PARK(ing) Day

Friday, September 20, is PARK(ing) Day, when parking spaces are made into actual parks for a day, or for as long someone remembers to feed the meter. (I’d like to see the Boston police department try to tow a park.)

Boston has been ready for PARK(ing) day for months! The city has built “parklets”—the term for such things—in Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill, and plans more for Allston, Brighton, and Fort Point Channel. Even suburban Lexington has cleverly installed a parklet in front of a bicycle store. Strangely, Boston’s parklets seem to have very little in the way of plants. Perhaps they’re actually plazalets? Squarelets?

Lexington's umbrellas and planters

Lexington’s umbrellas and planters/ Lexington Patch

Temporary parklet, 141 Portland St., April 2013/

Doesn’t every park have shelving? 141 Portland St., April 2013/


Jamaica Plain's skateboard rink

Jamaica Plain’s skateboard rink

What’s more, the Jamaica Plain parklet cost $15,000 without providing any shade. All of $500 of that money was somehow spent on the plants in the above picture. Apparently tufts of grass are hard to come by nowadays.

As you’d expect, there are grumbles about removing valuable parking spaces just to give people places to sit. Frankly, those grumbles are really the point of PARK(ing) Day, if not the parklets themselves.

Parking spaces weren’t depositing in Boston by passing glaciers. They are the result of deliberate choices about land use—choices that have the potential to destroy local businesses, as happened when the city of Hartford, CT increased its parking supply by 300%.  When a city increases the space for parking, it decreases the space for everything else there; a business, a clinic, a park. Those complaints about TWO WHOLE PARKING SPACES being taken for a parklet open an opportunity to talk about space, its value, community needs, and the price of providing low-rent land for cars.

It’s not clear what the long-term effect of these parklets will be on city lift. Lexington’s two-space parklet includes a one-space corral for 20 bikes; simply providing the corral before the umbrellas and planters arrived increased bicyclists on the street by 60% on Saturdays. That number is interesting because Lexington’s parklet is on Massachusetts Avenue a block away from the Minuteman Bikeway. It could just be the result of seasonal variation—perhaps more people bike in August than May, when the first count was done. But if it isn’t, then Lexington Center is now attracting 100 potential customers on Saturdays who simply didn’t bother coming before… by giving up two parking spaces. What’s that space worth to you?


Bay Circuit Rail Trail: Green Becomes Visible

I was pleased to see the Boston Globe’s article titled “200-mile walking trail moves closer to completion,” about the Bay Circuit Trail. The Bay Circuit Alliance has been working for 22 years to connect this trail, which runs in a grand swoop from Newburyport to Duxbury. Now, the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and the Trustees of Reservations are working together to help the Bay Circuit Alliance link up the final 17 miles of the trail, protect land from development and “provide more consistent maintenance and signage, move certain sections off public roads onto undeveloped land, and promote public awareness of the trail.”

Bay Circuit Rail Trail

Bay Circuit Rail Trail / Bay Circuit Alliance

You wouldn’t think you’d need to “promote public awareness” of a trail that runs through 34 towns, but that may be the most important thing the AMC and the Trustees can do for the Bay Circuit Trail, which some folks know as “The Bay Secret Trail.” There are plenty of maps and updates and apps out there about roads, traffic, buses and trains, but finding information about walking trails in Greater Boston is difficult.

Walk Boston publishes maps by town, but doesn’t put out regional maps with trails between towns. Heck, the City of Boston Parks Department doesn’t even list the names of its parks anywhere on its site, much less a map of how to get around them. Only the Emerald Necklace Conservancy does that. The result, according to The Esplanade Association; tourists (and many Bostonians) can’t figure out how to get from the Boston Public Garden to the Esplanade one block away.

Worse still, Greater Boston’s parks and open space are owned by a blizzard of entities that sometimes cooperate very well, and sometimes gnash their teeth at all comers. There are city parks, town conservation land, state parks, National parks and historic sites, Audubon sanctuaries, Nature Conservancy sites, Trustees of Reservations landscapes, historic house sites, private cemeteries, college campuses, Boy Scout and Girl Scout camps, hospital properties… they’re all in the same planet, but occupy different worlds on maps and the internet.

Every space without roads in your street atlas or on Google Maps is  open space (if it isn’t an airport or under water); but you can’t tell if you can walk there unless you can find the trails on a map, and to do that, you have to figure out who owns it. This is how spaces get forgotten. This is how park land ends up being turned into parking lots.

So, go Bay Circuit Alliance! Put up those signs! Blaze those trails! Make it easy for people to find the trail, and walk on it, and bring their dogs if they want to! The easier it is to visit, the easier it is to vote to keep it.

In other easily-confused local news, the Bay Colony Rail Trail might get finished in our lifetimes! The distinction: the Bay Circuit Rail Trail is almost complete, and runs through 34 communities; the Bay Colony Rail Trail is a single seven-mile trail along an abandoned rail corridor linking Needham, Dover, and Medfield, and currently exists only in the minds of the Bay Colony Rail Trail group—and Needham Town Meeting

Last week, Needham Town Meeting voted to give the nonprofit group Bay Colony Rail Trail $35,000 to fund a feasibility study for the southern portion of the trail running from Needham Junction to the bridge going over the Charles River to Dover, according to Wicked Local Needham. That’s wonderful, but it’s only a first step. In 2009, the Boston Globe reported that rail-trail projects in Massachusetts take 10 years to complete on average. Your puppy might live to walk the Bay Colony Rail Trail; your hamster probably won’t.