A couple of weeks ago, there were some pretty cool-looking clouds hanging over Boston at sunset.
A couple of weeks ago, there were some pretty cool-looking clouds hanging over Boston at sunset.
The Casey Overpass is over and past. The elevated highway structure that darkened the skies over Forest Hills and divided a neighborhood (literally and figuratively) for more than 60 years is gone. I wrote several times about the multi-year process that went into the plan to remove the highway and replace it with an at-grade city street, improvements for walking, biking, and transit, and public space, but had doubts that it would ever really happen. So when the big machinery arrived this spring and began dismantling the overpass, it was a delight to watch them in action. Even more so was the dramatic change that occurred in the Forest Hills area as the sunlight was able to shine on the area and views of the Boston skyline and nearby wooded parkscapes opened up.
There’s a lot more work to be done to complete the Casey Arborway Project, and I expect the construction period won’t always be fun, but I look forward to the continuing transformation of Forest Hills from a place where cars just drive through, to a place where people live, work, shop, dine, and play.
Here are some photos I took over the course of the year showing the demolition.
There is still snow on the ground and a chill in the wind, but it is Spring in New England all the same. On Saturday, my family and I went for a walk in the Arboretum in search of signs of Spring. We visited Drumlin Farm on Sunday where the newborn lambs were a definite sign of Spring.
Every so often, I like to write about my neighborhood of Forest Hills, a section of Jamaica Plain in the city of Boston, as the area is going through great changes with the removal of an antiquated elevated highway and development of previously underused parcels near the MBTA station. Progress on revitalizing the neighborhood continues this week as 25% Design Hearing will be held for the new Casey Arborway at-grade roadway at 5:30 on February 27th at English High School. You can read my earlier posts from Nov. 29, 2011 and April 4, 2012 for background information on the project. It should be an exciting time when the neighborhood can come together for input on a new system of roads and public spaces that will serve all users – walker, bicyclists, transit users and drivers alike. If you can’t attend the meeting, please write a letter of support for the at-grade project and your ideas for design to:
Thomas F. Broderick,
P.E., Chief Engineer,
10 Park Plaza,
Boston, MA 02116,
Attention.: Paul King, Project File No. 605511
firstname.lastname@example.org (include the above address information in the email)
Such submissions will also be accepted at the meeting. Mailed statements and exhibits intended for inclusion in the public meeting transcript must be postmarked within ten (10) business days of this Public Information Meeting. Project inquiries may be emailed to:
(This information via the Boston Cyclists Union)
Unfortunately, there is a small but vocal group that will be using this meeting to agitate for building a new overpass cutting through the neighborhood, an automotive-centered model that offers little for other users or the neighborhood in general. Through nearly two years of a public process with dozens of meetings and hundreds of letters, at least 2/3’s of the people of Jamaica Plain have let it be known that they prefer not to have an elevated highway slicing the neighborhood in half. I hope if you’re reading this and feel that a new overpass would be a good idea that you can take a moment to step back from the hostility of the most extreme overpass advocates and work together with other neighbors in the 25% Design Process to find solutions that work for everyone.
Just for review, here are some reasons why an elevated highway is a bad idea for an urban area:
Having said all this, there is one point upon which I agree with the opponents of the at-grade plan. The current design for the Casey Arborway road at 6 lanes is too wide, and like proposals for a new overpass, puts too great an emphasis on prioritizing motorists. As we work towards a final design for what is ultimately constructed at Forest Hills, now in its 25% design phase, I would like to propose a narrower road. In fact, last summer the Jamaica Plain Gazette noted that the opening year design would be reduced by two lanes. I believe that a four-lane road with additional right turn lanes at appropriate intersections would be the optimal final design for the Casey Arborway for the following reasons:
So those are my thoughts on the design of the new Casey Arborway as we reach this latest milestone of the 25% design hearing. Again, if you live in Jamaica Plain or Boston, I encourage you to attend Wednesday’s meeting and/or write a letter with your thoughts. I’m looking forward to seeing what changes come forward as the design process continues.
