Concept: Restoring the bridle path along the median of Beacon St.
in Brookline in order to increase safety for people bicycling and
walking at all ages (and possibly to create opportunities for new
shade-tree planting)---

Prepared by:
    Jules Milner-Brage <>
Revision as of:
    Sep. 13 - 26, 2017;
    (precursor: July 28 - Aug. 13, 2017);
    (minor: Oct. 1 - 14, 2017)

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The ways in which people travel along Beacon St. in Brookline are
increasingly varied, and it is now clear that the amount of space
dedicated to uses outside of cars and trains---bicycling and walking
(and standing/sitting)---is insufficient and insufficiently separated
from car uses---driving, parking, and exit/entry once parked.

The current organization of the street's space creates significant
safety hazard for the more vulnerable users---people bicycling and
walking---due to the locations intended for bicycling being shared
with car driving and parked-car exit/entry, which in turn induces
spill-over bicycling in the locations primarily intended for walking.
(And this mixing of travel modes that have different natural speeds
can create congestion for all users, especially people in cars.)

Recently, there has been discussion of separating bicycling use of
Beacon St. from car uses and of increasing the total amount of space
dedicated to outside-of-car-and-train uses.  But the primary means
that have been considered would involve large-scale removal of car
parking spots or of car travel lanes, changes which have been deemed
unacceptable or likely logistically infeasible to uniformly apply to
all segments of the street (for continuity of the improvement).

Potential solution---

There may be a solution to these problems on Beacon St. through
creation of a two-way bicycling (and possibly walking) path along
the median, positioned between the MBTA train tracks and the car
parking spots, which is the location and route of the "bridle way"
in F.L. and J.C. Olmsted's design for the street (circa 1880's) [#N1]
and in historical built versions of it.

The Olmsteds conceived of this bridle way as a "soft-gravel" space
dedicated for people to ride on horseback, and to walk, separate from
the carriage "drive ways" more toward the outer edges of the street.
Aside from conversion of the bridle-way space into motor-car parking
(circa 1930's), Beacon St.'s current built form still largely follows
the Olmsteds' design: a wide side and a narrow side; a split elevation
along Corey Hill; and a two-way electric "rail way" approximately in
the middle, but offset to one side by the width of the bridle way;
with the wide/narrow sides switching North/South position at Coolidge
Corner and Washington Square.

Because of its being an integral part of the dimensions of the street,
the bridle path route exists continuously along Beacon St.'s whole
length in Brookline, albeit currently obscured by parked cars and a
few small regions lacking pavement and curb ramps (at Coolidge Corner
and Washington Square, and near Cleveland Circle).

And because of its being positioned adjacent to the train tracks,
the bridle path route provides a venue for people outside of cars and
trains to travel along the street that is distinct from the outer-edge
sidewalks.  And it is a venue that is uniquely compatible with the
existing alignment of both the train tracks and the outer-edge car
parking and is uniquely situated to minimize the crossing distance
between the North and South sides of the street (when the wide/narrow
sides swap).

The design of Beacon St. was most-recently substantially updated
(circa late-1990's - early-2000's) by adding curb bulb-outs and,
at some locations, new traffic signals in order to better define
the spaces for walking crossing, car turning, and car parking, and
better protect the associated spaces for queueing (to cross or turn)
and maneuvering (out-of/into parking).

This current built form (and consistency with the inheritance from
the Olmsteds) sets the stage for a modern incarnation of the bridle
path that would be a paved space (in the median on the wide side),
protected by parked cars, at most locations, and by further-extended
curb bulb-outs, primarily at cross-street/-path intersections.

The benefits if the bridle path were restored would be multi-fold:

(+) separation of bicycling traffic from car traffic and from
    parked-car doors

    ... and so increasing safety and comfort for people bicycling

    ... (and so possibly decreasing through-travel congestion for
        people in cars by means of decreasing mixing of the often
        differing travel speeds of bicycles and cars);

(+) separation of walking traffic (and standing/sitting use) from
    bicycling traffic by means of increasing the total amount of
    street space dedicated for people outside of cars and trains

    ... and so solidifying the role of the outer-edge sidewalks as
        the primary venues for people outside of cars and trains
        to travel at slower speeds (and to stop)

    ... and so increasing comfort and safety for people walking
        (and standing/sitting);

(+) continuity of this median separated path in both directions
    of travel along the street (East- and West-bound), and symmetry
    in the distance of the path from both of the street's outer edges.

