Boston Green Links

Boston Green Links

English

Problems and Purpose

As described by the City, “Boston Green Links is a city-wide plan to connect people in every neighborhood to Boston’s greenway network by installing new paths, new bike facilities, and safer road crossings.”[1] The public input involved with Green Links, described below, marks a shift from the historically top-down planning process in Boston, and is part of a citywide effort to be more inclusive of the community in planning. In 2016, the City’s planning arm changed its name from Boston Redevelopment Authority to Boston Planning & Development Agency, seeking to move away from a flawed history and sometimes tense relationship with communities, including the infamous destruction of the West End neighborhood as part of “urban renewal” in the 1950s. Accordingly, the first of five “brand attributes” described in the rebrand is “people-centric.”[2]

The Green Links plan seeks to fill the gaps between existing “greenway” paths, which are green, safe places for bicyclists and pedestrians, by identifying and/or providing more safe spaces for these sustainable forms of transit, accessible to “people of all ages and abilities."[3] These new green links will make the existing greenway infrastructure more valuable and accessible to a broader population. The Green Links plan includes public participation by asking the community to define areas that need new connections (“links”), as well as keeping the public informed of the City’s existing and planned projects in the program using an online, interactive map. This crowdsourcing emphasizes the community’s expertise—and needs—by asking community members to identify specific locations for future interventions. This is significant, given that the program seeks to develop Green Links in areas that have been underserved or whose access to greenways is limited. While the Department of Transportation still gets the final decision on the prioritization and siting of Green Links, including the public in this way is an important step.

History

The draft Green Links Plan was released in 2015, as a joint effort between several bodies, led by the Boston Department of Transportation (more information in “Originating Entities and Funding” below). According to Boston DOT’s schedule, feedback was gathered in “Fall/Winter” of 2015 into 2016, and they started on a “concept design for a Green Link”; in 2016, they were scheduled to “Conduct community walks and rides,” and in Summer 2016, they were scheduled to “Complete concept design for a Green Link.”[4] The Green Links Plan is discussed in both the citywide master plan, Imagine Boston 2030,[5] and the City’s latest transportation initiative, Go Boston 2030,[6] both published in 2015.[7] As of February 2018, the process appears to be ongoing. The Boston Green Links online map lists 29 total projects that are “Existing,” “In Progress,” or “Proposed”; 10 of these are “In Progress.”[8]

Originating Entities and Funding

As mentioned above, the lead organization on this project is the Boston Department of Transportation. It appears that the project was started by the Boston DOT; there has been significant collaboration between government and citizens throughout the process. The project is tied to several community organizations. Boston DOT’s Green Links page lists several community and government organizations as “Partners”;[9] though the city includes both types of organizations on a single list, they have been separated here.

Community Organizations:

The Emerald Network from the LivableStreets Alliance and MAPC’s LandLine Coalition are highlighted on the Green Links map website: “Boston Green Links supports the vision for a metro Boston Emerald Network and the regional LandLine network.”[10]

Green Links has connections to several government programs and departments, at the local, regional, and state levels.

In terms of budgeting, a 2017 Boston Globe article states that the cost will be “Determined by project, approximatley [sic] $500,000 per year”;[11] however, it is unclear what this figure is based on. All funding appears to be on a project-by-project basis, and will come from a combination of public and private sources. The article cites “Potential funding sources” as the “City capital budget, DCR, Boston MPO TIP [Transportation Improvement Program], and private developers and institutions,” and explains that “Individual links will be implemented over time, through grants, partnerships, and Cityfunded projects.”[12] Accordingly, the Green Links program does not appear to be budgeted as a single line-item in the City’s budget (available at https://budget.boston.gov/).