The Casey Arborway is not the only thing happening in Forest Hills. I thank you for reading this far, but if you can bear to read more, here are a few tidbits:
About a month ago MassDot announced that the Casey Overpass in Forest Hills will be torn down and replaced by a network of surface roads. I wrote in favor of this plan back in November so I am pleased that MassDot will be taking this approach. I believe the removal of the elevated highway through our residential and commercial neighborhood will bring many benefits to the area. Without the infrastructure for high-speed automotive traffic, the volume and speed of motor vehicles through the neighborhood will be reduced and redesigned intersections will ease traffic backups. Facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit will be vastly improved. New open space will reconnect the Emerald Necklace between Arnold Arboretum and Franklin Park. Without the overpass hindering the aesthetics of the neighborhood, plans to redevelop the Arborway bus yard and Forest Hills MBTA station will be more likely to create a dense, transit-oriented residential/commercial area.
I hope that people in the Forest Hills area, once divided by the choice of a new overpass or at-grade plan, will unite together in the design process to ensure that the new streets plan is safe and equitable to all. I have a number of thoughts about the next steps in the process – some more well-formed than others – that I’ve gathered together for further pondering:
Related news on the Forest Hills At-Grade Plan:
I live in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Jamaica Plain in the city of Boston. The neighborhood on the whole is a great place to live as it features diverse people of different backgrounds and social scale, a wide variety of attractive housing, interesting and successful local business, access to public transit and bike paths and lots of parks and green space. One scar on this great neighborhood is the area immediately around the Forest Hills T Station. In the shadow of a large highway overpass carrying cars on the Arborway there are large parking areas, derelict empty lots, and depressed-looking commercial and industrial places. Plans are afoot to revitalize this area such as redeveloping the MBTA’s Arborway Yard and building new transit-oriented housing and commercial space directly around the T station. While these plans seem to be on hold due to the current state of the economy, plans to remove the elevated highway known as the Casey Overpass appears to be going forward.
I heartily welcome the removal of this eyesore which is both overbuilt for the traffic it carries and a detriment to the neighborhood. Unfortunately, there is a movement afoot to create an auto-centric solution by rebuilding the overpass which I believe would bode poorly for the future of the neighborhood as well as for anyone who wishes to navigate the area below the bridge on foot, by bike, on public transportation, and even by car. Several organizations such as LivableStreet, WalkBoston, The Emerald Necklace Conservancy, MassBike, the Boston Cyclists Union, and JP Bikes have come out in favor of an at-grade city street option to replace the current overpass. Below is a copy of my letter to Thomas Broderick, acting chief engineer of MassDOT, explaining my reasons for supporting the at-grade option. If you live in Jamaica Plain, Roslindale or elsewhere in Boston and would like to help spur the economic development of Forest Hills by making it livable for all users – pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users as well as motorists – please consider writing a letter yourself (the BCU provides a good template) and attending future public meetings to support an at-grade city street.
Dear Mr. Broderick,
I am a resident of the Forest Hills neighborhood in Jamaica Plain and commute through the intersection below the Casey Overpass on a daily basis by foot, bicycle, public transportation and by automobile. I welcome the news that the crumbling and overbuilt Casey Overpass must be demolished and could be replaced with an at-grade city street. This approach would help reconnect the Emerald Necklace, create new public space, allow for better neighborhood development and provide safer connections for bicyclists and pedestrians as well as motorists. Unfortunately, voices are mobilizing to encourage MassDOT to take a more expensive and auto-centric approach by reconstructing the highway overpass over Forest Hills. I am writing to offer my support for an at-grade city street connecting the Arborway as the better option for the future of the neighborhood and its residents.
I am aware that traffic engineers in your department have determined that both a bridge and the at-grade option will handle the predicted traffic flow of 2035 in roughly the same way. In light of this I see no reason to build a bridge. In future projects, I believe that the recently consolidated MassDOT would serve Massachusetts better to find ways to hold traffic flow around our fair city to the levels of 2011 or less instead of planning for traffic increases. This could be accomplished in many areas by developing public transportation, a safe connective bikeways network and pedestrian-friendly streets that encourage active transportation and healthier lifestyles.
