By Joe Connolly
Union member and professor of civil engineering at Northeastern University Peter Furth has won yet another small victory for cyclists. If a proposed redesign of Forsyth Way in the Fenway neighborhood is approved by the state, an important link in Boston’s Emerald Necklace will not only be more bike friendly, but better for pedestrians and those with disabilities as well.
The city’s Parks Department had plans to reconstruct the area as a green link to the Fens nearby, improving it for pedestrians, but when Furth attended the first meetings in 2008, only one of the two sidewalks along Forsyth Way were included in the plan.
“Here was a project to improve pedestrian safety,” Furth said, “and the boundaries did not… include one of the four sidewalks on the street.”
Furth counts Forsyth Way as part of the “World Series Path” that would connect the Southwest Corridor path with the Fens nearby using Ruggles and Parker streets, which in turn is part of his grand vision for a vast network of greenways in Boston.
After helping to include the missing sidewalk and create a good plan, Furth found in 2010 that the Parks Department had made some unannounced changes to the final plan. Instead of putting the crosswalks in line with the sidewalks along Forsyth Way, they had offset them. Then, because construction deadlines were approaching, the department was reluctant to change them back.
“They didn’t want fast-moving cyclists on the path, and they thought offset crosswalks would solve that,” said Furth.
Furth enlisted the support of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, WalkBoston and other advocacy groups to ask for a change in the design, as well as John Kelly, an accessibility advocate who pointed the plan out to the city’s disability commission. Realizing that the plan was not compliant with the American’s with Disabilities Act, the Parks Department altered the plan.
Hearing of the change, the Boston Transportation Department also asked to include raised crosswalks-an idea they had proposed earlier in the process.
“We were looking to create a zone where cars would have to slow down,” said Charlotte Fleetwood, senior transportation planner at the Boston Transportation Department.
Now in its final approval stages at the state level, the design is indicative of the methodology Boston Transportation Department has in mind for future projects, a new philosophy outlined in the Complete Streets Guidelines currently under development. Gupta, Fleetwood and their superiors at BTD share a vision for city streets that are safe and accessible to all types of users, and just a few of the tools at their disposal include minimum dimensions for sidewalks, narrower travel lanes for cars and more environmentally friendly designs.
“These kinds of designs are good for safety, for bikes and walkers,” said Gupta.
If the design is approved, construction on Forsyth Way could begin in the next few months.