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While walking the stretch of Beacon Street encompassing DPW’s requested 29 tree removals a couple of weeks ago, I had a closeup look at a stretch where sidewalk and curb reconstruction was already completed, at the former South Pacific plaza. (Where current food options include Ravioli’s, Four Corners Pizza, and Dunkin Donuts.) 

This has long been a tree desert and walking there on a hot day was not pleasant. So I was rather shocked, as others who care about trees had been, that new concrete had been poured without any provision for a berm or tree planting. It seemed like a missed opportunity to add shade trees where there have been none, and to create some separation between vehicle traffic and pedestrians. I wondered if trees were planned for the unfinished area, though it appeared to be private property and part of the parking lot. I asked at the June 28 Waban Library meeting about the Beacon Street tree removals. No answer.

But today, NHNAC and Urban Tree Commission member Barbara Darnell sent me a current photo. That unfinished area had been paved with asphalt, apparently at city expense — although it still looks unfinished.

But what’s even weirder, it looks like the sidewalk has been narrowed to add space to the parking lot. I wondered how much space there would have been for berm trees, so I went back tonight and measured. The new sidewalk is 59” wide, so you could have had a regulation 36” minimum sidewalk and an almost 2ft berm — not great, but plantable. But take a look at the sidewalk on either end of this stretch. It’s 80” wide on the west end by Jaylin Cleaners, and 96” on the east end by the planter with the Ravioli’s sign! In 2011 Google Street View, it looks to be a constant width the whole way, probably 80”. That would have been ample room to plant berm trees, so why was the public right-of-way narrowed? If the new inner curb (which itself takes away six inches of sidewalk width) was intended to keep cars from parking on the sidewalk (as in Street View!), why wasn’t it installed along the previous sidewalk line?

This seems be benefiting the private property owner at the public’s expense. And drivers at the expense of pedestrians, who are losing sidewalk space and future shade, which is antithetical to the purpose of the “Complete Streets” program.

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