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Beyond The Big Dig
About this project

What happens to the ribbon of land being created by the depression of the Central Artery may be the most important development decision to face Boston in a generation.


Planners Take A 3-Hour Virtual Trip Down The Surface Artery

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 05/15/2000

About 150 people had some fun and made a contribution last Tuesday night at the second of three ''corridorwide'' public meetings on the future of the surface artery, held at the Federal Reserve building. The subject was the roughly 27 acres of space under the elevated old Central Artery and down through Dewey Square that is being reclaimed by the expenditure of $13.6 billion to put I-93 out of sight and out of mind.

The master planners hired by the Turnpike Authority -- Karen Alschuler of SMWM of San Francisco, Steve Cecil of The Cecil Group, and Craig Halvorson of the Halvorson Co. -- stayed remarkably upbeat for the duration of a three-hour meeting, as they presented the broad options for this land, organized participants into six groups that were instructed to come up with their visions, and then listened to those sometimes contradictory results.

The consultants, our guides, outlined four broad types of public or open space that could materialize on the surface. (Twenty-five percent is reserved for commercial development or housing of some type.)

The options: green or "oasis" space; civic or "celebratory" space; formal or "iconic" space; and good old neighborhood park space.

Slides of some famous examples of each were shown. "Tasty things to think about," as one consultant put it: Rittenhouse in Philadelphia and Paley Park in New York for the oasis; Union Square in San Francisco and Las Ramblas Street in Barcelona for civic; our own Christian Science Center complex or the Piazza San Marco in Venice or even Red Square in Moscow for formal; and finally East Boston's Piers Park or Paris's Boulevard Richard Lenoir, which runs over a navigable canal, representing neighborhood parks.

Inspired by what others have created, the participants, all volunteers, split up and each put together a big puzzle. Working with a 6-foot-high outline map of the Surface Artery corridor, they arranged little pieces of green (oasis), red (civic), yellow (formal), and blue (neighborhood) plastic along the open parcels, to represent their dreams.

Green definitely dominated.

The three difficult land parcels -- numbered 6, 12, and 18 -- are the ones with offramps or onramps severing them, though the consultants noted that the four ramps on Post Office Square have been rendered almost invisible by clever landscaping.

Some groups wanted continuity along the length of the corridor, and some were more concerned about the cross connections.

"The connections to the water -- we realized that's what put Boston on the map," said Craig, representing the Bright Green group. "We want to remind visitors this is why Boston is here."

Some were more philosophical: "I see Boston as a combination of past and present, looking into the future."

There were calls for skating rinks, fountains or waterfalls, places to sit and gather, and toilets, toilets, toilets.

"We wanted to take advantage of New England weather," Craig added. "Foliage that in the fall is going to, well, `foliate.' "

It won't be just for tourists, though. "From 9 to 5, we should be able to relish the corridor," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Yellow group summed it up: "This is a very complicated and exciting space," she said.

Some 60 to 70 people stuck it out till shortly after 9 p.m. -- many of them the same faces who have been involved in shaping Boston's new surface since it began in the early 1990s, but some new ones as well.

Said Alschuler, the consultant: "We will take all of this very seriously, as you can see." She also suggested that those who contributed should get "course credit for everybody from some institution."

The third and final round of public meetings on the Surface Artery is coming up: North Area district meeting 6 p.m. May 30 at 152 North St.; Central Area meeting 6 p.m. at Wyndham Hotel, 89 Broad St.; South Area meeting 6 p.m. at 185 Kneeland St.; and a three-hour Corridorwide meeting at 6 p.m. on June 27, location to be announced.

Bike Week

O K, we're two days into Bike Week, our colleague Diane reminds us.

And she passes along some information. For example, the fact that it used to be called "Bike to Work Week," but that left out the folks who aren't laboring that week. Remaining, however, is "Bike to Work Day" on Friday.

Check www.massbike.org for more information.

Some people still don't know you can take your bike on the subway, Di says. "I always am asked about it when I take mine. The T should do a much better job of PR. Or maybe they want to keep it a secret."

The rules are: on weekends, bikes are OK, but weekdays only 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and after 7:30 p.m. Also, you need a permit.

MassBike is working to get bike racks put on buses.

Final note from Diane: "The Minuteman Bikeway is in pretty, pretty bad condition. It's full of holes and cracks and dirt, and no one seems to take care of it."

Her nirvana seems to be Pinellas County, Fla., where "I often see maintenance cars on the path. They keep it clean, and they even mark bumps in chalk until they fix them so the bladers won't crash. Pretty amazing."

Here we'll include a plug for the Montague foldable bike, made by a Cambridge corporation (montagueco.com), because it's truly an "intermodal" two-wheeler -- and because David Widing over there had the impeccable timing to send us a press kit in time for Bike Week.

Now what's an item without a Big Dig reference?

In the 1991 state Environmental Affairs certificate permitting the Big Dig to be dug, Secretary Susan Tierney wrote, "I encourage participation with bicycle advocacy groups to determine the best means of accommodating bike travel along the Artery."

And six months earlier, in a similar document, Tierney's predecessor wrote: "I also direct that more attention be paid to making the roadway accessible to bicyclists," and specifically that the state "provide for continuous pedestrian/bicycle paths along the entire length of the corridor."

Unstoppable biker Ted Hamann approached us at the above-referenced Surface Artery meeting and noted that, while there are plenty of sidewalks, there is no bike path designed into the Surface Artery.

They are not allowed in the Ted Williams Tunnel. They won't be allowed in the underground Artery. So what is the Big Dig doing for bikers?

A lot, spokesman Terry Brown said.