Participant Recruitment and Selection

There are two primary sets of participants in the Green Links process: the formal “Partners” of the project, and citizens who can present feedback and suggestions on where Green Links are needed. The Partners (listed above) are community organizations and government bodies; they were selected for their expertise and/or jurisdiction in walking, biking, transportation planning, open space, and/or parks and recreation. For citizens who present feedback and suggestions, there was both active selection and self-selection. For example, the blog BostonBiker.org received outreach from the Transportation Department, and posted about a July 29, 2015 “community bike ride,” explaining that “People with local knowledge are needed to point out the shortcomings in the current roadway designs and to push for better walking, biking and transit in this corridor.”[13] These rides were co-hosted by the Boston DOT and the Livable Streets Alliance; this collaboration also reflects a targeting of outreach. On the other hand, anyone can access the interactive Green Links map, and similarly, anyone with knowledge is invited to reach out to the Transportation Department via email or phone with a “Green Links project idea.”[14]

Methods and Tools Used

Three are three primary modes of public participation in this process: the aforementioned community rides; the opportunity to submit project ideas via email; and the online, interactive Green Links map. The community rides and the chance to email project ideas are both ways for citizens to inform the Green Links project and highlight specific needs and opportunities for green links. The rides are more structured, and limited to a more specific audience—the most likely participants are community members who bike regularly and have opinions about green link needs. The email method is more open-ended, and has an extremely low barrier to entry—simply sending an email—but the publicity around this method might be more limited. The Green Links map does not specifically include space for feedback, but it does provide transparency around the ongoing work and priorities of the DOT and the Green Links project. As identified by Jess Weaver for the Ash Center, the map presents the chance for “citizens… to plan current or future routes,” and “citizens… may also find [the map] useful as a resource to advocate for new green links.”[15]

Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction

The main modes of public interaction are discussed above: community rides; the opportunity to submit “Green Links project idea[s]” via email; and the online Green Links map. The latter two of these three methods are online-only, and information about outreach or targeting for these two methods is not readily available. As such, it is not clear to what extent these two methods have been utilized for submitting ideas or following the planning and implementation process, nor is it clear which audiences and communities have taken advantage of these opportunities for participation. In terms of community rides, details are also fairly limited; however, it is clear that these were opportunities for face-to-face interaction, in the physical spaces in which community members could identify needs. This process is much more contextual and seems to present more opportunity for dialogue than the two online methods.

Not captured in these three modes is any work done on the Green Links project between Boston DOT and its Partner organizations. Any such work has not been publicized by the City of Boston beyond the details provided on the Green Links map.

Boston DOT mentions a period in 2015 into 2016 in which they sought to “Gather feedback on the draft Green Links plan”;[16] however, further details about from whom they sought feedback and the extent to which this feedback was incorporated into plan edits are not available.

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

As discussed in the section above, discussion of the Green Links project in the public sphere has been fairly limited. The effects of public participation on the project as a whole are unclear as of February 2018. Of the 10 “In Progress” projects discussed on the Green Links map website, construction has started or is nearing completion for the Neponset Greenway and Seaver Street.[17] The City plans for “construction beginning in 2018” for the South Bay Harbor Trail.[18]

Analysis and Lessons Learned

As mentioned, discussion of the Green Links project has been fairly limited. However, there is some enthusiasm about the project from significant media sources. In a Next City article from April 2017, Courtney Humphries mentions the Green Links plan—along with the Emerald Network—as evidence of “Greenways” as a “growing priority for Boston.”[19] An opinion piece in the Boston Globe in May 2017 mentioned the Green Links plan in a positive light: “Initiatives such as the proposed investments in the Green Links project, seeking a four-fold increase in pedestrian commutes… will widen options for many commuters.”[20] Lessons learned remain to be seen, depending on when and whether projects are built and on whether the role of public input is further publicized by the City.

Endnotes

[1] City of Boston Department of Transportation, “Boston Green Links,” https://www.boston.gov/transportation/boston-green-links

[2] Boston Planning & Development Authority, “Our New Brand,” http://meetbpda.bostonplans.org/ournewbrand/

[3] City of Boston Department of Transportation, “Boston Green Links.”

[4] Ibid.

[5] Go Boston 2030: https://www.boston.gov/departments/transportation/go-boston-2030#full-report

[6] Imagine Boston 2030: https://imagine.boston.gov/

[7] “Green Links” are also briefly mentioned in the Boston Bike Network Plan from Boston DOT in 2013 (https://www.cityofboston.gov/images_documents/Boston%20Bike%20Network%20Plan,%20Fall%202013_FINAL_tcm3-40525.pdf), but it appears that this is a reference to the concept more broadly and not the program that would begin in 2015.