And it may be feasible to restore the bridle path through a design and
construction project whose approach and cost would represent more of a
refinement/extension than a redesign/reconstruction.

I.e., a design that does *not* require:

(+) removal of car travel or turn-queueing lanes,
(+) large-scale removal of median car parking spots,
(+) removal of outer-edge car parking spots.

But rather, (re)creates the bridle path by means of:

(1) reallocating the width of the current bicycling travel lane
    (which shares space with outer-edge parked-car doors), on the
    wide side of the street, to the bridle-path location in the median
    (also on the wide side);

(2) (A) transforming the median car parking to be more width-efficient
        (than the current organization: head-in angled spots with
        a dedicated maneuvering lane), e.g.:

        (+) angled spots without a dedicated maneuvering lane
            (possibly enabled, e.g., by means of: a back-in spot
            orientation and/or a sufficiently low through-travel
            design speed limit);

        (+) parallel spots with a dedicated maneuvering lane;

    ... and/or ...

    (B) narrowing the car travel, turn-queueing, and (where retained)
        median parking maneuvering lanes;

(3) shifting the car travel and left-turn-queueing lanes outward
    on the wide side of the street (by the amount of width freed by
    means of '1' and '2').

Proposed action---

It would be beneficial to study this concept for improving Beacon St.
further, to develop a better sense of: its feasibility; the character
of design and implementation option(s) (including answers to a variety
of questions [#A1] that have been identified through preliminary
investigation and review); and the probable cost of these option(s).
Establishing this baseline of information would support productive,
rigorous discussion among the street's broad array of stakeholders.

This concept is not wholly new.  A similar framing [#N2] of the
potential solution was articulated, e.g., in 1976, and the problem,
e.g., in 2015.  But now may be an opportune moment to develop it,
because of:

(+) the current progress on similar projects around the Boston area
    (some built, some proposed by municipal DPWs/DOTs) [#N3], e.g.:
    Massachusetts Ave. near Harvard Square, Cambridge, and
    Beacon St. in the Back Bay, Boston;

(+) the current trial of a buffered bicycling travel lane in place of
    a car travel lane on Beacon St. along Corey Hill in Brookline,
    which may establish 'smooth flow can be fast (enough)' as an
    acceptable framing of impact on car uses when making changes to
    the street's design;

(+) the likely near-future lower default speed limit in Brookline
    (approved by Town Meeting, in principle, but not yet implemented
    in/along particular defined areas/streets).



Published in the local weekly newspaper of the time,

"The Chronicle" (Brookline, Mass.),

on Dec. 4, 1886---

Preliminary Plan for Widening Beacon Street:
    from the Back Bay district of Boston to the
    public pleasure ground at Chestnut Hill Reservoir and
    for connections with Massachusetts and Commonwealth Avenues

    F.L. and J.C. Olmsted, Landscape Architects;
    Aspinwall and Lincoln, Civil Engineers

(on page 394 [and attachment])

where the "bridle way" aspect of the design---intended character
and use, and position on the wide side of the train tracks---
is described as:

    One of these two drives is planned to be wider than the other,
    in order that those using it may have greater enjoyment of the
    sociability of a promenade.  A soft gravel course is provided
    for equestrians, and this, for the same reason, is placed
    adjoining the broader of the two carriage-ways.

And described in more-contemporary sources---




Proposals of similar concepts in the more-recent past:

(+) restoration of (a segment of) the bridle path:

        on Aug. 1, 1976---

        "Boston Area Bicycle Project",
        to develop a system of "Demonstration Bikeways"

        coordinated by:
            Central Transportation Planning Staff
            (a cooperative transportation planning effort of:
                the [Boston] Metropolitan Area Planning Council [MAPC],
                Massachusetts Department of Public Works [Mass. DPW,
                predecessor to Mass. DOT], and Massachusetts Bay
                Transportation Authority [MBTA])
        sponsored by:
            Arlington, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Somerville,
            and [Boston] Metropolitan District Commission
            [predecessor to Mass. DCR]

        where a core aspect of the network is Beacon St. in Brookline,
        especially one span (described on page D5):

