The planning for the Riverside development project has been unfolding over recent years. It’s a big project combining housing, retail and office on the site of the Riverside train station. Like all big projects it has elicited a variety of concerns from the nearby neighborhoods- traffic impact, school impact, etc. Much of the energy and discussion has been focused on the possible downsides of the development.
I’d like to shine a light on a possible upside to the project – The Riverside Pathway. This is a fairly simple, low cost plan that could be added to this proposal that would be a wonderful new amenity, particularly for the people of Lower Falls as well as the rest of Newton’s citizens. Many people have been working for some time on essential pieces that will be needed to construct this trail. Now’s the time to focus on the entire trail as an easily achievable goal.
Lower Falls is effectively an island. It’s cut off from the rest of Newton by Route 128 and the primary links to the mainland of Newton are by two busy roads. (Rt 16 and Grove St). There is an unused railroad bridge (#1 and #2 on map) that connects Lower Falls directly to the Riverside property. For the price of a pair of boltcutters, the gate to that bridge could be opened and Lower Falls would have a new pedestrian footpath to Riverside Station on the ‘mainland’. The path would start at Deforest Rd in Lower Falls and cross Rt 128 (#1) and 128 exit ramp (#2). Between the #1 and #2 railroad bridges there’s a small strip of woods between the teaming highway that’s a pleasant little surprise.
Just as is, the path is certainly walkable. The railroad tracks and ties are long gone but the surface is railroad gravel – not the best walking surface. Dumping dirt on top of the gravel and rolling it would be a simple and cheap big improvement. Chances are there’ll be truck loads of dirt on site once the construction begins.
Once inside the Riverside property, some sort of walking path would need to be included in the new Riverside development project to get pedestrians from there, across the property to Riverside T station (#3). As part of the development project, this is a relatively simple piece.
Opening up that piece of the footpath by itself would be of great benefit to Lower Falls’ers on foot but it could also be the start of a 3/4 mile long river walk that would connect to Riverside Park and extend all the way to the Lasell boathouse.
Continuing on the red route on the map, the path would run along the hillside between the Riverside property and the Charles River to the existing unused pedestrian underpass (#6) under the commuter rail tracks. At the moment, there is a very rough, little used trail along that hillside. With little effort and expense that existing trail could be turned into a real walking trail and be connected to Riverside.
Halfway along that hillside path there is a lovely wrought iron pedestrian bridge (#4) that has just been beautifully restored by the DCR. The bridge crosses the river to the Recreation Rd Park (#5) which is a sizable and pleasant chunk of riverfront public parkland in Weston. At the moment, that bridge is a bit of a mystery. It’s a beautifully restored bridge to nowhere on the Newton side of the river since there seems to be no officially sanctioned public access.
Continuing along, the trail would pass through the pedestrian underpass (#6) below the commuter rail.
That underpass looks a bit shabby at the moment but some trash clearing and a coat of paint would work wonders. You’d probably want to put up a fence to keep the trail separated from the commuter rail tracks. The trail would then continue down to the Lasell boat house to another pedestrian bridge (#7) across the Charles that I believe is already scheduled to be refurbished soon. Alongside the boat house is another under utilized DCR park with picnic tables and a playing field.
From here a pedestrian can walk down quiet Charles St to Auburn St and into Auburndale.
Over recent years, many people have been working on some of the details of this plan. In fact this plan was first laid out in detail way back in 1975 by the Newton Conservation Commission. What needs to happen next, to make it a reality, is to treat it as a single integrated project and to tie it in to the Riverside redevelopment project. We need the DCR, the MBTA, the City of Newton, the Riverside developer, the Conservation Commission and the neighbors to work together on this.
The entire route from Lower Falls to the Lasell Boat House is 3/4 miles, most of it along the river front. This portion of the river has long been neglected since it’s encircled by highways, ramps, and rail yards. Despite all the nearby traffic, once you get down to the riverfront it’s quite pleasant and scenic.
Back in 1898 this stretch of river was described like this: “Within ten miles of Boston, there is a stretch of river scenery that cannot be surpassed in the United States”. Now with 128 and the Pike in the immediate neighborhood, this portion of the river will never live up to that 19th century description, but there are still plenty of modest pleasures to be had there.
Over the last 25 years or so, the Dept of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) wove together waterfront paths that stretch from Watertown to Auburndale along the river. This path system has quietly grown into one of the most treasured natural assets of the citizens of Newton. It’s time to continue that work further upstream. The Riverside project presents the perfect opportunity to create a new 3/4 mile of riverfront path. Best of all The Riverside Pathway can be done quickly and extremely cheaply using existing public land and infrastructure that’s now being wasted.