Take Back The Streets (...and alleys)

BronsonShore

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America's Walking City (TM) doesn't have enough places where people can walk.

Boston should take on an aggressive policy that seeks to (1) pedestrianize as many streets as practicality allows in certain commercialized, high-foot traffic areas, and (2) activate Downtown Boston's many quirky little alleys with retail and dining. With a medieval downtown filled with wonderfully tight, twisting streets, Boston should be known as the only US city with a network of activated pedestrianized streets and alleys that rivals what you see in places like Oslo, London, and Istanbul:







Instead, all we've got is the Blackstone Block and a half-assed Downtown Crossing that retains most of it's raised sidewalks and is filled with delivery and civil service vehicles at all hours (though admittedly, it is slowly getting better thanks to the MT plaza and Summer Street improvements).

At the bare minimum, here's what the Downtown Boston pedestrianized network should look like (red = existing or planned pedestrian ways, orange = proposed pedestrian ways, yellow = proposed alley activation):

Screen Shot 2021-02-10 at 10.37.45 AM.png


The biggest change here would be State Street, which the city has at least whispered about pedestrianizing. With the harbor and Greenway on one end, the Old State House on the other, and the Custom House Tower right in the middle, this could be Boston's version of Las Ramblas or Istiklal (or hell, if you want to stay close to home, Church Street in Burlington):

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Take out the sidewalks, fill it with cafes and restaurants, and connect it to Quincy Market with attractive little hidden alleys that can be filled with micro-retail and bars. And then finish it all off by giving the old State House the proper, hardscaped European-style plaza it deserves. Imagine this view with a unified design, sidewalk tables, and maybe a modest fountain centered on the State House doors:

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Next, pedestrianize Canal street, as people on this board have suggested before. The bars, cafes, and foot traffic are already here! Let this street breath, and create a pedestrian network that takes you all the way from the Garden to Boston Common:

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Moving to another locale where pedestrianization has been actively discussed, let's go to the North End. Surprisingly, I actually don't want to see Hanover pedestrianized, as has been frequency discussed. My fear is that the North End is highly Disney-fied as is, and pedestrianization of Hanover will merely lead to the restaurants being replaced by chain retail. I do, however, love the idea of expanding North Square and pedestrianizing Prince Street, as was done this summer. This was absolutely wonderful, let's keep it going:



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Then, let's get to work on the alleys. My favorite city in the world is Istanbul. No other place so wonderfully blends the pulsing energy of Manhattan or London, the natural beauty of San Francisco or Cape Town, and the old world architecture and place-making of Rome or Paris. And while we'll never be able to replicate the majesty of the Bosporus on the banks of Charles River, we can replicate what they do with their alleys. In beautiful, lively Istanbul, no alley is too small to host street scenes like this:







The Quaker Lane development is my favorite active project in the city because we might get something like the above out of it, but there are a bunch of other alleys around that should get the same treatment.

Winthrop Lane already has a retail spot. Let them scatter some tables around without the annoying and unnecessary barriers you see on every patio elsewhere in the city and, once they rebuild Winthrop Square when the tower's done, you'll have one of the most pleasant places in Boston to grab a coffee for a few quiet minutes:

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Spring Lane is so close, too. One side of the alley is a great hidden little bookstore. On the other is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city. This patch of brick should never be empty:



The Marliave patio on Bosworth is a wonderful little urban space. . . that unfortunately is literally walled off from the rest of its sad, neglected alley:



Court Square is largely devoid of things like loading docks and parking garage entrances that make pedestrianization difficult in some of these places, and it's fronted by beautiful architecture to boot. Let it come to life:

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And then connect it to a reinvigorated Pi Alley. Though it now appears to merely be an entrance to a parking garage, Pi Alley holds a quirky little place in Boston history as the former home of newspaper printing operations. In my dream scenario, the city would re-link it to it's literary past by turning it into an open air market for small press publishers and local artists. Add some funky lighting, put some street art on the walls, and do something to take Boston's title of the literature capital of America back from Brooklyn (in this dream scenario, someone rich would also buy the nearby Old Corner Bookstore and return it to its former glory):



Downtown Boston's collection of tight, twisting, medieval alleys and streets is an asset that no other city in the country can match. We should take advantage of them and build a series of urban places that are utterly unique and utterly Boston.

