Special to the Times
The Boston Planning & Development Agency and Boston Transportation Department announced on Thursday, Jan. 19, the findings of the 2022 Copley Connect pilot program via the launch of a storymap that details the data collected over 10 days last June.
Following the success of the pilot, transportation planners with the BPDA and BTD intend to study permanent improvements to Dartmouth Street between the Boston Public Library and Copley Square Park that would improve the public realm between three of Boston’s most popular civic spaces and formally unify Copley Square, according to a press release from the city.
During the pilot, the space was opened to pedestrians and closed to non-emergency vehicular traffic. This new public space maintained the existing bike lane and featured café seating, food trucks, performances, dance lessons, and library programming over the course of 10 days. An emergency vehicle lane was also incorporated into the Copley Connect design for Dartmouth Street. Emergency vehicle access on Dartmouth Street will continue to be an important design consideration.
The majority of the feedback following the pilot was overwhelmingly positive, with many visitors saying they would visit the area more frequently if it was made a permanently car-free space. BTD and BPDA staff engaged with approximately 1,000 people over the course of the event. Staff provided a survey on site and online for those who could not attend or did not get the chance to fill one out in person.
“We saw this summer how Copley Connect brought people together to build community and opened up biking and walking without substantially adding to traffic,” Mayor Michelle Wu said in a press release. “The data shows that open streets can spark economic and community vibrancy when we make them safe. We will continue to work with residents and local organizations to reimagine how our streets work for us.”
Added Chief of Planning Arthur Jemison: “I want to thank our partners in BTD for working with us to create such a successful pilot program. We look forward to continuing to work together to see how we can make this space on Dartmouth Street work best for Bostonians and all those visiting our great city going forward.”
Chief of Streets Jascha Franklin-Hodge said in a press release: “The Copley Connect pilot showcased the creative ways that we can use the shared space of the streets to benefit more people. We appreciate the partnership of the BPDA as we continue to explore the possibilities of connecting these important spaces in the City.”
Transportation planners collected data before and during Copley Connect to understand how the pilot impacted walking, biking, and driving activity on City streets. An analysis of motor vehicle routes in the area found that travel times during the pilot were generally comparable to pre-pilot travel times, with minimal time added onto trips. The analysis found that lower traffic volumes made Dartmouth Street more comfortable for biking. These results have encouraged the BPDA and BTD to advance the Copley Connect Long-Term Design Strategy, which will identify concepts for the redesign of Dartmouth Street and identify ancillary changes to nearby streets, as needed, according to the city.
There are a number of factors the City and BPDA examined during the pilot initiative including the impact on the surrounding street network and the use of the open street space. During these 10 days, staff engaged with the public about the pilot and how they think this space should be used moving forward. In addition to the ongoing community engagement throughout the duration of the pilot, the BPDA held a “Chat With a Planner” event on site, in which community members spoke with neighborhood planners about the initiative.
Besides this initiative, the Boston Parks and Recreation Department is in the process of making improvements to Copley Square Park, which borders Dartmouth Street. These improvements will protect and enhance existing trees, strengthen the connection between the Square and the Library, improve the existing fountain, provide lush green space for enjoyment and habitat, and create new opportunities for seating and gathering, as a way to reinvigorate the area as a community gathering space, according to the city.
At its last monthly meeting on Thursday , Jan. 19, the BPDA board of directors on Thursday, voted to authorize a request for proposals (RFP) to engage a consultant design firm for a one-year term to study making permanent improvements to the Dartmouth Street right of way.