Arborway improvements presented

June 13, 2008


ARBORWAY—A new bike/pedestrian path. A new sidewalk. Victorian-style street signs. More trees and more attractive fencing.

Those were the potential quick imrpovements for part of the Arborway presented by a design firm this week as part of the state’s “Arborway Gateway” improvement plan.

Spurred by the local Arborway Coalition neighborhood organization, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) is planning the improvements in a fast-moving, results-oriented process that should wrap up next month. A new round of state funding would be required to construct the improvements. But the suggested improvements are intended to be inexpensive and can be carried out in phases as money becomes available.

The plan is only looking at one part of the Arborway, from the Casey Overpass at Forest Hills to the Arnold Arboretum entrance area. The plan only looks at the edges of the parkway, not at any large-scale traffic improvements.

It is known as the Gateway plan because the overpass can be considered an entrance to the historic parkway. The Arborway does not actually begin there, but it does in terms of becoming green and attractive.

Gary Claibourne of the Cambridge-based design firm Pressley Associates presented some basic improvement ideas at the June 10 meeting at the Agassiz School. DCR planner Shaun Provencher, who lives near the Arborway on St. Joseph Street, led the meeting. About 25 people attended the meeting, which was the second of three in the process. A final meeting is tentatively scheduled for July 15. [See JP Agenda.]

Basic ideas Claibourne presented included:

• Turning the entire sidewalk along the arboretum from Forest Hills to Murray Circle into an asphalt path for both bicycles and pedestrians. The path would be 12 feet wide and would have no lane striping.

• Building a sidewalk at the base of the Hillside, a wooded area between the inner and outer Arborway lanes at St. Rose Street. The sidewalk would connect the overpass with the inner Arborway. Claibourne recommended cutting the 8-foot sidewalk into the Hillside, with a low fieldstone retaining wall.

• Removing the high chain link fence from the median strip between the inner and outer Arborway lanes around the arboretum crosswalk. It would be replaced with a lower fence—about 4 feet high. Claibourne seemed to favor a more attractive steel picket fence. A new row of red oak trees, like those currently along the Arborway, would be planted. Shrubbery could also go along the fence.

• New signs with a historic look to them to welcome visitors to the Arborway and to direct bicyclists. Some of the signs would hang from old-fashioned iron crossposts. The signs would likely have Victorian-style detailing.

There appeared to be general consensus about these ideas, with only minor quibbles or suggestions from the audience. A significant complaint was that the new Hillside crosswalk would not come with any pedestrian crossing improvements at the overpass, because that would involve traffic engineering that is beyond the scope of the process. Some residents questioned how useful and safe the sidewalk would be without that kind of improvement.

The DCR is also working with local volunteers on a vegetation management plan for the Hillside. The DCR infamously clear-cut part of the Hillside last year, sparking neighborhood controversy that led to the Gateway planning. The general idea is to leave the Hillside as it is—wooded and semi-wild.

One element not addressed in the Pressley Associates designs is an informal trail neighbors have blazed along the Hillside.

“My opinion is, I think the trail out there is fine the way it is,” Claibourne said when questioned by residents. He said it shows little sign of erosion and is nicely laid out, adding that there appears to be no reason to pave it. Provencher noted that turning it into a formal path could also lead to design challenges, because then the path would have to meet handicapped accessibility requirements.

Pressley Associates’ design ideas are still open to tweaking. Provencher said images of the designs will be available on the DCR web site at within a week.