Letter: Mayor should get us a new, better overpass

January 4, 2013
By

The old Casey Overpass truly does need to come down. But at the Dec. 13 MEPA hearing, MassDOT presented an at-grade design option with six signalized intersections—increasing pollution when cars stop, idle, then accelerate—that claimed the same environmental impact as a flyover bridge with no stops. (“100+ debate Casey project at hearing,” Dec. 21.) This is nonsense.

The original concept of Frederick Law Olmsted’s 1892 carriageway between Arnold Arboretum and Franklin Park was their stated conceptual source, although 24,000 cars travel the overpass daily, not carriages. MassDOT considers VFW Parkway in West Roxbury as testament to their intent. But I also drive that roadway, and very few bicycles or pedestrians travel that corridor of speeding cars. The at-grade option would not work well for anyone at grade.

Planners can get so immersed in their computer-aided design and dogma that they lose track of what happens on the ground. This emperor’s new at-grade option would certainly not be Olmsted’s intent and it would further divide Jamaica Plain’s vibrant urban village from Forest Hills’ transit station and restaurants.

This deserves imaginative urban design, not MassDOT boilerplate. The conflict between Highway 203 traffic and the JP community should be minimized with a new bridge. Not a 1950s four-lane concrete monstrosity, but a graceful bridge. Only one lane is needed each way with no stops, and an aesthetic structure, perhaps with decorative tiles. Highway traffic would flow above. Runners, walkers and saunterers, smellers of roses, would be below the bridge, not repelled, but invited to Arnold Arboretum, Franklin Park and to Forest Hills. Bicycles and buses should also be below, and very well-separated.

This is not simply a JP issue. It’s regional. I live in Ashland, working from Newton and Wellesley to the South Shore. Route 203 is a southeast arc to Dorchester, Quincy and beyond, and without a bridge the drive would become more congested for many.

With imagination, the Emerald Necklace connection could also be made as Olmsted intended between the Arboretum and park, with more pedestrians and trees, and fewer cars. It could have such tough plants as daylily, rugosa rose, sedum and ornamental grasses, and the brightly flowered annuals grown by Boston Parks’ nearby Franklin greenhouses.

Mayor Menino, please help Jamaica Plain. Boston deserves to get the Casey Overpass right a second time in JP, too, with a simple, elegant and, dare we wish, under-budget, two-lane bridge. Perhaps the Menino Overpass?

Brian Karlsson-Barnes

Ashland, Mass.

Editor’s Note: The writer works in Jamaica Plain.

Best of JP 2014