Advocates fight to save Melnea Cass Blvd trees

Sandra Larson | 7/20/2017, 6 a.m.
The group Friends of Melnea Cass Boulevard is urging city and state transportation officials and Mayor Marty Walsh to delay ...
State Rep. Byron Rushing speaks to attendees after a community meeting hosted by Friends of Melnea Cass Boulevard. Photo by Sandra Larson

The group Friends of Melnea Cass Boulevard is urging city and state transportation officials and Mayor Marty Walsh to delay a street redesign plan in order to address community priorities regarding tree preservation and safety and ensure adequate community oversight of the project.

The Melnea Cass Boulevard “Complete Streets” redesign project, headed by the Boston Transportation Department, is intended to calm traffic and create a more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly street as well as improve the area’s stormwater drainage. First introduced in 2011, the plans have gone through numerous iterations. The current one adds separated bike lanes on each side of the street, new landscaped center medians and traffic-calming elements such as raised intersections and crosswalks.

If you go

Friends of Melnea Cass Boulevard meets every Wednesday from 4–5:30 p.m. at 184 Dudley Street (Hibernian Hall) in Roxbury.

For more information, contact Alison Pultinas at dpultinasboston@a... or Kay Mathew at kmathew@madison-p... or call 617-849-6335.

Get in touch

For more information about the Melnea Cass Boulevard project, contact BTD Senior Transportation Planner Patrick Hoey at Patrick.Hoey@city...

On the Web

Friends of Melnea Cass Boulevard: www.facebook.com/...

Project website: www.boston.gov/de...

Interactive project map: http://wikimappin...

Climate Ready Boston report: www.boston.gov/cl...

The project reached a key 25 percent design milestone recently and must be advertised for construction by fall 2018 in order to retain funding, city officials say. With that deadline in mind, construction is expected to start in 2019 — and neighborhood advocates are stressing the urgency of getting the plan right before it’s too late.

A robust community response already has pushed significant alterations to the project — most notably the scrapping of initial plans to widen the street and add dedicated Bus Rapid Transit lanes in the center. While celebrating this victory and showing appreciation for some of the plan’s elements, such as the addition of a bike lane on the Roxbury side of the street, neighbors and advocates want to see several issues addressed before the design is presented for approval. The hearing on the 25 percent design is expected to occur in October.

At a community information meeting last month hosted by the Friends group, speakers decried the anticipated removal of some 60 mature trees, especially in light of Boston’s climate-ready planning report released in December. That report describes the “urban heat island” effect and calls for retaining and increasing Boston’s tree canopy in order to reduce heat-related health impacts and costs that could be felt more acutely in a warming climate.

“The climate change report is one of the reasons we’re working so hard to try to save the trees along the boulevard,” said Marah Holland, health equity and wellness coordinator for the nearby Madison Park Development Corporation.

The climate report shows that Melnea Cass Boulevard lies in one of the city’s extreme heat zones and that Lower Roxbury shows high flood potential, which Holland said mature trees can help mitigate.

“Keep in mind that a 40-year-old tree has a much bigger effect than a young tree. A mature tree can take in about 40 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, along with contaminants from the street,” she said.