Several new design options were unveiled during the city’s third meeting on proposed improvements to the Back Bay Fens pathways, which was held virtually on Thursday, Feb. 16.
Construction is tentatively expected to get underway on the project this fall, said Lauren Bryant, project manager for the Boston Parks and Recreation Department. The cost of the project, which was originally intended to focus on just the pathways themselves, was then estimated to be around $6.3 million, she said, but its scope has since been expanded to include three additional items: the War Memorial, along with its paths and accessibility; the John Boyle O’Reilly Memorial; and the new Evans Way Bridge.
Kyle Zick, a landscape architect for the project, said the city controls most of the land and pathways within the project site. The War Memorial and its pathways are under the jurisdiction of the Boston Trust Office, he said, while the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation owns the land around the perimeter of the park and on the edges of Agassiz Road.
Zick described the project as “primarily a pathway and entryway project,” with a scope that includes “accessibility; desirability and uses; stormwater and runoff; materials; and pathway longevity.”
Besides a new Evans Way Bridge , which will be funded in part through a $650,000 city CPA (Community Preservation Act) grant, two other existing footbridges are located within the Fens, he said.
Zick said he was awaiting the imminent completion of a site survey, which would study accessibility at the parks entrances, adding that he expects the new Evans Way Bridge “will change circulation quite a bit.”
Additionally, Zick described the basketball courts and the Kelleher Rose Garden as “the heart of the park” and said publicly accessible garden plots in the Victory Gardens present an opportunity for accessible pathways to reach them.
Said Zick: “It would be easy to just say we’re going to repave to make all the pathways that exist in better condition. But this is also a once-in-a-generation chance to look at these and say whether these paths are in the rights spot, are they the right width, are they performing all the tasks and programming we want them to.”
The first design option presented by Zick kept the pathways essentially the same while adding a new segment that connect the new Evans Way Bridge to Jersey Street and other places.
A second option unveiled by Zick would mirror the first option, including the connection for the Evans Way Bridge, while creating a “slight arch” on a path to line up the connection between the Rose Garden and the basketball courts.
A third options anticipates that the Evans Way Bridge would greatly change “traffic patterns” for pedestrians in the park and therefore add a new pathway segment across the lawn from the new bridge to the Rose Garden and other destinations further north.
A fourth option presented would create a new pathway between the new Evans Way Bridge and Jersey Street or cut across the lawn to the north without connecting to the Rose Garden.
A fifth option would create a new pathway to Jersey Street while having less of an impact on the existing lawn, according to Zick.
Regarding lighting for the site, Zick said the pathway from the Evans Way Bridge to Jersey Street would be illuminated using modern, acorn LED fixtures found throughout the city while more lighting would also be added at the War Memorial and at the basketball courts, among other locations.
Besides lighting fixtures, the project will also take into account other site furnishings, like benches and other seating; drinking fountains; signage; and trash receptacles, Zick said.
Vegetation management around the pathways will also be incorporated into the plan, added Zick, although it’s now unclear whether any trees would be removed as part of the project, pending completion of the site survey.
In response to community concerns raised at previous meetings, all inner pathways within the site, as well as the Evans Way Bridge and the two existing footbridges, would be accessible only to pedestrians and not bicyclists, said Bryant.
“We decided not to change the rules around city pathways in the Back Bay Fens,” she said.
Meanwhile, the city will be holding a series of meetings next month on various aspects of the project, said Bryant, including a March 23 meeting on the Victory Gardens; and a March 28 meeting on the War Memorial, the Evans Way Bridge, and the O’Reilly Monument.
A meeting on the Pathways was originally scheduled for March 22, she added, but that meeting will be rescheduled to another time that doesn’t conflict with the 61st annual meeting of the Fenway Civic Association also scheduled for that same evening.
Like other meeting-goers, Marie Fukuda, a Fenway Civic Association board member and longtime Fenway resident, lauded the project team for their work so far, especially for taking community input into account.
Fukuda asked that a rectangular lawn near existing the basketball courts, especially near the west side, be preserved for passive use when designing pathways to the courts.
Tim Horn, president of the Fenway Civic Association, advised the project team to look at “desire lines” when reconfiguring the pathways “because those desire times won’t change over time when we look at the other paths.”
Horn also pointed to the need for benches and other seating to allow elderly visitors a place in the Grove section of the park to stop and rest on the way to their gardens, or to stop for lunch. But he suggested that benches and other seating fixtures should probably only extend about 4 feet wide so that “it doesn’t encourage people to sleep through the night.”
Pam Jorgensen, president of the Fenway Victory Gardens board of directors, cautioned against the addition of any picnic tables while agreeing with Horn’s recommendation to make the benches shorter to help discourage the existing problem of illegal drug use and other nefarious activity in the park.
“The amenity that they are is probably going to attract activity that we don’t want,” she said.
Visit https://www.boston.gov/departments/parks-and-recreation/improvements-back-bay-fens-pathways for more information on the project.