What else would you pedestrianize?
 
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Massachoicetts

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I think everyone I know has been saying this for as long as I can remember. I have no idea why Boston hasn't capitalized on this yet.

A big issue is noone sane will open a restaurant in Boston with the unfathomably high cost it is to have a liquor license and other associated costs. Lets face it, Boston is extremely underutilized. But any bold ideas to change this will be shot down due to NIMBYism, "Costs" or the general corporate mindset they have.

However, I do think the new Red Sox development will do something like this.
 
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393b40

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Problem I can see with with this is that these streets become wastelands in the winter as there is less people traffic and no vehicle traffic. That leads to people believing the area is dead.
 

Massachoicetts

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Problem I can see with with this is that these streets become wastelands in the winter as there is less people traffic and no vehicle traffic. That leads to people believing the area is dead.
Montreal, Stockholm, etc
 

JeffDowntown

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There were an number of smaller streets that were pedestrianized this summer (pandemic response) that should largely stay that way:

Stanhope Street Back Bay/South End
One Block of Union Park Street, South End
"Street" in Ink Block between Yellow Door and Bar Mezzana

Canal Street is headed that way (hopefully); all the new urban designs at either end point to a future pedestrian street.

One challenge you face in some suggestions are major delivery entrances. For example, Bosworth Street, where Marliave was (closed!) has the major, very busy delivery dock for the Omni Parker House hotel -- which you cannot block! Suggestions need to work around locations that are going to need full day truck access for a major facility. (And we need to be smart about delivery dock and parking entrance locations for new developments to try to keep these possibilities open.)
 

BronsonShore

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Boston's too staid for comparison to those cities.
. . . and the idea of this thread is to propose one way to make Boston less staid. Your point is completely circular. It's like responding to a nutritionist's suggestion to start dieting by saying that you can't start dieting because you don't like to diet.
 

HenryAlan

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These are some great ideas, really well fleshed out. I'm not sure how we get from here to there, but we definitely want to capitalize on some of what was done over the Summer. There is a street in my neighborhood that is in the process of being pedestrianized. It took a lot of work by local activists, and in particular getting abutting business on board with it was key. For an entire district of such streets, particularly downtown, leadership from City Hall is probably necessary.
 

Massachoicetts

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That alley in the Red Sox Development, if successful, MAY pave the way for future development like that. Cross your fingers.
 

Java King

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GREAT post! I've been disappointed with what I've seen from Quaker Lane. The renderings were excellent, but it hasn't come to pass. The only time I've used Pi Alley is to access the Alley Bar........at least from a few years ago now. It could be really cool, but it's just a dark tunnel now. I'm all for the closing of State Street to cars. When I took the online survey, I remember voting for that.
 

BronsonShore

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These are some great ideas, really well fleshed out. I'm not sure how we get from here to there, but we definitely want to capitalize on some of what was done over the Summer. There is a street in my neighborhood that is in the process of being pedestrianized. It took a lot of work by local activists, and in particular getting abutting business on board with it was key. For an entire district of such streets, particularly downtown, leadership from City Hall is probably necessary.
Guessing by the picture in your avatar, I'm guessing your neighborhood is Roslindale, the street you're referring to is Birch, and we're neighbors. That is a wonderful project, but I'd love to see them go even further and pedestrianize Poplar, while reverting Washington to two-way below the park. Take out the fencing on the west side of the park, but don't extend the grass. Take some design cues from the Paul Revere Mall, let the restaurants spill into the street, and turn Poplar into a pedestrian promenade. And while we're at it, extend the mews behind Sophia's across the way to Delfino:

Screen Shot 2021-02-10 at 8.38.09 PM.png
 

BronsonShore

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There were an number of smaller streets that were pedestrianized this summer (pandemic response) that should largely stay that way:

Stanhope Street Back Bay/South End
One Block of Union Park Street, South End
"Street" in Ink Block between Yellow Door and Bar Mezzana

Canal Street is headed that way (hopefully); all the new urban designs at either end point to a future pedestrian street.

