By Beth Treffeisen
Plans for a new pilot program that will update and repair the mismatched sidewalks that surround the Boston Public Library are underway.
Para Jayasinghe from the Boston Public Works Department made a presentation in front of the Back Bay Architectural Commission (BBAC), on the sidewalk paving master plan and replacement efforts between Dartmouth Street and Exeter Street at the Wednesday, April 12 hearing. The BBAC moved to approve this project as submitted.
“I went to the Boston Public Library and I noticed there was seven different types of materials being used right there,” said Jayasinghe. “I was taken aback but then I realized it was not so bad.”
The sidewalks are partly owned by the City and part privately owned.
Renovations to the sidewalks include moving the orientation of the pavers in the same direction, updating wheelchair ramps to be surrounded by concrete with a red symbolizer, take out the concrete markers that separate private from City-owned, and updating the permeable bricks that will line the curb and have a tighter space around street trees.
All of the trees will remain but Jayasinghe said, “We don’t want to leave just a mud pit there.”
The pilot program will place permeable pavers into the pit in a careful way as to not to disturb the tree roots. The pavers could easily be removed and lineated up until the first foot of the tree.
Commissioner Jerome CooperKing expressed concerns that those pavers might eventually move around the base of the tree, due to the continuality of them; it would make it harder for pedestrians to see them.
“It would be a tripping matter that you wouldn’t be able to see because it will blend in them,” said CooperKing.
Jayasinghe said, that hopefully in a few years when they became loose they hope to figure out this problem by then. This is a temporary solution until they can figure out something better that will work throughout the Back Bay.
This pilot program will be re-doing the City owned sidewalks. After this pilot program is put into place, Jayasinghe said that he hopes this will then be replicated throughout the Back Bay.
“This pilot program we want to set for continuality and not set up for failure,” said Jayasinghe. “We want to do something we can replicate evenly.”
Meg Mainzer-Cohen the executive director of the Back Bay Association said that this pilot program should act as the model for sidewalks as proposals come in for the future. In the past, she said, an ad-hoc method of approving one thing and then another has not worked out.
“What happened – well just go walk down Boylston Street yourself,” said Mainzer-Cohen. “In the future think about one continuous sidewalk on both sides of the street.”
She continued, “What we have now is a very important lesson on how to not fix a sidewalk. Let’s keep it simple moving forward.”
This project is expected to be finished by this upcoming September.
Eliot Hotel updates bike lane after City Improvements
The Eliot Hotel located at 370 Commonwealth Ave., proposed improvements to the bicycle lane, sidewalk, and valet and travel lane in front of the main entrance to the hotel located on Massachusetts Ave.
This comes after the City of Boston moved the bike lane from outside of the parked cars to inside, having it run along the curb of the sidewalk. This is part of the City’s Vision Zero plan that hopes to end bike and pedestrian deaths.
But, this ended up causing a lot more problems.
Now, the bike lane is situated between a valet parking zone and the sidewalk, where there is continuous pedestrian traffic throughout the day. Opening doors and walking across the designated bike lane has caused some safety concerns with the hotel.
The Eliot Hotel proposed to put in a landing strip that would buffer the bike lane from pedestrians exiting their cars. There will be a small crosswalk that would be handicap accessible to cross over the bike lane towards the entrance of the hotel.
All of the improvements will be at on the same level to keep it accessible. The concrete median that will divide people from getting out of the cars to the bike lane is about four and half feet wide.
“One thing I like about this is that there are so many things going on, many of the bicycles are going to have slow down,” said Commissioner Lex Stevens.
This project already has approval by the Boston Transportation Department (BTD). When asking BTD if the hotel could go back to the way it was before (with the bike lane on the other side of the parked cars), the response was, “no, there is no way it’s going back.”
Arthur Ullian who was representing the Eliot Hotel said that they would have loved to go back to how it was originally because it was the cheaper option, but wanted to invest in these improvements to make it safer for their guests and other passersby at their hotel.
The BBAC approved this project with Commissioner CooperKing objecting, saying that he wished the median were at a different level to provide a bigger buffer between pedestrians and bicyclers.
ISKCON of New England gets new statue
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) of Boston is a branch of the monotheistic Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition within Hinduism. This branch that has a temple at 72 Commonwealth Ave., has called Boston home since the mid 1960’s.
Recently the temple celebrated the 50th anniversary and garnered attention from ISKCON internationally. As part of the celebration, a gift of one half of a statue was donated to the Temple from an artist in India.
The sculpture represents when ISKCON was first founded here in Boston. In 1965, Srila Prabhupada left India and went out to the Western world, landing on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. Since then, Boston has become a significant center for this organization.
The statue portrays the founder descending the boat into Boston. The other half of the statue is in India of the founder mounting the boat.
This was a way to have a connection between temple to temple and from city to city.
At the BBAC meeting ISKCON of New England proposed re-landscaping of the front garden area and installation of an outdoor sculpture consisting of a brass figure on a granite base standing 75 inches tall.
The garden design consisted of an intricate lotus with the current tree with the statue underneath it in the center towards the back. There is also a plan to re-do the sign that tells people what the center is about.
The only problem is that the statue is going in very close to the tree and has to be 11 inches into the ground. If there is a main root to the tree where the statue needs to be placed they might have to replace the current dogwood tree.
To keep in character of the neighborhood, ISKCON said once they raise enough money they would be returning to propose a low metal fence to keep out dogs from the garden.
The Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) asked that ISKCON hire a professional gardening company to help with the ornate garden and keep it flourishing.
“Because of the institution and cultural significance and religion aspect we are breaking all the rules for this,” said Commissioner Lex Stevens. “We don’t break the rules for anybody. We ask that this statue fit in. I love the lotus design, it’s marvelous.”
Stevens asked that ISKCON work with the Garden Club of the Back Bay and keep this garden well maintained.
The BBAC received four e-mails in opposition of this proposal.
Arianne Filtz Napier spoke out against this proposal. As an abutting neighbor she said that she has had to put up with a lot from the temple, including members filing out during celebrations and sitting on her stoop and steps.
“During the summer there are rather disruptive gatherings that run out into the street onto the steps and onto our steps and others,” said Napier.
In addition, she said that the front garden now is poorly maintained and worries that they will not be able to get the funding to maintain such an ornate garden.
She also stated concerns about setting a precedent for putting a statue on a mainly residential street.
This proposal was passed, with BBAC stating that they do get leeway because they are a religious institution, with details of the marker sign to be sent to staff and to not have the statue go above the window well of the building.