The current situation under the bridge is quite the harrowing experience for pedestrians and cyclists and even for motorists. The bridge support structure creates blinds spots for turning vehicles and lack signaled left turn lanes making the intersection a frightening place to make a turn. When I commute by bike passing under the Casey Overpass is the most unpleasant part of my ride although necessary to navigate this intersection to get from my home to the Southwest Corridor Bike Path. An at-grade option would mean that the bike path would no longer have to dead end at New Washington St.
With the existing at grade New Washington Street and the access lanes to the highway overpass, pedestrians have to make as many as three crossings in a short distance when walking down Washington or South Streets. The access ramps are particularly dangerous to cross since drivers using them have a “highway mentality” that causes them to exceed the speed limit and not pay attention to walkers and bikers. I find that the overpass and the access lines also contribute to automotive congestion in the morning rush hour as the need to have multiple traffic signals close together causes the traffic flow to back up. In fact, on one occasion I was stuck on a 39 bus for five minutes because a handful of cars snarled up South Street between the two traffic lights under the overpass. An at-grade city street would mean that motorists, buses, bicyclists and pedestrians would only have to navigate one crossing making the street easier and more welcoming for everyone.
I am also concerned of the costs to taxpayers and neighborhood residents that come from constructing a new highway overpass through Forest Hills. The overpass is obviously the more expensive option and would leave little money for improved facilities for bicycling, walking and public transportation that would be possible with the at-grade option. Historically, the Casey Overpass was a decision made in the 1950s when high-speed auto transportation through the city was thought to be the wave the future. This mentality caused considerable harm to Boston such as the Fitzgerald Expressway forced through the heart of the city and paving over James Jackson Storrow’s Embankment parks. Here in Boston and in cities worldwide the idea of urban freeways has been discredited and when elevated highways are removed in cities from San Francisco to Seoul the cities have benefited from increased economic development and reduced automobile congestion. It should also be noted that the Casey Overpasss was rebuilt in the 1980s just 30 years after it was constructed. Now 30 years later it needs to be rebuilt again. The cost of the new overpass would include greater maintenance costs and the very real possibility that in another 30 years we would be in the same situation of repairing and replacing that bridge.
Finally, there are great opportunities to improve the Forest Hills neighborhood from the Arborway Yard to the parking lots and open space around the T station. Examples of economic development in the shadow of a freeway overpass are few and far between and the current development in the immediate area of the overpass reflects the depressing effect of highway infrastructure in a neighborhood setting. Permanently removing the Casey Overpass would be a good first step in encouraging the development of new transit-oriented housing and commercial space that would revitalize Forest Hills as a dynamic bikable, walkable and economically-flourishing neighborhood. With the construction of the new large Co-Op store and other small businesses to join them in the near future, the Forest Hills area is fast becoming a thriving business district, not merely an MBTA transit center located amidst several neighborhoods. It is imperative that traffic is slowed down and adequate long-term access solutions are created to accommodate the increasing numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists.
My approval and support of the at-grade option is contingent on the timely completion of bike paths that will travel up both sides of Washington St. toward Roslindale from the project area, and ending at Ukraine Way where they will be designed to connect to and complement the bike lanes on that street. The construction of these bike paths should be considered as part of the replacement project and completed within the same time frame as that project.
It is also contingent on there being no “slip lanes” at either Washington Street, Hyde Park Avenue or South Street. Slip lanes create dangerous situations for both pedestrians and cyclists due their wider radius turn that allows cars to travel through them at an increased speed. There is no need for speed in this area and in this community we value the safety of our residents over convenience for motor vehicles.
I also support converting Shea Circle into “Shea Square” by creating a normal intersection there. Traffic circles, particularly those handling more than one lane of traffic, have been proven to be particularly dangerous to bicyclists and pedestrians. Further along the Arborway, MassDOT should consider redesigning the large rotary at the intersection with Centre Street. Currently traffic coming from Forest Hills gets backed up by the traffic signal while traffic from all other directions is not signaled and enters directly into the circle with very little congestion. Improved traffic flow for this intersection would help prevent auto traffic from backing up into Forest Hills.
I strongly believe that the at-grade option offers a better future for myself and for the neighborhood I love. Please consider the needs and happiness of all people – residents, pedestrians, public transit users, and cyclists as well as motorists – when planning for the future of Forest Hills.