What do you like about the Greenway?

On September 22, 2018, Pangea performed on the East Boston Greenway. East Boston residents and out of towners alike were enjoying this music so much, we felt guilty engaging them in a conversation about their use of the Greenway. Even so, we managed several brief conversations, and one very clear response.

(Scroll down for pictures)

The larger question was about people’s usage of this public amenity, but the more specific one, as in the title, was designed to determine what they enjoy about it. Here’s what we heard:

“We like it because it serves a purpose for us.”

It turned out there are several purposes — purposes that serve people’s lifestyles. The purposes themselves range widely, but the common running thread is that being on the Greenway is in and of itself an outdoor activity.

  1. Walking with kids
    • For families with small kids (toddlers), the only safe place to let the kids walk is the Greenway. Street sidewalks are out of the question, because, as anyone with a toddler knows, the toddler doesn’t know where she or he is going 🙂
  2. Skate-boarding
    • For folks who love skate-boarding, the Greenway is a fun place. And skate-boarders range from late teens into thirties.
  3. Running
    • This is a significant portion of Greenway users. And their destination is not so much a place they enjoy the views from, or a place to read, it is more the destination that serves their running distance goals.
  4. Biking
    • Whether it is their own bikes, or blue bikes, or the trikes that Friend of East Boston Greenway introduced, people love biking on the Greenway. This works especially well for families with kids of biking age.
  5. Going to the library/Y/PiersPark
    • For several folks, the Greenway is a nice alternative to walking on the streets — safe, beautiful, and slow-paced (compared to motor-vehicles). The destinations we heard repeatedly:
      • Bremen Street Park
      • Piers Park
      • The library
      • The YMCA in Bremen Street Park
  6. Sitting down to eat my lunch
    • It appears some residents who work from home near the Greenway step out to grab lunch and sit on the Greenway to enjoy their lunch with a view, and presumably some social interaction.

 

Which way to the waterfront?

Did you know that the East Boston Greenway connects two bodies of water? The Inner Harbor and Constitution Beach.

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The East Boston Greenway connects Constitution Beach to the inner harbor with beautiful views of the Boston skyline from East Boston’s south western waterfront.

The Friends of the East Boston Greenway were out on the Greenway (Gove Street intersection) with Somali chai, chatting with neighbors who use the Greenway. We recorded no fewer than 150 users in those 3 hours. We chatted with about 50 of them about their knowledge of, and use of the Greenway to access the waterfront. Here are the responses:

  • “Of course! We go to Piers Park all the time via the Greenway.”
  • “What? The Greenway extends beyond Bremen Street Park?”
  • “Constitution Beach? We go there, but by car. Didn’t know the Greenway goes there.”
  • “We tried to go to the beach by the Greenway and got lost.”

Turns out this is not uncommon. People get lost at Frankfort street intersection, because they are not expecting to have to cross the street. Like everything in Massachusetts, it’s not hard once you know what to do.

Let’s say you are going along the Greenway at Bremen Street Garden passing by the library (on your left, and then Excel academy). You’ll then go under the highway. When you emerge, you’ll be at the intersection of Martin A Coughlin bypass Road and Frontfort Street. You cross Martin A Coughlin bypass road first. Then you cross Frankfort Street. (See below). Voila! Now you are on the Greenway connector leading all the way to Constitution Beach!

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In order to continue on to Constitution Beach from Bremen Street park along the Greenway, you have to cross Frankfort Street.

 

 

 

  • “We only use the Greenway to go from home to the library and to Bremen Street park.”
  • “I bike the entire 2-mile stretch regularly.”
  • “We know we can access Constitution Beach via the Greenway but we don’t like it [Constitution Beach] because you can smell the airplane exhaust. We go to better beaches further north.”
  • “I know you can get to Constitution Beach if you go this way.”

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This question about waterfront access and the conversation that ensued turned out to be a learning experience for most people, including many regular users of the Greenway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I hope it doesn’t stop there”

That’s a comment from one East Boston resident, regarding the deployable flood wall designed to go under the Sumner Street overpass.

On September 8, 2018, we (the Friends of East Boston Greenway) positioned ourselves, with some reusable grocery bags, on the Sumner Street overpass. It was the Zumix block party day so the foot traffic was unusually heavy. We chatted folks up as they were returning from the party and were therefore in a good mood 🙂

One of the topics we brought up is the vulnerability of the Greenway due to coastal flooding. According to the city of Boston’s Climate Ready East Boston report, the Greenway is one of the high impact channels to coastal flooding, as it can bring the water into the neighborhood.

One concrete action that the city has already taken, in order to mitigate the Greenway flood risk, is purchase and test a deployable flood wall to go on the Greenway under the Sumner Street overpass. This is how it will work: If and when there is a forecast of heavy enough coastal flooding from storm surge to flood the Greenway, city staff will deploy the flood wall. At that point this stretch of the Greenway will be unusable. Once the flood drains or is pumped, the wall will be dismantled and put away, and the Greenway is back in use.

