Ahead of Sen. Will Brownsberger ceding representation of the whole length of the Esplanade to newly elected Sen. Lydia Edwards as a result of redistricting, both elected officials joined in for a virtual discussion sponsored by the Esplanade Association on Feb. 10 to discuss issues related to public greenspace.
Sen. Brownsberger pointed to the proliferation of electronic bikes traveling at high speeds on multi-use paths on the Esplanade as one of the biggest issues now facing the park.
So-called ‘e-bikes,’ he said, shouldn’t be used on the same pathways as “peopling cycling using human power” or runners.
Sen. Brownsberger said he would like to see state legislation to this effect, as well as speed limits on the Esplanade’s multi-use pathways capped at 15 mph.
“It’s gone back and forth, but hasn’t been crystalized,” Sen. Brownsberger said of the pending legislation. “We’ll see if we can wrestle it down.”
Meantime, Sen. Brownsberger said the problem could also be addressed via new park regulations enacted by the Department of Conservation and Recreation, which has jurisdiction over the Esplanade.
“On the Esplanade, I really worry that we’ll see some of the high-powered electric bikes,” he said.
In anticipation of the redevelopment of the Lee Pool complex on the Esplanade, Sen. Brownsberger said he was “so grateful to [the Esplanade Association and its board] for funding what is going to be a great project there,” as well as a project that he said would preserve public access to the site while allowing the private partner to recoup their investment.
Sen. Brownsberger also voiced his admiration for the Frances “Fanny” Appleton Pedestrian Bridge, which links Beacon Hill to the West End across the Esplanade and said the Dartmouth and Fairfield Street bridges in the park are now “dying to be addressed.”
“That’s something Lydia is going to be dealing with,” he added.
Regarding DCR, Sen. Brownsberger said he has admittedly been “frustrated with things they haven’t done or that they have done in clumsy way,” as was the case when the agency took away three parking spaces in the Fenway and gave them to the Berklee College of Music.
This frustration was what led him to create the DCR Special Commission, he said, which ultimately supported “DCR’s current scope of mission” and also recommended that funding be increased for the agency..
Moreover, Sen. Brownsberger described the current DCR staff as their “best team lately,” singling out Jeff Parenti, DCR traffic engineer, for particular praise.
Sen. Edwards underscored the necessity for DCR to hold meetings and disseminate information to the public in myriad languages to help promote equity, and to get their message across to as many Boston residents as possible.
Also, Sen. Edwards recommended that DCR create more youth jobs to promote stewardship while providing much-needed income for young people who work to help support their parents.
To attract young people to the Esplanade, Sen. Edwards suggested offering shuttle-bus service and field trips for young people to the park, adding that she is now talking with the New England Aquarium about launching similar initiatives.
Meantime. Sen. Brownsberger reflected on the evolution of Charlesgate Park and the Bowker Overpass, which, he said, “heated up” around the time he was elected in 2014. Residents of Charlesgate East and West were then calling for the removal of the overpass “so it wasn’t right up against their windows” and also to remove the “blight” it caused near the Middy River, he added.
When Sen. Brownsberger pressed Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to prove that the Bowker was indeed an “essential artery,” they successfully made their case while also committing to help fund the future Charlesgate Park beneath the Bowker.
Charlesgate residents Parker James and Pam Beale launched the Charlesgate Alliance in early 2017 to provide a voice for the proposed park. The group soon enlisted landscape architects Dan and Marie Adams of the Landing Studio to help design the proposed Charlesgate Park, with state funding secured by Rep. Jay Livingston and Chynah Tyler.
At the same time, MassDOT still had to reconstruct the bridge and attempt to unravel what Sen. Brownsberger described as the “massive spaghetti mess” created by nearby roadways in a process, which involved Dan and Marie Adams, as well as Steve McLaughlin, MassDOT project manager.
“They thought it through in a series of concepts to allow both barrels of Storrow Drive to move away from the Charles River to reclaim the parkland,” said Sen. Brownsberger.
While no official announcement has been made yet, MassDOT is committed to doing a broader-scope project here, said Sen. Brownsberger, which would include daylighting of the Muddy River and is expected to “yield a lot of parkland.”
“It’s going to be a great extension of the Esplanade,” he added.
Sen. Brownsberger pledged to remain committed to Charlesgate Park for the duration of the project.
“I’m very committed to staying close to this project for the life of it,” added Sen. Brownsberger.
By way of initiation, Sen. Edwards said Sen. Brownsberger recently gave her a walking tour of the Esplanade, beginning at the State House before making their way to Massachusetts Avenue and heading back via Boylston Street. The purpose of their walk was “as an orientation to assess the situation,” she said, since Sen. Edwards will soon be “guardian” and “steward” of the Esplanade.
Additionally, Sen. Brownsberger gave Sen. Edwards a tutorial on how state agencies and state laws impact the Esplanade, she added.
Sen. Edwards said she feels ready to step up as an advocate the Esplanade, since in her previous role as District 1 Councilor, she represented other public greenspaces in the city, including the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway in the North End and the Mary Ellen Welch Greenway in East Boston, where she lives.
Sen. Edwards also offered to take a walking tour of the Esplanade with Michael Nichols, executive director of the Esplanade,, and members of the group’s board to better understand the park from their perspectives.
Sen. Edwards said she is proud to have the opportunity to represent the Esplanade and promised to do right by Sen. Brownsberger in this endeavor.
“You have a listener in me, you have a fighter in me, and you have a guardian in me,” said Sen. Edwards.