The Plan

We propose that the Bowker Overpass be removed completely and return traffic to acceptable land-based routes.

The time has come for a serious reconsideration of the future of the Bowker Overpass at the Charlesgate.  With the recent commencement of major and very expensive emergency repairs to the overpass (which will greatly inconvenience the Charlesgate and Back Bay West neighborhoods for the next two years) and with the open discussion of a $100 million rebuild project within 5 years, it is essential that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts DOT and DCR give serious consideration to removal of the overpass altogether.

Excerpts from Kenmore Master Plan

The Emerald Necklace Parks Masterplan, formally drawn up by the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in April 2001, recommends the removal of the overpass and the restoration of the lost connection of the Olmsted park system with the Charles River.  In addition, recent studies of traffic patterns over the Bowker indicate that this volume of traffic could be readily handled by the addition of one extra lane in each direction on Charlesgate East and West.(see Proposal Options Page)

Click Here For a More Detailed Map of the Plan

The Friends of the Charlesgate believe that it is now time to undo the terrible mistake that was made in 1969 with the construction of the universally acknowledged urban blight known as Bowker Overpass.  It is time to remove this artificial “barrier” and re-integrate the beautiful Charlesgate and Back Bay West neighborhoods into the Back Bay community.  And above all, it is time to restore the natural and historic beauty of this wasted parkland under the overpass to its rightful place on the Emerald Necklace.

3 Responses to The Plan

  1. Diane Butera says:

    Get this issue some press!

  2. Frank ODette says:

    The problem and proposed solutions to dealing with the Bowker have given me a couple restless nights! Honestly, the whole thing has been swirling about in my mind the last few days. I congratulate you on the ideas that you have put forward and for your statement of the problem, and the benefits to be derived by eliminating the Bowker.

    After hours of mulling it all over, a few potential enhancements have come to mind, and I believe they are worth serious consideration (although perhaps they have been considered and rejected already for valid reasons that my limited (non-existent!) engineering knowledge does not allow me to perceive).

    Anyway, let me get to my four proposed enhancements.

    Proposal 1. Initially it seemed a ‘wild’ idea to me, but the more I mulled it over the more I believe that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, so please think this over before rejecting it out of hand! My idea is to eliminate the small stretch of Beacon Street between Charlesgate East and Charlesgate West. This does three things. It removes 1/3 of the reason for the Bowker overpass (i.e. the fly-over of the Beacon Street intersection), it enhances the proposed Charlesgate Park by the elimination of a major road bisecting it, and it allows Beacon Street traffic to get to Storrow Drive via the same Storrow on ramps as traffic leaving the Fenway will use (described below). With this proposal, going straight on what is now Beacon (past Charlesgate East) would instead merge you onto a widened Charlesgate West in the northbound direction, and from there onto Storrow Dr in either direction.

    I would propose that Charlegate East be turned into a two way (widened by a lane if need be) allowing Beacon St traffic to turn left (southbound) onto Charlegate East, and then right (perhaps via a merge instead of a traffic light) onto Comm Ave outbound, from which this traffic can catch Beacon St again on the other side of Kenmore Square. Northbound traffic on Charlegate East would now either be going to Marlborough Street or be looking to merge onto northbound Charlesgate West via a left across from the new ‘end’ of Beacon Street.

    My perception is that Beacon St traffic is not so heavy that this would cause big backups, but if needed a widening of Comm ave outbound betweeen the Charlesgates could help deal with the addition of Beacon Street traffic by facilitating the addition of merge lanes to help things move smoothly. I also realize that this means a short section of Comm Ave outbound would have to take on more traffic than it does now, but outbound traffic is always significantly lighter than inbound traffic on Comm Av I have noticed, and Beacon St traffic has to merge onto Comm Ave now anyway, just a bit further up than where I am now proposing. In addition, unlike Comm Ave a block further inbound (only 2 lanes), Comm Ave inbound just west of Charlesgate West has 3 (and in some parts 4) lanes instead of 2, so some shrinking/shifting of the Mall in the southward direction could perhaps be done to add a lane to Comm Ave outbound here (by removing a lane from Comm Ave inbound) to handle the Beacon St traffic. Comm Ave inbound shortly becomes 2 lanes anyway; with my proposal this would now happen before the Charlesgates instead of just after.

