob Barney, President of the Claremont Neighborhood Association, said that he is curious about the impact this extension will have on these neighborhoods. “Will more pedestrians or bikers come?” he wondered.
He also has questions about Northampton St., as he and others have proposed a bike path on Northampton St. down towards Albany St. as a safer alternative to biking on Mass Ave. He also wants to know specifically how cross streets will be made safer for bikers and pedestrians, as well as what impact construction near Back Bay Station might impact this extension.
“I think increased usage of the park and a safer environment are all positive things,” he said of the project as a whole.
“I think it’s about stakeholders—make sure you’ve got all the neighborhood associates that [the project] touches to provide their opinion and help.”
The upcoming community walks are as follows:
• Back Bay: Thursday, November 7 at 7:30am, 65 Beacon St.
• South End: Wednesday, November 13 at 7:30am, 400 Tremont St.
• Bay Village, December 3 at 7:30am, 10 Park Plaza
“I’m excited for our upcoming walks,” Seskin said, “and I hope that people are able to join us on their way into work.”