June 14, 2022
Weekly road closings that started May 27 in Dorchester and Mattapan around Franklin Park and Franklin Field have riled some members of the community, who say such closures are new and unexpected. But other residents say the closings have been in place for three years to curtail noise and quality-of-life concerns and have brought a sense of relief to the neighborhood.
Either way, the situation highlights a sharp disagreement on how to handle illegal parties, ATV riders, and drag racing, all quality of life concerns that emerged during the pandemic.
Some say the barricades, which run on major roads from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Thursday to Sunday, are the only fix to their concerns while others contend that the blockades are punishing law-abiding citizens who, with pandemic restrictions, are only trying to get back and forth.
“I understand the rationale and reasoning and know it came about because they were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people that were coming in – many of them that weren’t even from Boston,” said Fatima Ali-Salaam, chair of the Greater Mattapan Neighborhood Council (GMNC).
“But this is not the right approach…If I have to go out at night to take my elderly parents to the hospital, then it’s going to take a lot longer to get there because the roads are closed. Buses can’t even get through. We can’t think we can blockade ourselves out of this. It may seem like the answer, but it isn’t, and it will only cause more problems.”
Ali-Salaam and others are adamant that the closures in their current form are new and have not been communicated effectively.
State Rep. Russell Holmes said the closures in some form have, in fact, been in place since August 2020 – when loud parties and ATV riders and drag racers converged nightly at Franklin Park, and on Talbot Avenue and American Legion Highway. He said they work, and while they may now be more inconvenient than they were during the pandemic times, he hasn’t heard a better solution yet.
“Is it inconvenient to get around now? The answer is definitely, yes, but my position is I need folks to give me an alternative to protect the quality of life in these neighborhoods,” he said. “The amount of disturbance that was happening with the partying and racing was unacceptable. We don’t want to go back to that.”
Holmes said he first worked with neighborhoods like Franklin Field, Olmstead Green, Harvard Commons, and the Talbot Harvard Triangle in 2020.
Officials from the Franklin Park Zoo also said they have found the closings to be a success because previously the animals had been disturbed by the loud noises at night.
“The road closure has had a positive effect on reducing the after-hours noise within Franklin Park,” read a statement from Zoo New England, which operates Franklin Park. “We are grateful that the city, neighbors, zoo, and park users have been able to come together to work collaboratively to reduce the impact of extreme noise on the neighborhood.”
The closures were first announced publicly by the Boston Police Department (BPD) on May 26. They are a public safety measure in the summer months, police said. They include: Franklin Park Road and Circuit Drive; American Legion Highway at Blue Hill Avenue; Talbot Avenue to Bernard Street (abutting Franklin Field); Westview Street at Westview Way; South Street from Washington to Bussey Streets (in the Arnold Arboretum); Canterbury Street from Walk Hill to Morton Streets.
Other closings have been set up in the Newmarket industrial district, largely on non-residential streets.
Sgt. John Boyle, a police spokesman, said the closings began three years ago when the city’s elected officials of color wanted the department to address quality of life issues and violent crime related to the large parties in public places.
“We went to the community, and we did 3-1-1 complaint research, and it showed we needed to prevent further incidents in these areas,” he said. “We received a positive response from community members. We had message boards and worked with community groups and community services offices.”
That was then, some say, and this is now. Frustrations have emerged from the first two weekends of restrictions, with Mattapan residents in particular, and some of them living adjacent to Franklin Park in Dorchester, saying they have largely been surprised by the closings this year and don’t recall them being so restrictive on so many streets.
Dorchester’s Laquisa Burke, of the West of Washington neighborhood, said her neighborhood’s residents were unaware of the closures on Talbot Avenue, only finding out about 30 minutes before they started on May 27. And Louis Elisa of the Garrison-Trotter Neighborhood Association said he was unaware of them. He suggested that proper patrolling of the park by police could prevent the need for any closings.
Mattapan resident Allentza Michel said she was coming home late on the bus from her work in Cambridge on Fri., May 27, with groceries and computer equipment, only to find that the bus was not going its usual route due to the closures.
“I was pretty inconvenienced having to walk 40 minutes after midnight to get home from Forest Hills instead of taking the bus,” she said, noting she had never heard or seen anything like it before.
“It was a situation of bad public transit and bad communications,” she said. “It’s not like they don’t know the contacts of the neighborhood associations and community groups. All it took was getting the word out to neighbors and community groups and they would have said it was a bad idea. I have a lot of questions about this. You’re taking a majority person-of-color neighborhood and cutting off their passageways.”
Michel said her unexpected walk after midnight made her feel the policy was a quick, Band-Aid approach – particularly when she noticed that some folks had just driven through the barricades and went on into the prohibited spaces while she hoofed it home under bad lighting.
“To me this only reinforces the message that the only people being affected are law-abiding citizens and people that were stranded by the bus like me,” she said. “People who don’t follow the rules will just blow through it and I saw someone had done that by smashing through the barrier.”
Holmes said there are many people in his district who are happy with the situation, as the blockades have cut down on nightly noises. He said one of the problems is that the closings were instituted several years ago under a different mayor and a different police commissioner and different elected officials. Likewise, they went into place as a Covid emergency measure, and at a time when people weren’t traveling to work because of the pandemic.