Globe Watch

Busy intersection not pedestrian-friendly

The area where State and Congress streets in Boston cross has narrow sidewalks and construction staging sites. The area where State and Congress streets in Boston cross has narrow sidewalks and construction staging sites. (Christina Pazzanese for The Boston Globe)
By Christina Pazzanese
Globe Correspondent / December 6, 2010

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It’s a bustling downtown hub, so why does the intersection of State and Congress streets remain so inhospitable to pedestrians, asks reader Christopher Scoville.

“Ever since the MBTA undertook the reconstruction of State Street station, it seems that pedestrian amenities have severely deteriorated in this area. This is surprising, given the huge number of workers, tourists, and residents who pass through this area on foot every day,’’ he wrote in an e-mail.

Scoville said two key spots could be made more accessible for pedestrians without unduly affecting the traffic flow. “The sidewalk along State Street adjacent to Exchange Place is extremely narrow, especially given the high volume of foot traffic it supports.

It is often the case that when two groups of people are approaching one another, several people must step into State Street to allow others to pass. This is particularly dangerous given that there is no parking lane that would buffer pedestrians from passing traffic,’’ he wrote.

Just across the street, the oddly configured intersection of State, Congress, and Devonshire streets is similarly unwelcoming, Scoville said.

“The street width and pedestrian crossing cycles are designed exclusively to maximize the flow of vehicles. This is a confusing intersection even for a longtime resident; for a visitor, it is downright hostile and often leads to jaywalking, excessive sidewalk crowding, and vehicle/pedestrian conflicts. This is particularly concerning given that [the intersection] divides Faneuil Hall from the Old State House and Washington Streets, areas between which the city should be encouraging pedestrian crossings.’’

On a recent visit by a Globe reporter, it was clear State Street desperately needs a major overhaul for pedestrians and vehicles. Large construction staging areas blocked two turning lanes and made it hard for pedestrians to cross.

The State Street sidewalk alongside Exchange Place was unusually narrow and cramped when compared with adjacent sidewalks. To cross from there to the sidewalk opposite the Old State House involved three to four street crossings on faded crosswalks covered with metal road plates or even without crosswalks. One crosswalk left pedestrians stranded on an active construction island with no protection from vehicles as they waited for the traffic light to change.

Scoville suggested the city consider redesigning the area to give more real estate to sidewalks and less to cars, particularly between Devonshire and State streets. “The city’s efforts to create a more livable and pedestrian friendly environment have been admirable, particularly in its residential neighborhoods,’’ he wrote. “With few exceptions, however, the city has not expanded those efforts to the downtown core.’’

A Boston Transportation Department engineer took a walk-through with MBTA officials last week to investigate Scoville’s questions. Afterward, Commissioner Thomas Tinlin said the T agreed to make immediate upgrades to crosswalks and other pavement markings to ensure that pedestrians are able to cross safely during the State Street Station project. After completion of the station reconstruction, which is scheduled for late summer, according to MBTA spokeswoman Lydia Rivera, the T will begin to restore the roads and sidewalks there, including handicapped access ramps, new crosswalks, making curb heights uniform, and replacing sidewalk bricks that have been covered in asphalt. “It should look better, and it will look better,’’ said Tinlin.

As for Scoville’s suggestion that the area outside the Old State House be redesigned to make it more pedestrian-oriented, Tinlin said the T’s restoration plan does not include road configuration changes.

Readers with problems they would like addressed can e-mail

Thomas J. Tinlin, Commissioner
Boston Transportation Dept.
1 City Hall Square, Room 721
Boston, MA 02201-2026