Boston quietly opened a new footbridge and completed a public park last month, the North Bank Pedestrian Bridge and the North Point Park. Both are located in the until-recently no-mans land behind North Station, an area bordered by Boston’s West End, East Cambridge, and Charlestown. Formerly characterized by construction sites, large highway overpasses and rail yards, the area has taken a huge step forward in becoming pedestrian friendly for the first time in recent memory.
Located on the “lost half mile” of the Charles River, between the Old Charles River Dam (created in 1910, now the site of the Museum of Science) and the New Charles River Dam (1978, now the site of numerous highways), the bridge and park are part of a continued effort to connect the city’s rapidly growing network of pedestrian and bicycle friendly paths along the Charles River Basin. This area, arguably one of the least friendly areas of the River, has already been greatly improved by the addition of the bridge and the new park. Although there is still a lot of work to be done (mostly filling in the blanks along a lot of existing, unconnected pathways), this construction is surely a step in the right direction (see this great article from the Globe for more on Boston’s ambitions to become a world class cycling city).
First the North Point Park, designed by Carr Lynch & Sandell of Cambridge and Oehme van Sweden of Washington, DC. Walking through it, the vegetation is impressive. Plenty of open grassy areas, as well as notable sections of marshy looking vegetation bordering the snaking rivers that cut through it. Including a children’s play area, smoothly paved walkways, striking views, and a wooden dock on the water, it is certainly a worthy addition to Boston’s already fine roster of waterfront public parks. Then, there’s the North Bank Pedestrian Bridge; born during the Big Dig planning sessions back in the late 90’s and funded by President Obama’s American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 (total costs for the park & bridge: $26 million), it is an impressive but hidden structure. Due to the large amount of obstacles in the way, it sort of blends in to all the bridges and crossings already occupying the area (a real shame considering it’s beautifully engineered design). It starts on the edge of the new Park, travels over the North Station Commuter Rail tracks, under the Leverett Circle Connector Bridge that leads to Storrow Drive, and lands directly underneath I-93’s Zakim Bridge, at Paul Revere Park in Charlestown. It’s a wonderful tour of the city’s infrastructure just walking across the bridge, and it’s always a thrill to see landmarks you’ve seen hundreds of times in a new way.
Seen through the eyes of an architecture student, I would say the park and the bridge are a success. The park is simple, providing paths, views of the water both close and far, large public areas and smaller tucked away private areas, and uses for a wide variety of people. The bridge looks great, like a winding roller coaster flying dramatically close to, over and under various landmarks. The handrails are under-lit with white LEDs, making the bridge at night even more dramatic. To top it off, there are several landscaped art installations underneath the Zakim bridge end; elliptical columns of perforated steel placed around the foot of the bridge light up and slowly pulse with different colors of light ( similar to the large sculpture/pylon things on the greenway), casting a variety of dramatic, colored shadows around the space. As I said before, this is only one piece (albeit a successful one) of a very large puzzle that the city of Boston will hopefully complete soon as it attempts to become a world class cycling city.
Photos by Jason Skibo