City Holds Virtual Meeting on Back Bay Fens Pathways

The Boston Parks and Recreation Department sponsored its fourth meeting virtually on Tuesday, March 28, to discuss conceptual-design options for the Back Bay Fens pathways.              

Lauren Bryant, project manager for the city agency, said besides looking at accessibility at the pathway entrances and the site amenities that touch the pathways,  the project will consider accessibility; desirability and uses; stormwater and runoff; materials; and pathway longevity. 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, she said.              

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, said Bryant, but that price will rise as the project scope has since been expanded to include three additional items: the War Memorial; the John Boyle O’Reilly Memorial; and the new Evans Way Bridge. The Parks Department controls most of the land and pathways within the project site, with the exception of the War Memorial and its pathways, which are under the jurisdiction of the Boston Trust Office; and the land around the perimeter of the park and on the edges of Agassiz Road, which is under the jurisdiction of the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation. Kyle Zick, a landscape architect whose firm is leading the multi-disciplinary team for this project, said a site inventory of the pathways has been completed, with pathways ranging in width from around 9 feet wide to about 3 feet wide in the Victory Gardens. An inventory of “pathway puddling” following rainfalls has also been completed, he said, which found that the DCR bike path “traps water consistently” after each storm. Zick said the design team had also heard “loud and clear from community” on it concerns regarding potential conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians on the pathways. He added that the Parks Department maintains that it doesn’t encourage the use of bikes in the interior of the park and instead attempt to divert them to the park’s perimeter or to the DCR multi-use path. Among the conceptual design options being considered, said Zick, include raising the grade of two paths on the eastern side of the park and creating a “switchback path” that would connect to the path along the Muddy River. By the O’Reilly Memorial, the path could potentially be widened to accommodate large volumes of foot traffic and maintenance vehicles, said Zick, who added that a new path could also connect Jersey and Forsyth streets across the northern footbridge – one of two existing footbridges in the park. The northern footbridge would be “regraded slightly,” he said, with handrails installed parallel to the path. Once the new Evans Way Bridge has been installed, there will be opportunities to install new lighting fixtures, said Zick, as well as to raise the grade slightly, “at least in the beginning.”  A path from Jersey Street to the Evans Way Bridge would also be repaved, with new lighting added, he said. The Victory Garden paths could also be enlarged to accommodate emergency and maintenance vehicles, added Zick. The path leading to the southern side of the Rose Garden, now comprising asphalt atop concrete, would be repaved, said Zick, while a bike rack and bench offering river views could be installed in the area. The recently repaved  path from the basketball courts to the Rose Garden would remain  unchanged, he said, while the nearby diagonal path would be repaved and widened by between 2 and 3 feet.              

Near the Fenway Victory Gardens, the path along the river would be reconstructed to better accommodate large volumes of foot traffic and vehicles, said Zick, while bike racks and a drinking fountain could also be installed in that area. Additionally, a non-historic wall near the Robert Burns statue would be removed, said Zick.              

Floodlights in the park owned by the Parks Department would be updated to more energy-efficient LED lighting fixtures, said Zick. Longtime Fenway resident Kristen Mobilia expressed her desire to see recycling in the Fens, pointing to the opportunity for a “larger receptacle somewhere in the park.” Bryant responded she “100 percent agrees” with Mobilia’s suggestion and added that the Parks Department is now exploring implementing recycling in city parks, but the issue is “complicated,”  given the large number of parks it would entail.              

Tim Horn, president of the Fenway Civic Association board of directors and a longtime neighborhood resident, lamented that the Fens appear to be “stuck with the cobra fixtures” and added that he wishes they could “live up to the standards” of lighting fixtures found  in the Public Garden and on the Boston Common. Bryant replied that the Parks Department intends to work with the city’s Street Lighting Division to install acorn light fixtures in the Fens. She added that the temporary lighting now found at the Victory Gardens would be upgraded as well. Additionally, Horn expressed concern that the project would result in the activation of the passive Victory Gardens, which he described as “a place for people to enjoy nature and sit down on the grass and have a picnic,”  and recommended against installing new seating there. Horn suggested instead that the project design should encourage gatherings on the south side of the Victory Gardens, which offers river views. Despite having some concerns, Horn and other meeting-goers expressed their resounding enthusiasm for the project. Meanwhile, Fenway neighborhood activist Steve Wolf called not including the Field House in the project scope “a missed opportunity.”              

“I think we can just clean it up to make it look cared for again,” said Zick.

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