By Seth Daniel
Everyone has been taught to look both ways before crossing the street, but this summer – at least for one day and maybe more – that may not be necessary.
Imagine shopping on Newbury Street – grabbing a coffee and a new sweatsuit – and then dashing across the street without having to look both ways for cars. That’s the end result of a long planning process between the City of Boston, residents of the Back Bay, Newbury Street business and the non-profit WalkBoston, a process now known as Open Streets.
City officials said they will announce the date of the Newbury Street closure sometime within a month from now, and envision the entire length of Newbury Street to be closed to allow pedestrians unimpeded access to the district in a piazza-type environment.
“This year, the Mayor gave us a task: create fun, new ideas for pedestrians, supporting public spaces. With this in mind, we proposed closing Newbury Street to vehicles for a day, creating a pedestrian-only avenue for residents and visitors to enjoy Newbury Street and its establishments,” said Jerome Smith, chief of Civic Engagement for the City. “We’ve received a large amount of positive feedback from the community, and plan to schedule the pedestrian-only day this summer, giving the idea a trial run…If the project is well-received, we hope to host another temporary pedestrian open street, and potentially incorporate bands, performance art and other public cultural events. We look forward to having pedestrians have full access to all of Newbury Street, showcasing all this iconic street has to offer.”
At WalkBoston, the organization has promoted pedestrian safety and pedestrian improvements for quite some time and has enjoyed a great working relationship with the City recently as the solution to traffic woes has expanded to solutions that include, simply put, walking.
“We’re pleased that the City is looking to be creative and flexible,” said Brendan Kearney of WalkBoston. “The ongoing Go Boston 2030 and Imagine Boston planning processes have encouraged participants to rethink how we live, work, and play in the city; more importantly, the Mayor’s commitment to Vision Zero is intended to make it safe to get around.” If the pilot program on Newbury Street works out the way it is hoped, there is the possibility that other such similar streets could be considered. Streets mentioned unofficially by some include Hanover Street in the North End and Tremont Street in the South End. For now, the City said it is working to make sure the idea works well the first time and doesn’t cause negative impacts to businesses or residents of the area. “The Mayor’s office is working closely with businesses and residents to ensure the street closure does not negatively affect residents or businesses,” said Smith. “In addition, we are carefully considering all public safety aspects of the street closure, including access for emergency personnel to all buildings on Newbury Street. We are also working with the local business associations and individual businesses to ensure every concern and suggestion is heard.