Park transportation plan shapes up

October 24, 2008
By

JOHN RUCH


Illustratiom courtesy Howard/Stein-Hudson Associates
THis illustration from the Franklin Park Transportation and Access Study shows one long-term possibility for making Circuit Drive more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly.

PARKSIDE—A rough draft of the city’s Transportation and Access Study for Franklin Park was presented to an audience of about 40 people last week at the park’s Golf Clubhouse after months of public planning.

The study by Howard/Stein-Hudson Associates is complicated and detail-heavy. Its discussion of park entrances alone identifies 24 separate spots.

At the same time, the study has very simple, basic themes for common-sense improvements to almost all areas of the 500-acre park.

The planning began this summer in response to years of requests. Franklin Park is the city’s largest park. It is also heavily used by local and regional events of all types, and is home to major facilities including the Franklin Park Zoo, the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital, the hopeFound shelter, a golf course, a sports stadium and the city’s Parks Department maintenance headquarters.

With a lack of sidewalks, bike lanes and road signs, the park’s access problems were likely obvious to everyone attending the Oct. 16 meeting.

This reporter walked to the meeting from the Jamaica Plain side of the park. The trip by necessity involved walking on eroding dirt roadsides with no park signage for guidance; walking in a parking lane; and dashing across a 40-foot-wide arterial road with speeding, high-volume traffic.

With that experience fresh in the memory, the study’s five basic improvement themes, presented by Joe SanClemente of Howard/Stein-Hudson, were largely unsurprising.

Idea One is to mark the park entrances with uniform signs. The lack of even such basic signage indicates how many access problems the park has.

Idea Two is to come up with better signage inside the park, especially about direction-finding and car-parking.

Idea Three is to evaluate and resurface paths and roadways in the park. SanClemente suggested using different materials for different sorts of paths to make
the separate uses clear.

A major proposal in this area is tackling Circuit Drive, the heavily used roadway through the park. SanClemente offered ideas for one or two bikes lanes, a shared-use (bicycle/pedestrian) path and a complete sidewalk along the main stretch of that circular road.

SanClemente said a focus of bike path ideas is making sure bicyclists can go all the way through the park on both north-south and east-west paths. Currently some riders have to haul their bikes over stone walls to get where they want to go, if they brave the park at all.

Idea Four is a historic survey of park roadways and paths, to see what can and should be altered in the long term. The park is a historic landmark designed in the late-1800s by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

Idea Five is improvement of public transit in the park. SanClemente noted that MBTA bus routes that provide access to the park vary in whether they even mention the park, and that the park does not appear on transit maps. He also noted that service is currently so inadequate that the Shattuck Hospital operates its own shuttle service from Forest Hills T Station.

In the study, these general themes shape specific recommendations for 16 areas in and around the park, including the major roadways bordering it.

Some of the suggestions address obvious problems—and even outright dangers. For example, the study notes that busy Morton Street has an MBTA bus stop but no sidewalk, crosswalk, lighting or shelter.

Other issues have no simple fixes. For example, SanClemente noted that golf cart traffic is bottlenecking on existing bridges over the park’s Scarborough Pond. One solution would be constructing another bridge, which would surely be controversial, he acknowledged. Audience members expressed little sympathy for the plight of golf cart drivers.

One topic prohibited in the study is creating any new parking lots, though adding a few spaces here and there might be possible, according to Margaret Dyson, the city’s director of historic parks.

JP resident Connie Cecil, a member of the Franklin Park Coalition (FPC) board, noted that the Parks Department is regularly underfunded and said the study should focus on cheap solutions.

“This park, even through the boom ’90s, did not get money,” Cecil said, noting the city is now slashing its budget amid the global economic crisis.

SanClemente agreed, noting the study has a short-term focus on “low-hanging fruit” issues that can be fixed quickly and relatively easily.

There was some controversy over the scope of the study, including its lack of focus on possibly relocating the maintenance facility and shutting Circuit Drive for at least part of the day.

The background to the controversy is the longtime push by parks advocates, especially the FPC, for a comprehensive park management plan. Such planning is coming in separate sections instead. For example, the FPC and the Parks Department are already collaborating on a forest management plan for the park’s wilderness area.

FPC Executive Director Christine Poff complained at the meeting about the lack of “macro-picture” issues in the study, such as Circuit Drive closures. She said that on just one recent weekend, overbooking of major events in the park resulted in rampant illegal parking and out-of-state visitors bombarding her phone with requests for driving directions.

“We need to see the micro to understand the macro,” Dyson said, adding that special events management would have to be a separate study. SanClemente added that part of the reason the study is focused on simply accessing the park is because of the sheer size of the problem doing so now.

Dyson noted that some of the issues boil down to contradictory wishes that are bound to crop up in a place with so many different kinds of uses. For example, Dyson said she understands the argument for temporary shutdowns of Circuit Drive. But, she added, part of the reason it is so heavily used is because surrounding neighborhoods years ago wanted traffic funneled to just a few main entrances.

The study was expected to be available this week in local libraries and on the Parks Department web site at www.cityofboston.gov/parks. A two-week public comment period would follow. The final version of the plan will be presented in another public meeting, probably this winter.

The study will be reviewed by the Boston Landmarks Commission. Any significant park changes would also go through various public hearings. Some roadway and other changes would also require approval by state agencies that have not been directly involved in the study so far.

Residents can send comments to SanClemente by e-mail at js@hshassoc.com; by fax at 617-482-7417; or by mail at Howard/Stein-Hudson Associates, 38 Chauncy St. 9th Floor, Boston, MA 02111.