            Winthrop Road to Pleasant Street ... (3/4 mile).
            Two-way paved (7-9 feet wide) bike path to be
            provided adjacent to tree lined trolley tracks
            in median strip, using existing paved parking area.

        archived in:
            "Government Documents Department, Boston Public Library"

        [reference, one photo:]

        [follow-up description in greater detail, more photos:]

(+) need for more (and better) outside-of-car-and-train street space:

        on Apr. 6, 2015---

        North Brookline District Designated for
        Enhanced Pedestrian Friendly Features

        where "North Brookline" is effectively defined as:

            the area within Town on either side of Beacon St.
            between Commonwealth Ave. [to the North] and
            D-branch Green-line MBTA rail-way [to the South],
            and cross-connected by Harvard St. and Washington St.

        by "the Brookline Community Aging Network"




Similar projects around the Boston area currently:

(+) Mass. Ave.
        near Harvard Sq.
            (between Trowbridge St. and Quincy St.),

        built by CDD in mid-July 2017---

        two lanes of one-/same-direction car travel,
        parallel car parking on both the left and right edges, and
        a parked-car-protected bicycling travel lane on the right edge



(+) Beacon St.
        in the Back Bay
            (between Berkeley St. and Mass. Ave.),

        proposed by BTD in mid-June 2017---

        with multiple design options, including---

        "preferred" ("alternative #1"):

            two lanes of one-/same-direction car travel,
            parallel car parking on both the left and right edges, and
            a parked-car-protected bicycling travel lane on the right edge

            ... (effectively the same travel and parking organization
                as built on Mass. Ave. near Harvard Sq., Cambridge,
                but with slightly wider car travel lanes and parking
                spots, and a slightly narrower bicycling travel lane)

        "alternative (#4)":

            two lanes of one-/same-direction car travel,
            back-in angled car parking on the left edge
                (where maneuvering into these parking spots would
                be performed directly from the left car travel lane), and
            a post-protected bicycling travel lane on the right edge

            ... but less-favored by BTD than the "alternative #1" design
                due to its consolidating all car parking on one side of
                the street (asymmetrically), and its reducing the total
                number of car parking spots

            ... (neither of which would likely be problems on Beacon St.
                in Brookline, where there is space on the wide side of
                the street for car parking on both the left edge [angled]
                and right edge [parallel])





Primary questions:

(+) Could this be achieved in a car-parking-neutral way?

    (Neutral in terms of:  The number of car parking spots.  The
    distribution of spots among geographic segments of the street.
    And the accessibility of homes and businesses from spots at the
    outer edges of the street.)

(+) How does this relate to car travel speed?

    Does this structurally support statutory speed limits?  (And does
    this, thus, have synergy with the likely forthcoming lowered,
    25-MPH Town-wide default limit?)

    Conversely, is feasibility dependent upon certain speed limits
    lower than the current limit (or than the likely forthcoming
    lowered, 25-MPH Town-wide default limit)?

(+) What would be the impacts on existing trees?

    Could this create opportunities to plant additional shade trees,
    especially in beneficial new locations?

(+) Would space in the median dedicated for people outside of cars and
    trains to travel along the street be suitable for both bicycling
    and walking use?  Or just bicycling use?

    (Aside from any policy preferences, this is connected to:
    How much width would be freed for these uses.  And how much curb
    repositioning at non-intersection [non-curb-bulb-out] locations
    would be needed/acceptable on a cost basis.)

(+) Could this be implemented in phases of perfection and permanence?

    (E.g.:  First using flex-posts to define separated spaces, then
    later repositioning curbs.  First [re]creating the path along the
    median on a route that is curvier at curb bulb-outs, then later
    straightening the path, where possible, on a bulb-by-bulb basis.)

    Could this be implemented in segments divided by locations of
    greatest construction complexity?

    (E.g.:  In two, or possibly three, segments divided by the
    Coolidge Corner, and possibly Washington Square, train station[s].)

(+) What would this cost to plan and implement?

    Could this be eligible for sources of funding beyond the Town?