[8] Boston Green Links Map: http://app01.cityofboston.gov/GreenLinks/

[9] City of Boston Department of Transportation, “Boston Green Links,” https://www.boston.gov/transportation/boston-green-links

[10] Boston Green Links Map: http://app01.cityofboston.gov/GreenLinks/

[11] Matt Rocheleau, “The 58 transportation projects Boston wants to tackle,” Boston Globe, March 7, 2017, https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/03/07/the-transportation-projects-boston-wants-tackle/mTGnryBsWIn1EzIGC90vFP/story.html

[12] Ibid.

[13] Boston Biker, “Boston Green Links Ride Along Columbia July 29, 5:15 PM,” Boston Biker, July 27, 2015, http://bostonbiker.org/2015/07/27/boston-green-links-ride-along-columbia-july-29-515-pm/

[14] City of Boston Department of Transportation, “Boston Green Links,” https://www.boston.gov/transportation/boston-green-links

[15] Jess Weaver, “Map Monday: Boston Green Links,” Data-Smart City Solutions, November 20, 2017, https://datasmart.ash.harvard.edu/news/article/map-monday-boston-green-links-1167

[16] City of Boston Department of Transportation, “Boston Green Links,” https://www.boston.gov/transportation/boston-green-links

[17] Boston Green Links Map: http://app01.cityofboston.gov/GreenLinks/

[18] City of Boston Department of Transportation, “South Bay Harbor Trail,” https://www.boston.gov/departments/transportation/south-bay-harbor-trail-project

[19] Courtney Humphries, “Boston Planners See a Greenway Where There’s a High-Traffic Road,” Next City, April 18, 2017, https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/boston-planners-greenway-busy-streets-emerald-necklace

[20] Venkat Sumantran, Charles Fine and David Gonsalvez, “How to improve Boston’s infrastructure future,” Boston Globe, May 23, 2017, https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2017/05/22/how-improve-boston-infrastructure-future/Jd6CezHFiPiivRtE8sHl5H/story.html

 

Secondary Sources and External Links

City of Boston:

City of Boston Department of Transportation, “Boston Green Links”: https://www.boston.gov/transportation/boston-green-links

Boston Green Links online map: http://app01.cityofboston.gov/GreenLinks/

Go Boston 2030: https://www.boston.gov/departments/transportation/go-boston-2030#full-report

Imagine Boston 2030: https://imagine.boston.gov/

Boston Bike Network Plan: https://www.cityofboston.gov/images_documents/Boston%20Bike%20Network%20Plan,%20Fall%202013_FINAL_tcm3-40525.pdf

Boston Budget: https://budget.boston.gov/

City of Boston Department of Transportation, “South Bay Harbor Trail,” https://www.boston.gov/departments/transportation/south-bay-harbor-trail-project

Boston Planning & Development Authority, “Our New Brand,” http://meetbpda.bostonplans.org/ournewbrand/

For further reading on BPDA and community engagement: http://meetbpda.bostonplans.org/recommendations/engagecommunities/

Green Links Coverage:

Jess Weaver, “Map Monday: Boston Green Links,” Data-Smart City Solutions, November 20, 2017, https://datasmart.ash.harvard.edu/news/article/map-monday-boston-green-links-1167

Boston Biker, “Boston Green Links Ride Along Columbia July 29, 5:15 PM,” Boston Biker, July 27, 2015, http://bostonbiker.org/2015/07/27/boston-green-links-ride-along-columbia-july-29-515-pm/

Matt Rocheleau, “The 58 transportation projects Boston wants to tackle,” Boston Globe, March 7, 2017, https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/03/07/the-transportation-projects-boston-wants-tackle/mTGnryBsWIn1EzIGC90vFP/story.html

Courtney Humphries, “Boston Planners See a Greenway Where There’s a High-Traffic Road,” Next City, April 18, 2017, https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/boston-planners-greenway-busy-streets-emerald-necklace

Venkat Sumantran, Charles Fine and David Gonsalvez, “How to improve Boston’s infrastructure future,” Boston Globe, May 23, 2017, https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2017/05/22/how-improve-boston-infrastructure-future/Jd6CezHFiPiivRtE8sHl5H/story.html

Partner Organizations:

LivableStreets Alliance Emerald Network

Metropolitan Area Planning Council LandLine Coalition

Case Data

Location

Geolocation: 
Boston , MA
United States
Massachusetts US

Purpose

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History

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Yes
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Participants

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Yes
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Department of Transportation Employee
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Face-to-Face
Online
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Other meetings - community bike rides

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