One challenge you face in some suggestions are major delivery entrances. For example, Bosworth Street, where Marliave was (closed!) has the major, very busy delivery dock for the Omni Parker House hotel -- which you cannot block! Suggestions need to work around locations that are going to need full day truck access for a major facility. (And we need to be smart about delivery dock and parking entrance locations for new developments to try to keep these possibilities open.)
I didn't know about Stanhope Street, but, man, that is an absolute no-brainer. Union Park I wouldn't touch, though. IMO, that street is just about perfect as is.

Isn't the Parker House loading dock on Chapman around the corner from Bosworth, though? That's why I left Chapman out of my original proposal--it's too far gone to ever be brought back to life.
 

HenryAlan

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And while we're at it, extend the mews behind Sophia's across the way to Delfino
That was the original plan for the courtyard, but the Emerald Society did not wish to participate and the guy behind the project finally gave up on the more expansive vision, focusing instead just on the property he personally owned. As for closing Poplar, I complete agree, that would be a huge improvement, not only for ambience but also for safety. One last piece regarding Roslindale, is the alley that leads to the municipal lot. I loved the way that 753 South used it for additional patio service this Summer. That should always be a feature of the outdoor dining season.
 

JeffDowntown

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I didn't know about Stanhope Street, but, man, that is an absolute no-brainer. Union Park I wouldn't touch, though. IMO, that street is just about perfect as is.

Isn't the Parker House loading dock on Chapman around the corner from Bosworth, though? That's why I left Chapman out of my original proposal--it's too far gone to ever be brought back to life.
Union Park STREET was the block beside Aquitaine and Black Swan, not the actual Union Park Square. It was a no brainer, short cut through street between Tremont and Montgomery, no loss.
 

JeffDowntown

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I didn't know about Stanhope Street, but, man, that is an absolute no-brainer. Union Park I wouldn't touch, though. IMO, that street is just about perfect as is.

Isn't the Parker House loading dock on Chapman around the corner from Bosworth, though? That's why I left Chapman out of my original proposal--it's too far gone to ever be brought back to life.
You are right about Bosworth and Chapman. It is the Nine Zero Hotel that has their car drop area on Bosworth. But you cannot run trucks down Chapman without Bosworth; Chapman is too narrow, so they need Bosworth to either enter or exit (I cannot remember which way it flows.)
 

DBM

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Isn't the Parker House loading dock on Chapman around the corner from Bosworth, though? That's why I left Chapman out of my original proposal--it's too far gone to ever be brought back to life.
This brings us an underrated issue in this discussion though--how miserably unpleasant the Boston pedestrian experience can be, not because of our cold climate (which really isn't that cold, let's not kid ourselves), but because of our ferocious, assaulting, stamina- and heat-sucking winds. Boston is the windiest big city in the country. People can be perfectly comfortable walking/sitting/dining outdoors in very cold temperatures, so long as its perfectly still. But add wind gusts--brutal.

This is relevant to Bosworth/Chapman because, the Marliave/MAST patio is one of the worst wind tunnels in the city I've experienced. Which means for 3 months of the year, it offers refreshing cooling breezes for the restaurant diners there. The rest of the time--hideous.

Meanwhile--the more skyscrapers you build, the windier it gets (Bernoulli principle being the governing factor I think), and the more downdrafts can behave in decidedly vicious ways. Point being, you can't overlook wind as part of this overall discussion.
 

Shepard

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Great post, OP. I too wish that more narrow streets and alleys could be activated. It’s a fun thought but limited by climate and the reality of what’s already there.

I’m an infrequent visitor to Montreal so I could be wrong but I’d venture to say that the Underground City kind of takes the place of what you’re thinking about here.


1613270825917.jpeg
 

Charlie_mta

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Great post, OP. I too wish that more narrow streets and alleys could be activated. It’s a fun thought but limited by climate and the reality of what’s already there.

I’m an infrequent visitor to Montreal so I could be wrong but I’d venture to say that the Underground City kind of takes the place of what you’re thinking about here.
I wonder of there is much of a homeless issue with the underground passages in the winter?
 

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