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Beacon Street Bridle Path moving forward as town enters design phase

A bicyclist takes advantage of newly opened space in the Beacon Street median during a 2019 demonstration event. Photo by Jacob Meunier, courtesy of Friends of the Beacon Street Bridle Path
August 1, 2023

The town’s ambitious plan to build a bike and pedestrian path down the entire length of the Beacon Street median, reimagining the corridor in the style of the original Frederick Olmsted design, has taken a major step forward.

The project, which involves creating a multiuse path next to the MBTA tracks on Beacon Street, is still years away from being built. But a request for proposals published on July 20, which seeks an engineering firm to complete a full design of the project, is the biggest move yet towards the infrastructure plan becoming reality.

The original design for Beacon Street by Olmsted and his son John Charles in 1896 included a path down the center of Beacon Street to keep horseback riders separate from the carriages and streetcar tracks.

An 1886 Olmsted sketch of the bridle path design. Photo courtesy of the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.

Today “head-in angled parking extends almost the full length of the street along the railway median, and the street lacks consistent, safe facilities for biking,” the town’s Department of Public Works stated in the RFP. “This project’s intent is to reinstate the Olmsted bridleway as a facility for multimodal active transportation and a linear park.”

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The proposed new path would occupy a corridor created by moving parking spaces farther from the MBTA railbed.

The public got a taste of what the bridle path might be like at two demonstration events in 2019, when town employees and advocates cleared stretches of the median by pulling back parking spaces, and hundreds of bicyclists and walkers took advantage of the newly open space.

“Those days in 2019 showed something remarkable: that simply moving the position of the parked cars revealed space that’s already usable to walk and bike along,” said Jules Milner-Brage, a former Brookline resident who was one of the driving forces behind the original concept.

The proposed path would start on the north side of the Green Line tracks near Cleveland Circle, then cross to the south at Washington Square and back north again at Coolidge Corner before ending at Audubon Circle.

The project also includes intersection crossings and connections at each cross street along the route. It would convert some parking spaces to “reverse angle parking,” where cars back into angled spaces.

A preliminary design for the path on Beacon Street. Courtesy of the town of Brookline

Under the proposed timeline, construction wouldn’t begin for at least five years. The town anticipates the design work will start in October and last until approximately January 2028, at which point the firm would deliver its final plans.

The design work for the project will be based on a feasibility study put together by Toole Design Group.

According to Robert King, the town’s director of engineering and transportation, whichever firm or firms are chosen for the full design will perform technical work, such as a complete survey of the corridor that would examine traffic counts, pinch points and “critical cross-sections” along the route. They will also be part of a broad effort to get feedback from across the town, with various committees and departments weighing in along the way.

The town has set aside $3 million — $2 million in state funding and $1 million in federal ARPA funds — for the design portion of the project.

Preliminary estimates from the feasibility study place the overall project’s cost at $15 million to $20 million, but King said it’s likely to cost more. The town’s goal is to get the project into the regional Transportation Improvement Program pipeline and secure state and federal funding, he said.

Milner-Brage said he’s pleased to see the town has fully taken on the idea he helped propel.

“After so much work to bring this project forward in different modes … it’s really great that now this is something that’s a town initiative, as opposed to an advocate’s initiative,” he said.

Amy Ingles, the town’s transportation administrator and a frequent bike commuter, sees the project as part of a growing network.

“We’re really on the way to creating a regional network, not just nice paths that people can go to and ride their bikes with their family, but really making this off street network that’s useful for people to commute,” she said. “And I think that this Beacon Street project is probably Brookline’s biggest contribution to that.”

Video: The atmosphere during a 2019 Bridle Path demonstration event. Video by Mark Geffen.