By the way,  except for one person, who happens to work for a consulting firm doing climate resilience, nobody we spoke to — easily a 100 people — knew about the flood wall. Once people learned about it though, they had a variety of responses:

  • “I hope it doesn’t stop there.”

This is in recognition of the fact that the Greenway isn’t the only vulnerable portion of East Boston, given that East Boston is practically an island. This was the sentiment of most of the respondents.

  • “What about us?”

This response came from people on the wet side of the flood wall. For starters, their concern is simply that the flood wall does not help them. Moreover, they wondered if the flood wall increases their risk.

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Jan 4, 2018 Coastal Flooding (high tide plus storm surge) leading to the Greenway

Extreme Precipitation

Another form of What about us? comes from those who are not subject to coastal flooding due to storm surges, but are vulnerable to extreme precipitation. The hills of East Boston, for example, are subject to mudslides when there is too much rain for the ground to handle. Mudslides qualify as flood. People living on hills must have flood insurance in order to cover damage due to mudslides.

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A mudslide in the Orient Heights neighborhood of East Boston following an extreme precipitation event in September 2017 (Source unknown — please inform FoEBG if you are the photographer).

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What do Orient Heights and East Boston Greenway have in common? This couple knows it’s the increasing impact of climate change.

The Greenway has experienced severe flooding due to rain as well. It was particularly exacerbated when silt carried into drainage pipes blocked the pipes permanently. The city had to do a bypass surgery of sorts (with new pipes) in order to allow drainage to happen.

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The East Boston Greenway has experienced severe storm flooding in the past. This is from 2010. (Source unknown — please inform FoEBG if you are the photographer)

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Please contact the FoEBG.

 

Can’t get there from here!

Do you know if you can get to the East Boston Greenway from the Sumner Street overpass? If you haven’t tried, here’s the answer: Not directly. That applies to the Maverick Street overpass as well. If you find yourself on Sumner Street or Maverick Street, you’ll realize you have to walk to the Marginal Street entrance or to the Gove street entrance respectively. That stretch of the Greenway without any access in between is a good third of a mile. If we had access from Sumner and Maverick would that be a good thing? The Friends of East Boston Greenway talked to over a 100 people over the course of 3 hours on a busy weekend day on the Sumner Street overpass. The passers by were mostly East Boston residents, old and new, across an age range of 7 to 70, both genders, and several ethnic and racial backgrounds. Turns out not all people feel the same way.

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  • “Sure! Can’t see why it would hurt.”

This was by far the majority of the response. The more accessible the Greenway is, the better, for those who already use the Greenway, and find themselves wanting to get to it from different parts of the neighborhood. It will likely lead to more people using it, too.

  • “Of course! I would love that.”

This came from people who use Sumner or Maverick streets often, and would love to be able to get to the Greenway directly. There were a few families that live right on the intersection of Sumner and Bremen, with their parking lot overlooking the Greenway, and they seem particularly excited about being able to get to the Greenway, which is practically their backyard, from their parking lot.

This response also came from some who were concerned for their safety while traversing this stretch of the Greenway. We have heard this response previously during neighborhood association meetings, referring to other sections of the Greenway. The responders in this case prefer many ways to leave the Greenway and get on to a street if they feel the need to.

  • “No!”

This response came from people who have already noticed undesirable activity (drinking was mentioned explicitly and other illicit activity was hinted at) on the Greenway, and were concerned more access would lead to more such activity. One mother, in particular, said because sometimes her young children (preteens) go on the Greenway on their own, she’d like to be able to trust the space to be safe, and therefore less access is better.

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How do you get from the Sumner Street overpass to the East Boston Greenway?

 

Are ‘Green’ Communites More Driveable?

by Chris Marchi

When my daughter joined the Jose Mateo Ballet, trips into Harvard Square became part of my routine. And while I wasn’t excited about fighting traffic, and finding parking, I wanted to see how efforts to improve pedestrian and cycling in Cambridge were going.

I hoped to see if the flow of people, bikes and cars there, could show us how improving walking and biking in Central Square, East Boston, where I live, might help, or hurt mobility through our downtown.

With the Red Line, bus routes, and charter buses branded with Harvard University symbols, bringing people in, the area seemed as busy as ever. On the inbound side of the Square, where auto traffic on Mass Ave. is one-way, the city had installed a parking-sheltered bike lane, along with STOP signs, and extended sidewalks. While volume was high, and backed-up a few times, traffic moved smoothly.

Driving in the area required minor changes in alertness, and speed, but everyone seemed to be adjusting well to one another. Rather than causing conflict, the interactions between motorists, cyclists and pedestrians were good-natured, and added a collaborative social element that enhanced the area.

As for economic impacts: other than a number of small businesses that have been replaced by chain stores over the years, – an element of capitalism that feels out-of-place, the area was as vibrant as ever: The shared-road system hadn’t harmed economic vitality; again, the opposite effect seemed to be present: the street environment seemed safe, orderly, and more navigable.

