Park neighbors look at transportation issues

June 13, 2008
By

DAVID TABER

FRANKLIN PARK—Four neighborhoods and a host of institutions, including a zoo, a homeless shelter and a tennis association, came together June 6 to discuss one thing they have in common—frustration with transportation infrastructure at Franklin Park.

The Franklin Park Coalition (FPC) sponsored the meeting to announce and gather public input about a transportation study the city Parks and Recreation Department is undertaking this summer. One of the main goals of that study, FPC director Christine Poff told the Gazette, is to gather information for a long-awaited Transportation Management Plan for the park.

Meeting attendees included Joseph SanClemente of Howard/Stein-Hudson Associates, which is conducting the traffic study, Margret Dyson, director of historic parks fro the Parks Department, state Rep. Liz Malia, and Frank Johnson of the Boston Transportation Department.

The more than 40 community members in attendance expressed a wide array of at times contradictory opinions about how transportation to and through the park could be improved. They complained about high-speed roadways bordering and running through the park; poor upkeep of pathways and signage; use conflicts between walkers and vehicles such as school buses, city maintenance vehicles and golf carts; and poor public transportation access to the park, among other things.

Dyson described the effort to develop a management plan as a massive undertaking.

If Franklin Park were overlaid on downtown Boston it would stretch from the Rose Kennedy Greenway to the Public Garden, she said. “It would cover all of downtown.”

The park is bordered by JP, Mattapan, Dorchester and Roxbury, and it is home to a host of what were described at the meeting as “institutional users.” Those include Lemuel Shattuck Hospital and Shattuck Shelter, the Franklin Park Golf Course, the Franklin Park Zoo, the Parks Department maintenance yard for the city of Boston, and various sports facilities, including the Boston Public Schools-managed White Stadium.

Representatives from a number of those institutions and all of the surrounding neighborhoods attended the meeting. and their concerns were all over the map.

Passive vs. active use

While there seemed to be widespread consensus about a number of issues, the crowd expressed some disagreement over vehicular access to the park.

A number of neighbors said they would like to see vehicular access to the park restricted. Institutional interests—including the Franklin Park Tennis Association (FPTA) and the Franklin Park Zoo—on the other hand, advocated for increased access for cars.

The FPTA coordinates play at two courts near Morton Street on the west side of the park. During the summer, as many a 70 people a day take advantage of the free tennis program, said program coordinator Joe Taylor.

There is another court farther into the park that FPTA would like to utilize, Taylor said, but it is unlikely to get much use if people have to carry equipment to it on foot. “There is a road that could be made accessible just with the swing of a gate,” he said.

The tennis program mostly serves surrounding communities with large minority populations that generally do not have access to sports facilities or other opportunities to exercise, said Jeanine Laing, another tennis program organizer. “Getting people out, even if it means bringing a car, we are all for,” she said.

Among neighbors calling for fewer vehicles in the park were Martha Karchere and Leslie Belay of JP, who showed a PowerPoint presentation highlighting some of the park’s issues at the beginning of the meeting.

That presentation included a harrowing video of a person with a stroller narrowly avoiding getting hit by a school bus.

Another of Belay and Karchere’s complaints—that city maintenance trucks often block the bridge over Scarborough Pond—was addressed later in the evening by Lewis Louselsa of the Garrison-Trotter Neighborhood Association in Roxbury.

The “mixed use” of the bridge is not working, he said. “It speaks to the need for us to look at alternative access for maintenance vehicles.”

He suggested that a new entrance to the maintenance yard could be set up closer to the yard’s actual location off American Legion Highway.

Dyson described the conflict between vehicular traffic accessing the park for specific activities and passive recreational users as one of the main challenges the park is now facing.

“The tension we are looking at is that people want to access institutions like the zoo, the stadium and the tennis court very close to where we saw the bus and the stroller in the video,” she said.
It is a chronic issue, she said, made worse because park traffic has historically been funneled through Circuit Drive, a major roadway that runs through the park.

“For 70 years all access [to park] facilities was put on Circuit Drive to get it out of residential streets,” she said.

Circuit Drive

That roadway was itself the subject of much concern for park users.

Louselsa complained about school buses “flying” down the roadway in the morning.

