Study eyes Franklin Park for transportation fixes

Bicyclists bump along on its worn asphalt footpaths, walkers climb the large granite blocks around its perimeter, and drivers speed through its center on Circuit Drive, sometimes scaring the bejesus out of those waiting for the bus near the Shattuck Hospital. And that's not the half of it.

Franklin Park has come a long way since carriage roads and footpaths were the main thoroughfares, and Boston's Parks Department thinks it's high time to take another comprehensive look at the transportation issues affecting those who want to come into, get out of and travel around inside the park.

The results of a new study will inform a myriad of future decisions in the park, as well as provide recommendations to the Boston Transportation Department, the MBTA and even the buses of the Boston Public Schools.

"Our success in bringing people to the park has had an impact on how well the park works," said Margaret Dyson, the department's director of historic parks, after a Franklin Park Coalition meeting on the subject. "We wanted to look at some of the things that we did in the 70s and 80s to control vehicles, like the granite blocks everywhere. Some of the changes that were made weren't the most welcoming. So, how do we say 'Welcome' and 'You can't bring your motorcycle in here' at the same time? It's a real design challenge."

The Franklin Park Coalition hosted their first meeting about the study on Tuesday, inviting the parks department to describe the scope of the plan take comments from the coalition. A much larger community meeting is yet to be scheduled by the parks department later this summer.

If the coalition meeting is any indication, the task will be as much a mediation feat as it is an engineering one. Zoo representatives and tennis instructors want to open White Stadium parking lots--next to some underused tennis courts--to cars all year round. Neighbors present preferred opening the lots only on special events, as is the practice today.

Park purists, including Louis Lousela who has advocated for park improvements since the mid-70s when it was all-but abandoned, called out for closing off Circuit Drive on Sundays, but access to the Zoo, the Shattuck Hospital and other facilities have all been connected to it.

Bicyclists want less obstacles between path and road and more traffic calming, but others feared motorcycles in the park, a recurring problem.

One of the few issues that united the room as one, however, was the problems pedestrians encounter trying to get to the park.

"If the park is surrounded by freeways and not pedestrian-friendly streets, we're in trouble, because people can't get to the park," said Don Richardson, a long-time Franklin neighbor.

"The roads next to the park are clear," said another park neighbor. "You're shooting people to the roadways around the park, so they can avoid the stop signs and crosswalks [on other nearby streets.]"

Joseph SanClemente, an engineer from transportation consultancy Howard/Stein-Hudson Associates, said his company would be taking pedestrian, bicycle and automobile traffic counts at various point in and around the park, including 20 identified entrance points. The information gathered would inform the parks department on areas where access problems exists, as well a number of other potential issues.

One particular note of concern was the location of the MBTA bus stop on Circuit Drive near Shattuck Hospital just beyond a blind curve. A representative of the Shattuck tied two pedestrian fatalities to motor vehicle hits at the spot and a third accident that put a man out of work for five years. The bus stop serves six bus routes including the busy 16 bus.

SanClemente said he was just beginning to collect data. A larger public meeting will be held in late June or early July, and final recommendations might be delivered in August or September.