After finding parking at multiple locations with similar ease repeatedly, I also concluded that parking in Harvard Square had become easier. Rather than the nightmare I expected, I’d been pulling into open, legal spots for weeks! To learn more about who was using the new mixed mobility system, which seemed to be working so well, I took two quick surveys on two separate days.

Pedestrian Age Chart

On Day One: I tallied 190 pedestrians heading inbound on Massachusetts Avenue in a sample of just over 30 minutes, on a pleasant October weekday afternoon. For each pedestrian, I recorded gender, and an estimate of age. The pedestrian population was comprised of all ages, but was predictably centered on young 20’s to 30’s.

The age of the late afternoon Harvard Square inbound walkers, appeared to be about 30 years of age. Gender was about even, with slightly more female, than male. There were ‘holes’ in the data, in the teenage, and early 50’s age groups (I assume those groups are present, but not on foot or bike).

Cyclist Gender Chart

Two days later, I observed cyclists heading inbound on Mass Ave. In the same short time, I observed 122 cyclists, flowing into the Square. Interestingly, more of the cyclists in my sample were female- about 40% of total riders, compared to the national average of about 25%. The average age of the riders I observed appeared to be slightly older that the average pedestrian: at around 35 years old. Just as with the pedestrian survey, there was a noticeable gap in children and teenaged response, however the early 50’s ‘hole’ was not evident.

What was evident, was that by not driving, the T riders, pedestrians and cyclists in Harvard Square, were reducing traffic and improving the availability of parking.

That parking and traffic could be improved, by making room on our roads for for bike and pedestrian travel, might seem strange, but if it’s true, this idea could be an important key to solving otherwise vexing problems in East Boston. We already have an extensive bike and pedestrian Greenway; if use of some of the Harvard Square tactics could reduce traffic and air pollution, while improving our local economy, and freeing up parking, our quality of life, here would go way up.

Friends of the East Boston Greenway is always looking to improve our open spaces. If you want to add your feedback, thoughts, and ideas, and help shape a conversation about parking and traffic congestion, take a few minutes to complete this brief poll:

https://goo.gl/forms/uQev3yLGFzBdWDtC3

Friends of East Boston Greenway on Zumix Radio

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We were on Zumix Radio!

The Friends of the East Boston Greenway was recently funded by the Barr Foundation as part of its Waterfront Initiative. Three members of the organization were on Whats up Eastie discussing the benefits the community can expect as a result of the grant, and the broader longer term vision the organization has for the Greenway.

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You can listen to the entire conversation on the show archive.

The FoEBG welcome community input. Here are the various you can reach the organization:

Email: eastiegreenway@gmail.com or eastbostongreenway@gmail.com
Phone: 617-417-2093

Website: eastbostongreenway.com
Facebook: Friends of East Boston Greenway
Twitter: @eastiegreenway
Instagram: @eastiegreenway

Walking the city section

We took a walk along the city-owned section of the East Boston Greenway, with the chief engineer of the Parks department and members of his crew. This included the engineer who designed the solution for the stagnation of stormwater on the Greenway last year (fondly referred to by some residents as the duck pond).

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The Greenway Duckpond (picture from last Summer) — thankfully no more!

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The Greenway Lake (picture from last Summer) — thankfully no more!

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The alternate floodway path put in last fall to work around the drainage block that was  caused by the accumulation of silt in the pipes

A number of observations were made along the way:

  1. The ‘alternate drainage pathways’ solution put in by the Parks department for the flooding issue seems to be working.
  2. A number of areas along this section of the Greenway have been affected by erosion. Such erosion, besides destroying the soil and increasing the risk of mudslides, also brings silt to the drains, threatening blockage of drains leading to the recurrence of flooding.
  3. There are some appliances and park benches in need of repair.
  4. There are some barren sections of land that could use more grass/vegetation.
  5. A number of abutters use of Greenway for dumping, emptying stormwater into (either via downspouts or simply by not providing any filtration mechanisms on their own land which leads the water to naturally flow into the Greenway), even having a gate that opens into the Greenway.
  6. Where the EB Greenway meets Marginal Street, Roseland had begun work outside the Massport property boundary. Their work included DPW and Parks department spaces. They did not have permission from the Parks department for the work they were well into when the Parks department asked them to stop.
  7. The Crosswalk on Marginal Street appears to be gone, along with the curbcut on the sidewalk closest to the Greenway.
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    Damaged waterbox

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    Damaged landscape

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    Neighbor pointing out unresolved issues

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    Needs refill to avoid erosion

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    Erosion of mulch

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    Was this gate put in with permission?

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    Japanese knotweed (invasive species)

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    Ongoing erosion

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    Raingarden (redone before the walk)

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    Sidewalk redone recently as part of Portside project

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    Sidewalk without curb cut

Actions:

  1. The Parks department will contact its contractor for reseeding barren surfaces and refilling pits with soil.
  2. The Parks department requested that Friends of EB Greenway report disturbing observations and incidents to BOS311 for tracking purposes and for triggering larger projects (that may be warranted based on the number and extent of concerns).