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Information Regarding North End Concerns on Connect Historic Boston (Cycle Track) Project

The following information was submitted by Kay Barned-Smith, CCM, AIA, Public Works Construction Management and Connect Historic Boston Project Manager. 

Please note there is a North End Construction Update meeting scheduled for June 15, 2017, 6:00 p.m. at the Nazzaro Center, 30 N. Bennet Street. See the flyer.


In response to a number of concerns received by the City of Boston from residents in the North End and as enumerated in a recent articles in the North End Waterfront.com newsletter (May 11, 2017 and May 16, 2017), the following information is provided: Specific issues raised and clarified are:

a) Poor sight lines around curves and driveways,
b) Narrowing of vehicle lanes,
c) Loss of resident parking,
d) Inadequate drainage and ponding,
e) Poor signage, and traffic signalization
f) Replacement of brick sidewalks with concrete


The Connect Historic Boston project is a joint effort between the City of Boston and the National Parks Service, although over fourteen city and state agencies were involved in its development. It encompasses five areas in Boston-the West End, the North End, Constitution Road, the Blackstone Block and Joy St. in Beacon Hill. It is funded in part by a TIGER Grant from the US DOT, as administered by the Federal Highway Administration and is subject to ongoing review and approval of all changes to the work.

The Connect Historic Boston initiative is aimed to improve sidewalk conditions, lighting, and way finding around the city. A priority is public safety and to that end a dedicated cycle track separates cyclists from vehicles, and sidewalks are replaced to meet accessible guidelines in particular for those impaired, disabled or infirm.

The community process for this initiative started in 2011 and through meetings, working sessions, and community input, the concerns noted in discussions and emails were addressed during the design phase of the project. In addition to a public hearing for Freedom Trail modifications, and a public hearing for the 25% design, 8 stakeholder meetings and 6 public meetings were held with various constituencies. Those in the North End were as follows:
11/12/13: Stakeholder Meeting – North End Little League
11/20/13: Public Meeting – Commercial Street Cycle Track (North End)
12/19/13: Public Meeting – Commercial Street Cycle Track (North End)
1/28/14: Public Meeting – Commercial Street Cycle Track (North End)

During design, the City of Boston maintained a program website to update all stakeholders about the ongoing design process and upcoming informational opportunities. For construction, the website was migrated to the Public Works Department website and formatted to function as a construction update for all stakeholders. However, a summary of the design website outlining the goals of the project, with graphics, is available at http://keepbostonmoving.org/portfolio/connect-historic-boston/


For the design phase, the Consultant, Howard Stein Hudson with the Boston Transportation 2 Department (BTD) performed detailed engineering studies for roadway layout. Construction began in April 2015 and as it progressed, a number of concerns raised by residents were reviewed and adjustments made where feasible. A few examples are:

  • Additional striping and an adjustment of parking spaces were made at the Charter St. intersection to address the concerns of area residents about vehicles turning onto Commercial from Charter St. BTD also determined the removal of charter bus parking near the skating rink to further mitigate traffic at this intersection.
  • A reconfiguration of the cycle track in front of Lincoln Wharf (357 Commercial St.) was made in order to address the concerns expressed about drop off/pick up of building residents, particularly in relation to the older residents in the complex.
  • The street parking layout was modified at the Mariner condo (300 Commercial St.) to provide better visibility on exiting the garage.
  • The project scope of work at Commercial Wharf was revised in order to allow Owners the time and opportunity to review options to widen access into their parking lot.
  • Adjustments were made to work at the Coast Guard building entries for ease of access.
  • A complete review and revisions to the grading of sidewalks and roadway were made to ensure that optimal draining of all surfaces is achieved.

Response to Itemized comments:

(a) Sight lines: The City has reviewed questions about the design of the driveways at Union Wharf as raised by the residents of Union Wharf concerned about visibility when exiting the parking lots. Some residents have expressed the opinion that the bump outs along this stretch are incorrectly installed. During the design, a site distance analysis determined that the bump outs in these locations were necessary to protect cyclists from left turning vehicles into the driveways. Since left turning vehicles travel at a higher speed than those from right turns, the bump outs as located allow greater visibility of cyclist traveling EB/SB on Commercial St. for the left turning vehicles entering the driveway. In addition to defining the parking lane, the bump outs serve to define the travel lanes, and in this location nearby bump outs are close enough to put the traffic in the appropriate travel zone for northbound traffic. However, in addition to signage, the project will install additional pavement markings to help mitigate parking too close to the driveways and will monitor these locations accordingly.

(b) Lane width: The cycle lanes on Commercial St. have been replaced by a dedicated cycle track; this is an ongoing effort throughout the City to segregate cyclists, pedestrians and vehicles. This plan removes on both sides of the street the zone that was often used for double parking by various vehicles, an oft-cited complaint. The new ‘road diet’ that will be in place at the project’s end will make double parking more difficult as well as working as a traffic-calming measure that forces traffic to slow while still meeting the traffic load that the road bears. The new city-wide reduced traffic speed of 25 mph city wide will also help with these concerns.

(c) Loss of parking: The project has sought to balance maintaining parking spaces with traffic safety; few if any parking spaces have been permanently lost due to the project. Alternately, additional parking has been added to the neighborhood by the removal of buses in front of the Steriti Skating Rink and at Hanover St. Per City requirements, parking 3 taken during the work day reverts to residential parking at the end of each work day. No more than 20 spaces are allowed to be taken during the day in any one work zone. To respond to complaints about double parking vehicles and delivery trucks, the City has increased enforcement in the area and at the same time, the Transportation Department is reviewing delivery options and signage.

