Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chestnut Hill Square -- Pedestrian Connection J

The predominant features of Chestnut Hill Square as proposed are a big blank wall along Boylston St./Rte. 9 and a big parking lot surrounded by strip-mall like retail. It's not a very friendly pedestrian model.

It is not overstating the case to call the back side of the retail building along Boylston St. blight. Combined with the widening of Boylston St. to 8 lanes, it's a complete sacrifice of the needs of pedestrians and bicyclists in favor of car traffic. It's hard to imagine how it could be worse.

While the predominant problem is the design's mean sidewalk hard up against traffic, part of the problem is the sheer length of the blank wall along Boylston. If the single building were simply broken into two, with a nice gap, it would be more pleasant to walk along and would provide an alternative route for pedestrian circulation.

Vast parking lots with retail on the sides are the apotheosis of car-centric design. It doesn't get much more pedestrian hostile. New England Development attempts to mitigate that with two pedestrian boulevards (B and C) from the south retail strip to the north. As noted, the boulevards don't really enhance the connectivity of the residential/retail building to the north retail building.

There are two different purposes that the boulevards are intended to serve. Theoretically, they allow or encourage people to park in one spot and then shop in multiple buildings. It just doesn't seem likely that a shopper is going to come to Chestnut Hill Square, go to one building, and then wander down the boulevard to the other side of the development. More likely is the case of someone who walks from off the property who uses the boulevard to get to a destination on the other side of the property.

Since the latter is the more likely use case, why not just have a single, wider, more appealing pedestrian boulevard (D)?

Combine a gap along Boylston St. (A) with a single pedestrian boulevard (D) and the result would be an organizational spine connecting Boylston St. to the pedestrian plaza feature at the south buildings (E) and on to the proper entrance from Florence St. (F). Such a spine would greatly mitigate the car-centricity of the site.

Splitting the front building in two and moving the store side farther north would have an interesting collateral benefit. It would create an overlap with the residential/retail sufficiently removed from the development entrance to allow for a crosswalk, curing the present design's isolation of the residential/retail building and solving the pedestrian circulation issues identified here. It would also solve a concern raised by the developer's traffic consultant of traffic turning left (east) to enter the parking lot near the north retail building possibly causing back ups to Boylston St. This design would move the left turn farther from the entrance, allowing more queuing space.

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