Council President Flynn Pens Letter to Other City Officials Expressing His Concerns With Copley Connect Project

 Special to the Sun

In a letter dated Feb. 7 to Jascha Franklin-Hodge, the city’s chief of streets, and Arthur Jemison, chief of planning for the Boston Planning & Development Agency, City Council President and District 2 City Councilor Ed Flynn wrote:

“I am writing today in regards to the Copley Connect project. Over the last year, I received many calls, emails, and letters from nearby residents and businesses, as well as members of the

Neighborhood Association of Back Bay (NABB), expressing significant concerns and opposition to the Boston Transportation Department’s (BTD) Copley Connect Project. Their primary concern is how a permanent closure of Dartmouth Street between the Boston Public Library and Copley Square will negatively impact first responders, traffic, and commute times in the Back Bay, St. Botolph, and South End. In the feedback I have received from residents in the area, a consistent theme has emerged regarding transparency and concerns about the community process, with their position being that it has been completely bypassed with minimal neighborhood engagement.

“Based on the feedback I have received from first responders, neighbors and civic organizations, I would like to make clear that I remain opposed to any permanent vehicle closure at this section of Dartmouth Street. I respectfully request that any future movement on this project include meaningful input from neighbors and the business community, who will be most directly impacted by this plan, as well as engagement with their elected officials.

“To begin, while I understand the inclination to connect two of Boston’s most well-known public spaces through pedestrianization, chief among my concerns is always public safety. Dartmouth Street, along with Berkeley Street, are two of the main thoroughfares for residents traveling north from South End and St. Botolph into Back Bay. Our first responder units – Boston Police Department D-4, Boston Emergency Medical Services headquarters, and two supporting arms of the Boston Fire Department at Bay Village (Engine 7 Ladder 17) and South End (Engine 22) – are all located south of Back Bay. Currently, in the event of an emergency, these units would utilize either Dartmouth Street or Berkeley Street. Permanently shutting down Dartmouth Street at Copley will not only increase traffic times at an already congested Berkeley Street, but also critical response times. With a significant number of residents, businesses, hotels, schools and colleges interwoven across Back Bay, it would not only be unwise but irresponsible from a public safety standpoint should there be an emergency in the area. Every second is critical when it comes to public safety.

“Secondly, as stated in the Copley Connect findings, traffic times in Back Bay, although minor, have increased during the pilot. Given that the study was conducted in June 2021 – a time when Boston was still emerging from the pandemic, one would only assume that traffic times and volume would increase as business continues to return to normal. The findings of the pilot therefore remain unreliable, and will need further data to accurately reflect post-pandemic traffic patterns. By funneling traffic east into Berkeley Street or diverting traffic west through Ring Road or Belvedere/Dalton Street – both of which are single lane traffic – vehicles will only pile up to the detriment of surrounding arteries such as Huntington Avenue, further impacting the St. Botolph and South End neighborhoods. At a time when businesses, hotels and restaurants are finally getting back on their feet in this recovery, this proposal could very well hurt the surrounding Back Bay establishments that receive deliveries, goods, and visitors daily. Additionally, stagnant traffic also poses considerable negative quality of life issues for the people who live and work in Back Bay.

“As the BTD and BPDA plan for next steps, I respectfully request both agencies to meaningfully engage with the neighbors of the Back Bay, St Botolph, South End, as well as my office in a transparent manner. I have found communication from the BTD and BPDA to be few and far between, while replete with omissions.

“When my office first met with BPDA and BTD about Copley Connect in June 2021, we were promised that there would be updates when the project gained traction. For ten months, we did not hear anything, and when we eventually heard, it was through NABB, who informed us at the end of April 2022 through hearsay that BTD was launching a pilot. Upon my immediate follow up, BTD confirmed a pilot was indeed happening in June with further dates to follow.

Regrettably, my office did not hear back from BTD; we received the dates of the actual pilot

through a BPDA newsletter. As the District Councilor representing arguably one of the busiest intersections in the City of Boston, this level of communication from BTD and BPDA is simply unacceptable. In speaking with NABB, they mentioned that their suggestion to have the pilot done in September 2022 was

ignored. It is unconscionable to me that in spite of objections held by Back Bay residents that

BTD and BPDA would claim in the Copley Connect findings that the pilot dates were selected

‘in consultation with Back Bay resident and business groups.’

“Moreover, despite a pre-meeting in December 2022 with the BPDA about the Copley Connect findings and my office’s continued request to stay connected on any updates, the BPDA failed to disclose that on the same day of the launch of their findings, Copley Connect was in fact appearing as an item before the BPDA Board with a Request for Proposal of $100,000 for a consultant to engage in further study in preparation of permanent improvements for Copley Connect. It is impossible to interpret the aforementioned omissions and appearance on the Board Agenda immediately after the findings were released as anything other than a deliberate bypass of my office and the community process, which was seemingly in search of both a desired audience and selection of a time for data which would provide a predetermined result.

“Residents and local businesses should have a say in what takes place, gets changed, and piloted in their community. This pilot, at the heart of the City of Boston, is particularly deserving of a robust community process. I share the concerns of my constituents and my view remains that Dartmouth Street at Copley serves as an important thoroughfare into Back Bay and should not be permanently closed. Going forward, it is critical that BTD and the BPDA properly engage with

Back Bay, South End and St. Botolph stakeholders – the people that live, do business, and pay

their taxes here – before any decisions get made. If you have any questions, please feel free to

contact me at [email protected], or at 617-635-3203.”

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