(d) Ponding: Drainage throughout the project sites has been upgraded to meet the decree consent under which the Boston Water and Sewer Commission installs new work. The subsurface work has undergone numerous adjustments due to conflicts with documented and undocumented underground utilities. Once areas are finished and paved, any areas of ponding are reviewed and addressed. As noted previously, as conditions have changed all areas have been reviewed and grading adjusted to mitigate potential ponding. Some areas where ponding exists are not yet complete; this is particularly true at some driveways that have not yet been replaced. However, due to the limited public right of way typically found in dense urban locations the limits of grading are constrained due to property lines and physical impediments such as building faces. The design improves the pre-construction conditions within these constraints.

(e) Signage and Signalization: Final signage, as well as traffic signalization for the entire project is not yet complete as the project continues in construction. Traffic timing is finalized at the time at which the Transportation Department accepts the system. Adjustments are made as the traffic is monitored and timing modified. A delay in this work was encountered when a software problem was discovered in the new traffic controllers. The effort to find and resolve this issue has taken several months but it appears that we may have a resolution now in place. Cycle track signage is in place in some locations as areas are finished; these are correctly installed. Neither signage nor dedicated cycle lights are yet complete; areas of the cycle track that are paved are not yet functioning as part of an entire network. Since the cycle track is in partial use, the City is developing a graphic to explain the various wayfinding paths for cyclists where alternate paths are available. This is relevant especially at Steriti Rink, where the cyclist can either head to Charlestown or Beverly St. via Lovejoy Path, or remain on Commercial to Keany Square to use either the North Washington St. Bridge from that location or continue elsewhere.

(f) Replacement of Brick Sidewalks: There have been numerous concerns by some condominium members about the replacement of the existing brick sidewalks with concrete, a change that has been part of the project since the beginning of design. One issue raised is the historicity of the brick and the neighborhood therefore requiring the brick be maintained. During the design phase, the project performed the required ACHP (Advisory Council on Historic Preservation) Chapter 106 review and this submission approved. This process identifies and reviews all impacts to designated historic areas. While the area in question is an old and historically significant area as well as charming tourist destination, the Commercial St/Atlantic brick sidewalks are not part of any Local Historic District (LHD) nor are they part of a LHD Protection Area. Only the building at Commercial Wharf has been submitted for landmark designation and this designation is pending. Furthermore, there are very few areas in the City whereby sidewalks are part of an historic designation; this area is not one of them.

In designated historic districts, wire cut bricks are used when existing brick sidewalks to be reconstruct. Otherwise, the City standards designate the replacement of brick sidewalks with concrete, per the Commission on Disabilities, CMR 521 and the guidelines for the proposed Accessibility Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities in the Public Right-of-Way (PROWAG). Among the features discussed, the guidelines note that “Surfaces should be smooth, stable, and slip resistant and should minimize gaps, rough surfaces, and vibration causing features. Discontinuities in the surface, such as gaps, rises, and falls should not exceed 1/8” where feasible.” Concrete is a durable, economic and easily maintainable material that best meets the surface finish recommended for ADA compliant paths.

In the City, exceptions to this include: (1) Building owners or developers may be approved to install non-standard surfaces for sidewalks at their own expense and with a lease maintenance agreement (LMA) with the City to maintain that section of sidewalk, or (2) Existing brick sidewalks are replaced in kind if residents come to an agreement during the planning process with the Disability Commission, when viability and costs can be evaluated.

Review of the project history documents shows no such requests or discussions with the Commission of Disabilities to maintain the brick sidewalks. However, during recent work, the project modified its work sequence for a limited period to allow some private Owners to explore this option. Work resumed when the option did not materialize and as necessary for work sequence. Since neither the project budget nor schedule, both of which involve federal agencies, was developed to include the cost to replace brick with wire cut brick, such a change during construction is both unfeasible if the project budget and schedule are to be met. Once the work is complete, the Hubway Station and new benches will be reinstalled. Plans to maintain the existing benches proved problematic due the deterioration both of the surfaces and the attachments of the benches to the pier.


During construction, the City of Boston has a dedicated website that outlines anticipated work in three week segments. The website is available at: https://www.boston.gov/transportation/connect-historic-boston

The website seeks to provide up to date information about ongoing and upcoming work; however, as in any construction work sequences may change due to conditions active in the field. Contact information for the City’s project manager is listed on the website. Full time resident engineers monitor each work area and are available on a daily basis as questions and coordination issues arise during active work. The City receives and responds to emails, 311 referrals and phone calls as they are received. The City also has a neighborhood services representative who lives in the area, one of whose main functions is to address neighborhood concerns as they are raised. During construction the City has attended both various public meetings, as well as many individual and small group settings with residents and commercial entities to address construction issues and will continue to do so.

Submitted by:
Kay Barned-Smith, CCM, AIA
Public Works Construction Management
Connect Historic Boston Project Manager

2 Replies to “Information Regarding North End Concerns on Connect Historic Boston (Cycle Track) Project

  1. I hate to say this but the first issue – poor sight lines around driveways – can be solved by removing parking near those driveways.

    Hard to see through cars or UPS trucks…

  2. The response to parking is completely unacceptable. I would like to see a before and after car parking availability assessment. I have before and after pictures that show that the Northend experienced a reduction in parking based on this project. There is a net loss of parking and I want answers. The original project proposal said no loss of parking and yet here we are without any real evidence this was carried out as proposed.

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