He also said that between through traffic and park traffic, the road is usually backed up between 6 and 7:30 a.m. “Crossing Circuit Drive, there is very little pedestrian support,” he said.

Dean Rusk from the Shattuck Hospital said that institution generates about 1,200 car trips a day on the roadway, mostly between 3 and 5 p.m. Those hours were also singled out by meeting attendees as prime time for use of the roadway by city maintenance vehicles.

Dyson said the traffic study would include an analysis of when and how different institutions use Circuit Drive.

Belay said the heavily used roadway has “posed challenges for uniting the park” and bringing residents of different neighborhoods together.

During their presentation, Belay and Karchere proposed the roadway should be shut down to vehicular traffic on Sundays. The City of Cambridge shuts down a portion of Memorial Drive next to the Charles River near Harvard Square on Sundays, she said. “That’s something for us to think about.”

In a conversation after the meeting, Dyson pointed out a number of possible hurdles to the plan, including that ambulances and other emergency vehicles would likely need unrestricted access to the hospital.

In general, Poff told the Gazette, the tension between “walkers and bikers” and other park users is something “the Coalition works with all the time…The Coalition works hard to be a voice for passive park users,” she said.

Another major concern about the roadway was the placement of the MBTA’s Route 16 bus stop across from the Shattuck.

“Buses stop at the Shattuck right behind a blind turn,” said Transportation consultant SanClemente said.

SanClemente was the first to bring up the issue of the bus stop, but his concerns were echoed by a number of other meeting attendees.

Paula McDonald, shelter administrator at the Shattuck, said there have been “a couple of [pedestrian deaths] in the last years.”

SanClemente said the study would look both at safety issues and at whether the park could use increased public transportation service.

Perimeter

While the entrance to the park at Williams and Forest Hills streets—with a stoplight, crosswalk, curbcuts and a clearly defined park entrance—was singled out as an example of safe and convenient access, there are plenty of entrances that could use work, meeting attendees said.

SanClemente said his study would include an analysis of about 20 “formal and informal” park entrances. That includes one on American Legion Highway where residents complained that a Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) crosswalk leads to a brick wall that park goers then have to hop over.

Meeting attendees also repeated longstanding concerns about the fact that most of the streets surrounding the park are major thoroughfares.

In addition to Forest Hills Street and American Legion Highway, the park is bounded by Morton Street, Blue Hill Avenue, Seavers Street, Walnut Avenue and Sigourney Street.

“If the park is surrounded by freeways and not residential streets, we are in trouble because people cannot get to the park,” said Dan Richardson, a Garrison-Trotter Neighborhood Association member.

Major changes to roadways around the park would require significant capital investments and collaboration between the Parks department the Boston Transportation Department and, for American Legion Highway, the DCR.

But meeting attendees did have some recommendations should major roadway redesigns move forward.

JP resident Peter Bourn said that Jackson Square residents looked at similar issues on Columbus Avenue in the recent community planning process for that area.

Solutions they came up with included recommendations to widen sidewalks, install “neckdowns”—or sidewalk bumpouts—at pedestrian crossings and put in median strips so, “If it’s a busy, wide road you might make it halfway,” he said.

Madeline Taylor, of the Sigourney Street-Walnut Avenue neighborhood on the northwest side of the park, asked SanClemente to make sure to consider that sections of the street are underutilized because they are unsafe.

In her neighborhood, she said, “We’ve all told the children not to cross the street.”

The study

In addition to those issues, the study will also include other recommendations on how the experience of moving around in the park can be improved, SanClemente said. That could include recommendations for improving signage, and walkways throughout the park. It could also include specific recommendations for the installation of unobstructed and clearly marked bikeways through the park.

“I have to lift my bike over three walls biking from Egleston Square to work every morning,” Poff said.

Despite the broad range of issues SanClemente will have to tackle, the study will be completed in relatively short order, he said.

The plan, he said, is to do pedestrian counts over the next few weeks and present those findings at a community meeting in late June or early July.

The final report will be issued in late August or early September, he said.

The study is part of effort, advocated for by the FPC for the last 10 years, to develop a Transportation Management Plan for the park, Poff told the Gazette.

FPC has also been advocating for management plans for large event coordination, facility maintenance, and woodlands restoration and upkeep, she said.

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