Copley Connect Draws Mixed Response From Community Leaders

Copley Connect – the city’s pilot program which shut down a section of Dartmouth Street to motor-vehicle traffic for 10 days earlier this month to temporarily provide expanded pedestrian space at Copley Square Park – has so far received mixed reviews from community leaders, with some applauding the additional of new public event space and others expressing deep concern over its traffic impact.

Between Tuesday, June 7, and Friday, June 17, the city and the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) shut down Dartmouth Street between Boylston Street and St. James Avenue to cars and other motor vehicles, allowing numerous activities to be hosted in the area for the public to enjoy, including a Celtics “watch party “ in Copley Square on June 11, as well as the Donna Summer Disco Party on June 16.

The pilot program also set the stage for the city’s plans to revitalize Copley Square Park by adding a “durable and flexible plaza for popular events, tree groves for shady relaxation, many seating opportunities, and sustainable planters around the Square,” according to the city.

“My kids loved it,” said Rep. Jay Livingstone of the newly created public space, who added that the Donna Summer Disco Party and the Celtics viewing party were popular events that took advantage of the expanded pedestrian area. 

“It was great to see people enjoying the space,” he said, adding that he had seen guests reading, eating, and spending time there.

In contrast, Rep. Livingstone said he had also heard some complaints from area businesses and residents regarding the city initiative’s impact on vehicular traffic.

“I’m interested in hearing about the data the city collected regarding any changes to traffic patterns and further discussion on the best configuration of that block of Dartmouth Street – whether it’s entirely pedestrian or expanded pedestrian space with still space for curbs,” said Rep. Livingstone. “I’m pleased that Mayor Wu tried this experiment, and outdoor space is at such a premium in the area that connecting Copley Square with the library’s front steps was an interesting concept.”

Elliott Laffer, chair of the Neighborhood Association board of directors, was less enthusiastic about Copley Connect, as well as what it might mean for future closures of that part of Dartmouth Street.

“That block is a vital connection, and it is one of only four pathways from the South End side into the Back Bay – Berkeley Street; Dartmouth Street; Ring Road; and Belvidere Street to Dalton Street,” said Laffer. “Of those, Berkeley is very frequently  congested and not somewhere to put any more traffic. Ring Road is a very small, technically private street that backs up with about 10 cars. Belvidere to Dalton is a long way around for a lot of people, and it’s a really small street.”

Moreover, Dartmouth Street is the “key connector” between the Back Bay and the District 4 police station on Harrison Avenue, as well as with the fire station on Columbus Avenue, he said.

“It’s also a key connector that can produce spillover in a whole bunch of places,” added Laffer, such as rerouting traffic to Copley from Allston via Storrow Drive.

Along with Berkeley Street, Dartmouth Street is also one of the “key connectors” between  the Mass Turnpike and Copley, he said.

“As far as using [this section of Dartmouth Street] as an extension of the park, I’m sure everyone enjoys it, but the question is not enjoying the park – it’s getting traffic where it needs to go,” added Laffer. “It’s certainly not inconceivable and might be nice to close the street on some weekends, as has happened before, but to close it on weekdays is very problematic.”

Jonathan Cohn, chair of the Boston Ward 4 Democratic Committee, on the other hand, was among those who applauded Copley Connect as another pedestrian-friendly initiative by the city.

“I think Copley Connect and the other pedestrian-only pilots are a great initiative from the city, reflecting the strong public support for past initiatives like Open Newbury,” Cohn wrote in an email. “Whenever I passed by, Dartmouth was active, with people chatting, doing work, or taking advantage of activities. It was an example of devoting public space to people, as opposed to cars. I hope the City continues the initiative and continues to reflect on how to make the City a more pedestrian-friendly space, both for the sake of vibrancy and for the sake of  the modal shift we need for public safety and sustainability.”

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