This story ran on page 1 of the Boston Globe's City Weekly on 4/29/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

Bike path to water gains ground
By Emily Shartin, Globe Correspondent

Boston Harbor may seem far from land-locked neighborhoods like Roxbury and the South End, but before long, residents could discover they are only a hop, skip, or maybe a short bike ride away from the waterfront.

Spurred by the enthusiasm of community activists, the city has begun developing plans for the South Bay Harbor Trail, a 3.5-mile pedestrian and bicycle path connecting Roxbury's Ruggles MBTA Station to Fan Pier in South Boston.

The trail, the brainchild of architect Michael Tyrrell, who lives in the South End, would run along Melnea Cass Boulevard, cut beneath I-93, cross the Broadway Bridge into South Boston, and follow Fort Point Channel to Fan Pier. The proposal was a centerpiece of Earth Day activities held by Mayor Thomas Menino last weekend, at which officials announced a $2 million grant the city will use in part to build the trail.

From alternative means of transportation to the preservation of the waterfront to simple recreation, the Harbor Trail represents a confluence of interests among those who champion its development. Brad Swing, a special assistant in Boston's Office of Environmental Services, said the city wanted to become involved in creating the trail because of the connections it could foster between neighborhoods.

Bike links down road?

Under the current design, the South Bay path would be accessible to Roxbury, the South End, South Boston, Fort Point, and Chinatown. In the future, Tyrrell and others envision the path connecting with existing bikeways that serve the Charles River and the Emerald Necklace areas.

''This is a project that gets people to travel from one part of Boston to another part of Boston in something other than an automobile,'' said Swing, himself a resident of the South End.

''It also is a project that aims to bring Boston's waterfront, the beneficiary of a $4-billion clean-up effort, to residents who might not realize how their tax dollars have been spent.''

The Harbor Trail is one of several initiatives undertaken by the Campaign for the Water's Edge - a partnership between the advocacy group Save the Harbor/Save the Bay and Boston College's Watershed Institute - to bring more residents to Boston Harbor.

''The only way that we know to keep the harbor clean forever is to share it with the people who paid to clean it up,'' said Bruce Berman, a spokesman for the campaign.

Tyrrell, who has a background in urban design, first became interested in the Fort Point Channel area through his research on historic bridges, and began mapping the Harbor Trail with fellow South End resident Tom Dimieri five years ago. Although the current upheaval of I-93 partially obscures the vision he has for the project, Tyrrell ultimately sees construction of the Central Artery as an opportunity to pay attention to alternative forms of transportation and recreation.

''How can pedestrians, cyclists, in-line skaters coexist with this infrastructure?'' he asked.

William Pressley, whose Cambridge-based architectural firm is drawing up preliminary plans for the Harbor Trail, envisions the project including two paths - one for cyclists and one for pedestrians. The stretch would encompass a range of experiences, Pressley noted, from the parkway feeling of Melnea Cass to the urban feeling of I-93 to the elevation of the Broadway Bridge.

''Part of the design challenge is to make all that work for you,'' said Pressley, who has also worked for Gillette and the Biosquare development, two businesses that abut the proposed trail.

Pricetag `not lavish'

The city hired Pressley Associates with the help of a $50,000 federal grant. The architects have yet to attach a cost estimate to the trail's construction, but point out that because some of the infrastructure is already in place, the total cash outlay shouldn't be too lavish.

''What we're talking about is the cost of improving what's there,'' Pressley said.

Pressley's firm estimates that about half of the land needed for the path is publicly owned - including a half-mile segment of the trail that already exists on Melnea Cass - while the other half is privately owned by about 24 businesses. It will be up to those individual private owners to decide whether or not to make the improvements on their property and become a part of the trail, a decision that at least one developer has already made.

Architect Kirk Sykes is a partner in the $130-million CrossTown Center development, located at the corner of Melnea Cass and Massachusetts Avenue. It will include a hotel, and retail and office space. Sykes, who supports the plan to bring more people to the waterfront, fully intends to incorporate amenities that would appeal to those using the trail, including, for example, an open-air restaurant.

''We're trying to make a destination that would encourage people to come out and eat and sit,'' he said.

CrossTown's location halfway along the proposed trail is pivotal, Sykes said, because it is still relatively far from the waterfront and could be seen as a rest stop. The $2-million grant announced last weekend is intended specifically to improve the CrossTown intersection, money that Sykes believes will be well-spent in drawing more people to the trail.

A vision now shared

The Harbor Trail is likely to be completed in stages over the next several years as the Central Artery project wraps up, officials said. Although that might seem like a long way off, those involved say they are proud of the progress they have made so far.

''This is one man's vision that grew into a very strong coalition,'' said Howard Hughes, a community relations specialist for the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, which is also involved in the project.

Hughes, who lives in Roxbury, sees the trail as an important resource for neighborhood children, many of whom he says might not be familiar with the waterfront or taking a boat out to the Harbor Islands.

''Normally, those kids would not know how to get to the water,'' Hughes said. ''I think the Harbor Trail will bring the city closer together.''

This story ran on page 1 of the Boston Globe's City Weekly on 4/29/2001.

© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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