The Charlesgate

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While looking at my proposal for the Mass Pike realignment, several people have pointed out that drivers should not be encouraged to use Storrow Drive, instead encouraging traffic to use the Mass Pike, so Storrow may one day be downgraded or all out eliminated. I agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly, but getting traffic off the Pike and onto Storrow is a long process that will involve exits being added to the Pike, better transit, and an assessment of what is more important to Bostonians: at-grade access to the Esplanade, or free flowing traffic.

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This used to be a park.

As part of this plan, I have superimposed a new street grid on top of the existing one. Below, you will see the Bowker overpass completely removed, with traffic exiting and entering Storrow using the at-grade roadways of Charlesgate East and West. The mainline of Storrow Drive is reconfigured as an overpass, which would be constructed of stone similar to that which carries the Riverway over Boylston street. This enables the Muddy River to be restored in this section to Olmsted’s original vision, as pictured above.

But wait, MassDOT has said this would be impossible as the traffic volumes existing and entering the Bowker would simply overwhelm the intersections!

This may be true, even though car ownership is showing to be in decline, many cars use the Bowker to access the Fens and Longwood from points east and west. But this does not mean we have to keep an overpass cutting through the heart of the Back Bay. It means we must find a way to get these users to the Fens and Longwood without having to use Storrow Drive in the first place.

As such, I have reconfigured the westernmost portion of Newbury Street into a Collector/Distributor road. Cars can enter from Mass Ave, Charlesgate East or West and Kenmore Street to access the Mass Pike westbound. Cars exiting the westbound Pike can use this same road to access Charlesgate East, Kenmore Street, and Brookline Avenue.

Removing the Bowker and consolidating the ramps at its Northern edge allow a massive amount of the Esplanade to be restored, as well as the majority of the original Charlesgate. Cycling facilities could be vastly improved, and at-grade pedestrian access is possible.

 

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As always, make sure to click for full resolution.

This is not perfect. The eastbound Mass Pike does not have room for exits in this location due to the adjacent railroad tracks. A separate project (that MassDOT and Boston University have been looking at) could address this by adding ramps at Mountfort or Saint Marys St just west of this location, while also improving a terrible traffic inducing interchange at the BU Bridge.

However, MassDOTs decision that it is not possible to remove the Bowker overpass at this location is unacceptable. It has to be, but the scope of the project must be increased far beyond the simple overpass. A systematic program of increasing the utility of the Mass Pike and other redundant roadways, improving transit and bike usage, and downgrading Storrow Drive similar to New York City’s West Side Drive should be begun. As with the Beacon Park interchange in Allston, the solution here is to look at a much wider picture.

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Mass Pike Realignment

MassDOT is planning to alter the alignment of I-90, the Massachusetts Turnpike, through Allston. With a former rail yard now unused, there is potential to straighten the mainline of the turnpike and condense a spidering mess of ramps and toll booths to open up land for development. Recently, the DOT released two conceptual plans along with announcing the project.

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MassDOT Plan 1
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MassDOT Plan 2

 

The official MassDOT plans suffer in that they are primarily designs for high speed roads: while opening up land for development is noted, it appears very little thought was put into it. In addition, the plan does little to address a traffic nightmare that currently exists at Cambridge Street, where all drivers exiting and entering the Pike are forced through a small stretch of roadway. In addition, there is a nearby parkway with even further deficient on and off ramps that further compounds the traffic situation. This parkway, Soldiers Field Road, also is directly next to the Charles River, ruining an otherwise continuous linear park along its edge. Soldiers Field Road is not under control of the MassDOT, but rather the Department of Conservation and Recreation, and it does not appear the two departments have sat down to see if they could help each other out in this massively transformative project.

For some time, this has been a pet project of mine. With the announcement and release of these deficent plans, I started working on a proposal to counter it.

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Be sure to click for full resolution.

Please be sure to let me know what you think below! Over the past few months I have already amended several elements of the plan thanks to some great suggestions from local residents, and look forward to continuing to do so.

Transit and Development

A demographic shift appears to be occurring in which the younger generation is less enamored with the “car culture” of their parents, and is choosing with greater and greater frequency to live car free. In addition, many older “empty nesters” are returning from the suburbs to the city center, desiring a more immerse environment in which to retire. Both of these trends are evident by simply gazing at the Boston city skyline: it is littered with cranes. However, there is only one project currently in the works to extend the rapid transit network, and it has been cut back from its original length; more must be done if this trend is to continue. I believe that just as the previous two generations built out a world class interstate highway network, it will be the next two generations legacy to compliment that with rail, both regional and rapid transit.

That being said, here is my vision for the MBTA at the latter half of this century:

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Be sure to click for full resolution. Beware, its large.

Almost all of my proposed extensions use existing abandoned or underused railroad right of ways. I plan a whole series explaining each extensions and it’s logistics. For now, consider this map and its google maps counterpart a teaser.