    Proposal 2. Remake the Charlesgate West / Comm Ave intersection into the same sort of thing as now exists at Mass Ave/ Comm Ave. Traffic on Comm Ave in both directions approaching Charlesgate West could have the option of veering into the Mall area and flowing into an underpass below Chalesgate West (just like traffic approaching Mass Ave on Comm Ave does now). You could leave a lane in each direction at grade level on Comm Ave for the occasional very tall vehicle or firetruck that might not be able to pass thru this sunk portion of Comm Ave, and to perhaps allow Comm Ave traffic to enter Charlesgate West in one or either direction (and vica-versa, i.e. similar to the Mass Ave intersection but you have to be cautious not to allow too many cars crossing Charlesgate West at grade level and thus slowing storrow/fens traffic flow).

    At grade level Charlesgate West would be two lanes in each direction, flowing above the now sunk Comm Avenue. With very little traffic on the grade level portion of Comm Ave (maybe the occasional firetruck or large truck), traffic lights here could be green 90% of the time for Charlesgate West traffic heading to/from Storrow Drive and the Fens. One other thought: in the morning the Bowker seems to be 70% traffic toward the Fens and maybe 30% (if that) out of the Fens, so I would propose that some thought be given toward a flexible Charlesgate West lane design that allows for switching so that there is like 3 lanes one way, and 1 lane the other in the morning, and 2 lanes each way in the afternoon. You could do the same before a Red Sox game, and then switch 3 lanes toward Storrow after a Red Sox game.

    Also, I know that there are subway tunnels down there below Comm Ave so this could impose limitations on how deep one can sink Comm Ave here (or even make it impossible), but perhaps a combination of partial elevation of Comm Ave with some sinking, or placement of this overpass to avoid the tunnels (perhaps putting them not in the mall area but on the current comm ave route) would allow enough clearance for at least cars and maybe small trucks to travel beneath Charlesgate West.

    With this change we’ve significantly eliminated 2/3rd of the reason for the Bowker Overpass (i.e. the Beacon Street and now the Comm Ave intersection fly-overs).

    Proposal 3. There is no getting around an overpass for the Mass Pike, and I would propose that this be an extension of the now four-lane two-direction Charlesgate West, which could intersect Boylston St. maybe a bit further west then where the Bowker does now. This may require some land be taken from in front of the TNT building, and the state could look into connecting this intersection/overpass with the Mass Pike East and/or West as well.

    Proposal 4 (simple change). Coming off Storrow and heading to Comm Av inbound would be accomplished by a right onto Beacon and allowing a left before the T bus depot so traffic could get onto Comm Av inbound without having to cross Charlesgate West at the surface level.

    Local access to lower Bay State Rd and Beacon would continue to be via the exisiting road that runs thru the parking areas parallel to Storrow Drive and connects to Charlesgate West.

    Summary: Not only would this be of great benefit to the city and neighborhood by the restoration of the Charlesgate park, the highway department and taxpayer would be benefitted by the significant reduction of costly to maintain overpasses. Also, this proposal would seem to be significantly cheaper to build than any proposal to rebuild the Bowker in its entirety and would provide for something close to handling the same volume as the Bowker currently does. Perhaps, if a flexible lane system were implemented for Charlesgate West (2/2 lanes, 3/1 lanes, 1/3 lanes) traffic flow could even be improved during rush hours and before/after Sox games.

    Please, before rejecting this out of hand, mull it over as I have done! It seems to make good sense to me (though again, perhaps all of this has been considered and rejected for some engineering reason or practical reason I am overlooking i.e. the green line tunnels).

    Thanks for any consideration you give this, and for your work and ideas on eliminating the overpass in the first place.!

    Frank ODette, 464 Comm Ave #65, Boston 02215

    • Frank ODette says:

      I’d like to add one further enhancement: rather than the Comm Av U-Turn from Beacon St, I think it would work better to include a U-turn under the portion of Charlesgate West that would elevate toward the Mass Pike. Southbound traffic on Charlesgate West veer off toward the right, u-turn under the elevated portion of Charlesgate West, and then either merge onto Charlesgate West Northbound, or exit right for Comm Ave inbound.

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