"We do allow for bikes in the central corridor, the whole length," he said. In both directions, "The right travel lane is going to be wider than it normally would be by several feet in order to permit bikes to share it with other traffic."

He noted that Big Dig architect Fred Yalouris is putting together a map for bicyclists of the whole Central Artery project area, including bike lanes and, in the Charles River Basin, bike trails. "There's quite a lot of it. Bikes are a major part of this project."

You asked . . .

"Whom should I contact concerning residents in Attleboro and their ongoing stuggle to get the T to stop invading their homes with sound vibrations similar to those used by the Army special forces to oust General Manuel Noriega from the embassy in Panama?' Michel wrote.

We heard from Michel a few months ago, when the weather was cold, but not since. And there's a reason.

"I think it was when we weren't plugging in trains," said Joe Pesaturo of the MBTA. Usually, trains are kept operable by just attaching them to electrical outlets.

"If it turns bitterly cold, we have to keep them idling if they're going to work properly in the morning," Pesaturo said.

Several locomotives with their diesels running can make quite a racket. "That is our busiest commuter-rail line," Pesaturo said.

The plan, of course, is to move that layover facility to Rhode Island, when and if the Pilgrim Partnership is exercised and commuter-rail service to Rhode Island is expanded.

A New Hampshire reader saw a youngster wearing a Big Dig T-shirt and wants to buy some.

Holly Sutherland at the Big Dig notes that several vendors around the city are apparently capitalizing on the Big Dig's fame, or infamy. But now none of the proceeds go to offset the project's cost.

We figured recently that, if the federal government spends $8.5 billion as planned, that's about $30 per US citizen that the country is already contributing to the project. So maybe taking a concession on hats would be pushing it.

Big Dig employees have an in-house supplier of Big Dig paraphernalia that they can purchase, but unfortunately they're not set up on a scale to sell to the public.

So keep your eyes open around Faneuil Hall.

Making his return to Starts & Stops after a long and well-deserved absence is Brian Pedro, chief MBTA spokesman. We asked about Grafton, the new Worcester Line commuter-rail station that we've complained still is in a state of disarray.

We asked also because Bob of Shrewsbury wrote that, "There are only 297 parking spaces in Grafton. However, every single space is filled by after the third train of the day."

The rest of the work will be finished in three weeks, Pedro said. But more parking will be added by today -- 40-50 more spaces.

"We want to stress this station was substantially completed by Feb. 23 to get service up and running, service so popular that we already need more parking," Pedro said.

Or maybe better planning to make it bigger in the first place. Bob takes issue with the MBTA's estimate of 300 passengers a day there. He says with dropoffs, it's more like 500.

Middlesex Corp. of Littleton is the contractor, and Bob Mabardy there (who also happens to be a former MBTA general manager) said the company has had a hard time getting steel railings.

"We're fixing it," he said, promising a mid-June finish. "There's so much fabrication going on in this area, you just can't get anyone to move. Every shop is busy."

The wheelchair ramp will not have a roof, but there will be an "antimissile" fence along the inside. It's a $5 million contract.

"Might be over a little bit," Mabardy said. "There were delays on both sides of the aisle."

There's a new schedule for the Worcester Line, though the one available at Park Street Station last week was still marked "Feb. 23, 2000."

The old schedule didn't have two new inbound and two new outbound trains: 10:35 a.m. and 11:35 p.m. from Worcester to Boston, and 9 a.m. and 10:05 p.m. on the way back.

That last train and three others on this line accommodate Red Sox fans. They stop at Yawkey Station for evening weekday games.

We don't have a whole item on it, but we love the name for those Amtrak people responsible for moving the trains around at the Boston Engine Terminal: hostlers.

Pit stops
New developments in the Boston Harbor Islands National Park Area will be announced this morning in Boston . . . When it says, "20 mph When Children Are Present," does that mean faster until you happen to see them? . . . The lights on VFW Parkway at rush hour are timed so you have to stop at every single one . . . International Truck is developing "Green Diesel" technology, a cam-less engine that it says cuts particulate emissions 90 percent and, better yet, gets rid of the odor . . . You transportation fanatics may want to check out Lawrence J. Fabian's newsletter TransitPulse. Contact him at LFabian@compuserve.com . . . As not reported here first, state officials are raising the speed limit on Route 3 from Braintree to Bourne from 55 miles per hour to 60 mph . . . Safe-Hit Corp. of Illinois makes a crash barrier of telescoping aluminum and Styrofoam cartridges that keep you from getting killed when you miss a turn -- and triggers a cell phone call to let the highway department know there has been an accident . . . Congrats to the top three operators in the MBTA's Light Rail Rodeo this year: Joseph Minahan of Franklin from the Green Line C Branch, John Clifford of Woburn from the E Branch, and Thomas Barletta of Everett from the C Branch . . . Amtrak added seats for 3,000 of the Million Moms going to Washington yesterday.

You can't get there . . .

The Central Artery northbound off-ramp to Causeway Street and North Station will be closed three nights, 11 p.m.-5a.m., Thursday to Sunday.

Congress Street between Atlantic Avenue and Dorchester Avenue will be closed from 8 p.m. Friday until noon Saturday.

The Central Artery northbound ramp to Storrow Drive will be closed nights this week, from 11 p.m. to 5:30 a.m., tonight through Friday.

It'll be "just like the old days," Big Dig engineers reported Friday, as they announced that the new Leverett Circle Connector Bridge will be closed nights this week, from 9 p.m. till 5 a.m., tonight through Friday.

The new ramp from the northbound Southeast Expressway to Massachusetts Avenue seems to be backing up excessively, being only one lane for traffic bound for both the Mass. Ave. area and Frontage Road. Big Dig engineers said they would see if there's a way to fix it.

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