The city held its second design meeting virtually on Jan. 10 to discuss making proposed improvements to the Back Bay Fens pathways, including plans for the new Evans Way Bridge.
Lauren Bryant, project manager for the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, said the project began this summer and “will be looking holistically at pathways and connections of different park elements, but not necessarily at all the park elements themselves.”
Besides looking at accessibility at the pathway entrances and the “site amenities that touch the pathways,” the project will also take into account site furnishings like benches, trash receptacles, and lighting, as well as the health of trees along the pathways, added Bryant.
The project was originally just focused on the pathways themselves, she said, but its scope has since been expanded to include three additional items: the World War II Memorial, along with its paths and accessibility; the John Boyle O’Reilly Memorial; and the new Evans Way Bridge.
“The scope of work will review and amend pathways to improve: accessibility; desirability and uses; storwater and runoff; materials; and pathway longevity,” said Bryant.
The current project reflects public comments made at the city’s first design meeting for the project held virtually last October, said Bryant, while feedback from the second Jan. 10 meeting will be reflected in the conceptual design for the project.
Construction is expected to start this fall, said Bryant, and the estimated cost for the project was $6.3 million before its scope was expanded to include the three additional items. The new items won’t necessarily be capitally funded but instead could be funded through possible grants from the city’s Community Preservation Act (CPA), the city’s George Robert White Fund, and the city’s Edward Ingersoll Browne Fund, she said.
Kyle Zick, a landscape architect for the project, said ownership of the site area is shared between the city and the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), so the project would require some collaboration between the city and state.
Zick and his staff have documented and collected data on the pathways, he said, while looking at their materials (e.g. asphalt, concrete, and woodchips); their condition; their width; and their slopes per ADA regulations.
Additionally, Zick and his staff have collected information on and photographed lighting and a wide range of site furnishings, including different types of trash receptacles and seating, among other items. Using this information, Zick and his team will create an inventory for replacing items, as well as to create some uniformity among the street furnishings in the park, he said.
A land surveyor will also be contracted to study the site’s topography, said Zick, as well as to determine the relative accessibility of the park’s various features. An aerial study of the site was completed over the summer, he added, so its findings will be tied together with the findings from the topography study to create a unified study, which will hopefully be finished in time for the third design meeting for this project on Feb. 16.
Moreover, Zick and his staff completed a lighting assessment of the site over the summer, he said, although the lighting at the Victory Gardens has since been repaired and therefore wasn’t reflected in the study.
The project will provide an opportunity to add benches along the Muddy River, as well as for new benches and perhaps a picnic table and drinking fountain in the Fenway Victory Gardens, said Zick.
Also, the project will allow for the addition of new trees and shrubs to the site and for the vegetation management of overgrown shrubs, added Zick.
With the World War II Memorial now included in the project scope, there will also be an opportunity to conserve its existing bronze and repair the pavement at the location, said Zick.
The project will also look at the opportunity to add new bike racks, he said, while also examining how bikes circulate throughout the site.
Zick said he and his staff have also met with the Boston Parks Department maintenance staff to address their concerns regarding site maintenance, including snow removal and trash collection.
The alignment of some paths might need to be altered as part of the project, particularly closer to the Fenway, said Zick.
Rebuilding the Evans Way Bridge will reactivate a connection in the park that hasn’t been used in nearly 50 years and likely have a significant impact on how the park is used in the future, said Zick, adding that the project team will be soliciting feedback on whether the bridge should accommodate pedestrians only, or whether it should accommodate both pedestrians and bicyclists instead. Either way, it’s unlikely that the bridge would be wide enough to accommodate park vehicles or emergency vehicles, he said.
Elena Saporta, another landscape architect on the project, said the new Evans Way Bridge will be funded in part through a $650,000 CPA grant. The old bridge, which fell into disrepair and was disassembled in the late 1970s, measured 81 feet long and 10 feet wide. Concrete abutments from the old bridge are still in place, but it’s unclear whether they can be reused, she said.
There’s currently a 6-foot elevation at this location, said Saporta, so the grade would need to be modified, or the deck elevated, to make the new bridge ADA accessible without handrails.
Marie Fukuda, a longtime resident of the Fenway and a Fenway Civic Association board member, expressed her concern that the Back Bay Fens, which she describes as the only open space available to residents of the neighborhood, many of whom live in small apartments, would become primarily a “bike corridor.”
Fukuda encouraged the city to work with DCR to get bike traffic off the pathways and onto the parkways instead.
Likewise, Freddie Veikley, another longtime Fenway resident, encouraged the project team to reroute bicycle traffic along the perimeter of the site to make the Back Bay Fens a “passive park instead.”
“Let’s not encourage the park to be used as a demand path,” added Veikley.
Tim Horn, president of the Fenway Civic Association, urged the traffic team to consider taking measures to calm bike traffic, such as installing bollards to slow down bicyclists as they cross into the park.
But despite his concerns, Horn applauded the project, especially with its newly expanded scope.
“I think that it’s a fantastic project,” said Horn, “and I’m really excited to see it happening.”
A third deign meeting is scheduled to take place via Zoom on Thursday, Feb. 16, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., although Bryant said more than three public meeting would likely be scheduled on the project, with possible meetings devoted solely to the Evans Way Bridge or the World War II Memorial.
Visit https://www.boston.gov/departments/parks-and-recreation/improvements-back-bay-fens-pathways for more information on the project.