State seeks upgrade to Charles footbridge

 

$10m plan would link Esplanade to rotary, Longfellow

by

David Abel

Boston Globe – Boston, Mass.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation, in addition to its $300 million, six-year effort to restore the grandeur of the Longfellow Bridge, plans to unveil a $10 million plan tonight to replace a dilapidated pedestrian bridge that connects Charles Circle with the Esplanade.

The proposed bridge would double the width of the existing pedestrian bridge, which does not conform to the American with Disabilities Act, yet has more foot traffic than any span in the Charles River Basin.

Proponents of the concept say it will make it easier for pedestrians to reach the Esplanade from the busy traffic circle, reclaim parkland that is often littered with trash and fallen concrete, and knit together a neighborhood that has been rejuvenated in recent years with a new hotel, refurbished Red Line station, and improved roads.

“We think this idea has a lot of promise and solves a lot of problems that bicyclists and pedestrians face in trying to get to and from the Esplanade from the Longfellow Bridge,” said Luisa Paiewonsky, highway administrator of the state Department of Transportation. “We’re actively looking at how this can be implemented. We want to pursue this.”

After the idea is presented tonight at a public meeting of the Longfellow Bridge Task Force, a group of neighbors, activists, and government officials helping design the Longfellow refurbishment, Paiewonsky’s staff hopes to present a more detailed plan within the next few weeks about how to pay for the pedestrian bridge and how to secure the needed permits.

She expects construction of the footbridge to occur at the same time the Longfellow undergoes its overhaul.

“We wouldn’t want to disrupt bridge traffic twice,” she said. “We’re going to do everything we can to get this done.”

Miguel Rosales, a Boston-based architect who helped design the Zakim Bridge, drafted the feasibility study to build the pedestrian bridge for the Department of Transportation. He estimates the project will cost about $10 million and would accommodate more people, not only because it is larger than the existing footbridge but because it will come closer to the entrance of the MBTA station.

Rosales said the new bridge would be 14 feet wide, compared with 7 feet wide for the existing bridge, which was built in 1962. He said it would have a gentler slope, with every 1-foot rise in height spread over 20 feet in length, as is required by law, to make it accessible for people who use wheelchairs.

He also expects the 200-foot span would have some architectural flair.

“For the longest time, the bridges over Storrow Drive have not been architecturally oriented; they have been more functional,” he said. “This would be the first time that there will be a deck arch bridge, as opposed to the girder bridges that require supports in the median.”

Valerie Fletcher, executive director of the Institute for Human Centered Design in Boston, said it is time the existing bridge be replaced.

“I think the thing that’s absolutely unacceptable and shocking is that the original plan [for the Longfellow renovation] doesn’t make an accessible route into the Esplanade,” she said. “At $300 million, what a missed opportunity, and arguably unacceptable!”

Herb Nolan, a landscape architect who chairs the design and planning committee of the Esplanade Association and serves on the task force, described the plans for the new bridge as an inspiration.

“It’s a phenomenal piece of work that echoes the models of the Longfellow Bridge,” he said. “We need this because it would be the only universally accessible bridge reaching the Esplanade. The others are too steep.”

Wendy Landman, executive director of WalkBoston, who is also a member of the task force, said she thinks the plan is “headed in the right direction.”

“The connection right now to the Esplanade is circuitous, extremely narrow, and not a gracious way to get there from Charles Circle,” she said. “I’m hoping this will be a wonderful way to walk to the Esplanade.”

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.

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