Original article by Jennifer Smith, The Dorchester Reporter.
A tunnel cap that sits above the Red Line tracks as they run underground through Dorchester from Fields Corner to Ashmont station may see a new life as a biker and pedestrian greenway.
At the Greater Ashmont Main Street’s annual meeting on Tuesday, community members weighed in on an early look at a possible design for the stretch between Park Street, where trains from Fields Corner slip into the tunnel, and Shawmut and Ashmont stations.
The proposed greenway would run along the top of the Red Line beginning with a small section north of Park Street and then south across Mather Street, Centre Street, and Welles Avenue up to Peabody Square at Ashmont.
OJB Landscape Architects, the real estate developer Travis Lee, and RODE Architects had been toying with the idea for some time when Greater Ashmont Main Street executive director Jenn Cartee raised the greenway discussion with Lee. Renderings in hand, they presented their preliminary designs to the Main Street group in St. Mark’s church this week to initiate the gathering of local feedback.
“This presentation really represents more of a seed of an idea at this point,” Cody Klein, a Savin Hill resident and landscape architect with OJB, told attendees. “We know it’s got a long way to go, so it really deserves a lot of your input.” Conceptually, Klein said, such a greenway would connect people to each other, to transit, and to local amenities.
“Obviously we want to respect and address the historical character of Dorchester,” Klein said. That’s something we all are very passionate about.” He added, “More than anything it provides this opportunity for community engagement and active programming... It’s not just to convey people from one point to another. It’s where we run into each other. It’s where we engage, have community activities.”
The team is looking at different design conditions along the route, including the overlook where the train enters the tunnel at Park Street, areas of narrower open space with existing walls and natural elements, and wider stretches of underutilized land on the borders of the cap. There is not enough room for a full park, but small grassy gathering areas could be placed at varying points along the greenway.
Space for both pedestrians and cyclists would be essential, Klein said, and the community would be welcome to offer suggestions as to whether there should be separated lanes or more of a small boulevard design.
The design group is in contact with the MBTA, which approves of their general proposal, pending additional structural planning. “They have looked at all these concept plans, and they are content with them to do a 99-year lease for a dollar,” said Ashmont Main Street’s Cartee.
She proposed forming an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit to handle management of the greenway site after the securing of easements and licenses from the state and city.
On the city’s end, if the plan is approved, it could present the opportunity for additional tie-ins with the Emerald Network’s series of connected greenways. The 30-year bike plan is also a useful guide for greenway connection points within the neighborhoods it traverses.
Attendees offered a warm reception to the proposal, with abutters saying they were “excited” about the possibility of a revitalized community throughway behind their houses.
“I feel like I died and went to heaven and you’re my angel,” said Ashmont resident Donnell Graves. Recalling resistance to the idea of revamping the tunnel cap in the 1970s, Graves said he has long been one of the community members who see the cap as “wasted space. This could be a beautiful park and greenway.”
Several attendees said a greenway could form a connection between village centers currently divided by major roadways.
Bryan Bryson, who heads the main street group’s Beautification and Public Spaces committee, is an abutter. “I live right on the tunnel cap, so this is something I’m very connected to,” he said, drawing a parallel to the paths around Davis Square in Somerville, adding, “I’d love to just walk out of my backyard and hop on.”
As the team continues with outreach to civic groups around the proposed greenway path, its members took note of questions on funding, safety, traffic connections, and basic pathway fixtures that will have to be hashed out in ensuing discussions.
“The abutters are the most important part of this whole thing,” said Lee, an Ashmont resident. “So I think with this simple amount of work, we can get a feel from the seven-odd community groups as to: Is this something we should put time and energy into advancing or not? And that’s, I think, where we’re at.”