Park program to hold car-free day on Green St.

June 22, 2012
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A new program to get more people into city parks will close Green Street to cars on Sun., July 15 so that people can “walk, bike, roll, skate or dance” in freedom.

The “Open Streets” event is part of Circle the City, a new program headed by Jamaica Plain resident Jessica Parsons. Circle the City will debut with a separate June 24 festival in Franklin Park.

Circle the City was named for its initial idea to connect all of the Emerald Necklace parks with some type of event. That’s not happening any time soon. Instead, Circle the City is holding three smaller pilot events, with the first two in JP, followed by an August Open Streets program along the Rose Kennedy Greenway downtown.

“Sometimes you start…with a community you know will mostly embrace the concept, a community maybe more used to having festivities in their neighborhood,” Parsons said, explaining why the already highly park-friendly neighborhood of JP is getting the early Circle the City attention.

Circle the City is a coalition program whose partners include the local Boston Cyclists Union (BCU) and Franklin Park Coalition, along with the City of Boston and several other groups. It is headquartered at the Emerald Necklace Conservancy in the Fenway.

The June 24 kickoff festival will focus on sports and fitness events for adults and children, and also will have food trucks and a performance by the Boston Pops brass ensemble.

The July 15 Open Streets event will close the entire Green Street corridor between Franklin Park and Jamaica Pond Park—including Glen Road, Myrtle Street and part of Pond Street—to traffic and parked cars from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Major street crossings will remain open to traffic.

The idea is to encourage people to be physically active, and to show them that some of JP’s great parks—including the Southwest Corridor Park in the middle of the route—are within easy walking distance of each other.

“[It’s about] people being able to be on a street that is usually reserved for cars,” Parsons said.

The event will include some type of entertainment and educational programming, likely from such groups as the BCU and the Jamaica Plain Historical Society. But it will not be a street festival or parade.

“We have high hopes for the Circle the City program and what it can do this year to change people’s thinking about what’s possible next year,” BCU Executive Director Pete Stidman told the Gazette, praising similar programs in other cities. “It’s just an amazing feeling to be walking or riding a bike with thousands of people on a street that is normally simply a venue for cars getting from A to B.”

Parsons said she has spoken with many neighborhood associations and businesses along the corridor about the plan. But she acknowledged that Circle the City has avoided publicizing Open Streets until recently, in part because of possible “negative reaction” to the car ban. Some businesses are concerned about customer access, she said, adding that the event likely will increase business because of foot traffic. Circle the City is imitating similar street closures in other U.S. and international cities that have seen such benefits from it, she said.

Parsons said she aims to use the parking lot at 500 Amory St. for local residents to park their cars temporarily.

Circle the City originally had more ambitious plans to do Open Streets somewhere such as Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester, where access to Franklin Park actually is difficult. Another idea for a pedestrian-unfriendly corridor was to close the Arborway, including the Casey Overpass. But those ideas were deemed too politically difficult in discussions with City of Boston officials, Parsons said.

But Circle the City will continue and hopes the pilot programs will help to expand the work to where it is needed, she said. She said that doing Open Streets on part of the Jamaicaway “would be fantastic.”

The program is also considering pairing up with a Columbus Day event where the Museum of Fine Arts and other area museums hold open houses, she said.

Circle the City currently has two-year funding from the Barr Foundation and the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation. But it is seeking long-term funding to become a permanent program.

For more information, see emeraldnecklace.org/eposter.

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