In response to a probe of the waterfront paths by the Boston Globe, the Pritzker family agreed yesterday to construct a temporary pathway linking the Federal Courthouse edge to Anthony's Pier 4 restaurant, providing pedestrian access along the waterfront edge of their property.

In a related development regarding waterfront pedestrian access, BRA Director Thomas O'Brien indicated that the City is planning a new pedestrian bridge in place of the existing Old Northern Avenue bridge slated for demolition and scheduled to be closed to pedestrians next week.

The complete text of the Boston Globe report follows:

On waterfront in progress, paths disappearing

Pedestrian bridge set for closure, adding to complaints about usability
By Anthony Flint, Globe Staff, 09/29/98

Ever since the new federal courthouse opened, pedestrians have been streaming across the old Northern Avenue bridge, the quickest route across Fort Point Channel to the much-touted ``new frontier'' on Fan Pier.

But the city plans to demolish the century-old span, and in a week the bridge will be closed off for several months while repairs are done to its piers to make it safe for boat navigation until it comes down.

At Fan Pier, people can stroll along the gleaming new Harborwalk in front of the courthouse, but the walkway ends abruptly with a big black fence at the end of the courthouse property line, making it a route to nowhere.

And Harborlights, the summer music tent, is being dismantled and has no new home, obliterating one of the most successful destinations on the South Boston waterfront.

The waterfront remains a work in progress, to be sure. Planners say the new Seaport District won't be fully functioning for 20 years. But the closing of the old Northern Avenue bridge, the Harborwalk's abrupt end, and the removal of Harborlights have led some critics to suggest that the city isn't doing enough to make the waterfront usable in the meantime.

``We need people to be interested and walking through that area now,'' said Steve Hollinger, a leader in the Seaport Alliance for Neighborhood Design, a group closely monitoring the transformation of the waterfront. ``Otherwise all the rest of the development is going to go up before people know what they're missing.''

Making the waterfront an attractive and easy destination for the near-term - in addition to continuing work on long-range plans - is ``absolutely a priority,'' said Thomas N. O'Brien, director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority. But keeping the area functioning on an interim basis has not been easy, he said.

Because Harborlights only operates for three months a year but effectively ties up land year-round, even while it is dormant, finding a suitable available parcel on the South Boston waterfront has been difficult, O'Brien said.

Politics also plays a role. The city has agreed to tear down the old Northern Avenue bridge under intense pressure from US Representative J. Joseph Moakley, who wants the new Northern Avenue bridge - named for his late wife, Evelyn - to be the premier crossing to the waterfront. Developer Frank McCourt agrees; the new bridge, which opened in 1996, is a gateway to his property.

But historic preservationists and waterfront activists - as well as federal judges in the new courthouse and the Pritzker family, which owns the rest of the land on Fan Pier - want pedestrian access at the old bridge retained.

``If people have to walk all the way around to the Evelyn Moakley Bridge, you can't see the new park in front of the courthouse from there. All you see is this massive brick facade,'' said Vivien Li, head of the Boston Harbor Association. ``People won't be drawn there.''

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has also weighed in, urging that pedestrian access to the new courthouse be maintained..

Regardless of the bridge's ultimate fate, even O'Brien and Mayor Thomas M. Menino were surprised the span was scheduled to be closed off for repairs. Peter Scarpignato, an engineer for the Public Works Department, said the Coast Guard is requiring the city to repair the fenders around the bridge's piers as soon as possible.

O'Brien said the pedestrian crossing at the old bridge should be suspended for the shortest time possible. A new pedestrian bridge, the plan and funding for which are in the works, he said, should be built quickly to reestablish that connection.

As for the abrupt end to the new Harborwalk, representatives of the Pritzker family, owners of the Hyatt hotel chain, said yesterday that they would create a temporary walkway along their property at the water's edge, so pedestrians can walk from the courthouse all the way to Anthony's Pier 4 restaurant and the World Trade Center.

This story ran on page B01 of the Boston Globe on 09/29/98. © Copyright 1998 Globe Newspaper Company.