Opening the waterfront to bikes and pedestrians — in Boston

08

Nov

Opening the waterfront to bikes and pedestrians — in Boston

Work on South Bay Harbor Trail is launched

Bike, pedestrian path intended to open waterfront

City and state officials marked the formal launch of work on a new bicycle and pedestrian pathway yesterday designed to open Boston’s waterfront to formerly landlocked neighborhoods.

Organizers say the 3.5-mile South Bay Harbor Trail will link inland areas such as Roxbury, Chinatown, and the South End to the waterways of Fort Point Channel and the Seaport district by Fan Pier. It will also serve as a much-needed recreational connection for cyclists and pedestrians downtown to get from the Rose Kennedy Greenway to the Arnold Arboretum and the Emerald Necklace, they say.

In the planning stages since 2001, the project was led by Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, a nonprofit advocacy group, and was developed in conjunction with the city and state, said Patricia A. Foley, president of Save the Harbor.

Construction is set to begin later this fall for completion in 2010, she said.

The multiuse path will begin at the MBTA’s Ruggles Station, and travel down Melnea Cass Boulevard to Massachusetts Avenue, along Albany Street and across the Broadway Bridge into South Boston. The trail will meet up with the existing Boston HarborWalk at Rolling Bridge Park, a small park across from the Gillette manufacturing plant in Fort Point, and ultimately terminate at Fan Pier, where there will be bike racks, showers, and lockers for commuting cyclists.

Buoys salvaged and reconditioned by the US Coast Guard will serve as trail markers and a playful reminder of the city’s rich maritime history. Signs shaped like sails on a mast will feature historic photos and details about the history of each neighborhood the trail passes through.

“Personally, I can’t wait to ride my bike along the trail,” said Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who called it “a very important achievement.”

The state Executive Office of Transportation will contribute $3.9 million in federal highway funds to finish the design and construction, Foley said. Save The Harbor raised another $1 million to pay for preliminary design work, she said.

Those sections of the trail that cross private property will be paid for by the property owners, including Gillette, the BioSquare biotechnology park, and Crosstown Center, a hotel, office, and retail hub near Boston University Medical Center, Foley said.

Menino and the state secretary of Transportation, Bernard Cohen, touted the project as a successful model of combining public and private efforts. “The Harbor Trail is really a terrific example of what strong partnerships can achieve,” Menino said.

Cohen, who lives in the South End and keeps a boat nearby, said the project is a worthy investment and said he is looking forward to using the trail.

“It’s clear to me how important this is for the life of communities here,” he said.

Vivien Li, executive director of the Boston Harbor Association, said the trail is a good extension of the existing 37-mile Boston HarborWalk, built as part of the Big Dig, and another positive step toward making Boston more bike-accessible.

Fort Point architect Michael Tyrrell, founder of the South Bay Harbor Trail Coalition, first envisioned the trail concept in the late 1990s as a way to reclaim the “lost waterfront” that once existed on the Southern edge of the city. But the project was fraught with challenges, in large part because of the assortment of land owners and abutters – including the federal, state and city government, as well as private owners – who had to be convinced of its wisdom.

“It took a very long time to promote this, trying to weave a multiuse bike and pedestrian path through one of the oldest cities in North America,” Tyrrell said.

Throughout the 19th century and until the Great Depression, Tyrrell said, industrial wharves, docklands, and brick, lumber, and railroad yards lined the Roxbury Canal that once extended from the channel along what is now Albany Street to Massachusetts Avenue in the South End. The canal was eventually filled in when industrial activity in the area died off after World War II, Tyrrell said.

Tyrrell said he was inspired by the Central Artery Tunnel project and how it would transform the downtown cityscape. But he worried that most of the attention and resources for making open space improvements along the Harbor were being devoted to the city’s northern side, in what is now North Point Park in Cambridge.

“It’s another way to showcase Boston’s great waterfront area and skyline and get [visitors] into other neighborhoods they might not see,” said Julie Burns, director of the city’s Office of Arts, Tourism and Special Events.

Pazzanese can be reached at cpazzanese@globe.com.

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