The Esplanade Beyond the Ferris Wheel

Rendering of the proposed Ferris Wheel from the Esplanade 2020 Plan

When Boston’s nonprofit The Esplanade Association came out with a 100-page report Esplanade 2020:A Vision for the Future, Boston’s media outlets were quick to add their incisive, original reporting to the debate on the future of Boston’s parks. Look at all the different headlines!

Back Bay Patch: Ferris Wheel Part of Esplanade’s New Vision

Boston Herald: Ferris Wheel Idea Irks Museum of Science

CBS Boston: Boston’s Esplanade Facelift Could Include Ferris Wheel

Fox Boston: Ferris Wheel may be in Esplanade’s Future

New England Cable News: Spinning High Over the Esplanade

See? Two of them don’t even begin with the words “Ferris Wheel.” Who says Bostonians don’t have diverse views? (In all honesty, the Boston Globe did report “Blueprint Unveiled for a Reimagined Esplanade,” but what does that mean?)

I’ll admit, it’s fun to talk about putting a Ferris wheel on the Esplanade next to the Museum of Science—just like it’s amusing to contemplate the carousel on the Rose Kennedy Greenway planned for 2013, or maybe a roller coaster on Commonwealth Avenue ending in a Back Bay Fens flume ride under the Bowker Overpass into the Charles. Boston could be an entertainment wonderland!

But really, the Esplanade Association did not write a 100-page report about a Ferris wheel. They wrote it about the Esplanade, a man-made structure that’s already been extensively rebuilt three times in the past 100 years (including that little addition  in the 1950’s called Storrow Drive). They made some very bold suggestions, like the Ferris wheel, and some very sensible suggestions. No one else except Paul McMorrow seems to be writing about the sensible ones, so let me share some of the details.

Ten Big Ideas for the Esplanade, from the Esplanade 2020 Plan

Sensible Suggestions

A Fast Lane for Bikers and Runners: That is, the Esplanade should have a separate lane for people who are whizzing by on bikes or perfecting their couch-to-5k injuries. Why on earth doesn’t Boston already HAVE separate bike lanes on the Esplanade? The mind reels.

Better Entrances: The Esplanade Association calls this section “Create Beautiful Gateways,” but the idea is the same. Have you ever tried to explain to an out-of-towner how to get to the Esplanade? The entrances are obscure, ugly, and tedious to use. It takes nearly as long to walk to the Esplanade from the Charles T stop (Charles Circle) as it does to cross the Longfellow Bridge—and the Esplanade is on the same side of the river! A lot of the problem comes from the bone-headed decision long ago to route Storrow drive through two arches of the bridge, leaving a useless, vaguely-green no-man’s-land between four lanes of traffic. What was Boston thinking?

Take a look at how the Longfellow Bridge crossing looks today, and how it should look on pages 54-59. The illustration of the future view from the Charles T stop makes me what to cry. Why didn’t someone think of this before?

Proposed "Gateway to the Esplanade", Rendering from the Esplandade 2020 Plan

Better Signs: Honestly, the Esplanade Association could have just titled this part “Signs.” You can’t have better signs when there aren’t any signs at all.

Here’s a fun game to play with your out-of-town friends! Stand them in a group next to the duckling statues at the Public Garden, spin them around a few times, take away their smartphones, and ask them how to get to the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade. Google Maps puts it at six-tenths of a mile… if  you can find the Arthur Fiedler Footbridge. But you can’t, because there isn’t any evidence that it exists. Your friends are going to end up taking the T from Park Street to the Charles River stop and getting confused at Longfellow Bridge all over again.

Enough of the connections between Boston’s parks have been obliterated by roads and overpasses that I’m tempted to suggest an Emerald Necklace Freedom Trail just so that people can locate them, but times are tough. Surely we can afford a couple of signs pointing out that Boston’s most famous, beloved parks are less than a ten-minute walk apart.

Return Storrow Drive to a True Parkway and Seize Opportunities to Reclaim Parkland: The Esplanade Association has two different categories for the problem that is Storrow Drive, but it boils down to this: Storrow Drive was rebuilt in the 50’s as though the park didn’t matter. There are too many places where there’s an ugly, unused median gobbling up space, and road-spaghetti flyovers like the Bowker Overpass function like the good old Central Artery did before the Big Dig—to cut off the waterfront from the rest of the city.

Some of the Esplanade Association’s suggestions look easy, given the will; some of them look extremely difficult. Fortunately, none of them involve digging vast tunnels underground. What these changes do require is acknowledging that Storrow Drive, originally built as a two-lane “parkway” for pleasure drives, can’t handle the traffic it gets, and that more cars need to get on the Mass Pike to get around the city–or stop coming into the city at all.

…which brings me to the proposed MBTA cuts. Boston needs excellent public transportation to be a livable city instead of a gridlocked, smoggy mess. To comment on the cuts, or go to a public meeting near you, check the MBTA’s schedule. Meetings continue through March 12, 2012.

And take a look at the MBTA Advisory board’s proposal for stopping the service cuts–and read the fine print. The headlines may not tell you what you need to know.

Meg Muckenhoupt is the author of Boston’s Gardens & Green Spaces.  She is a freelance environmental and travel writer. Her articles have appeared in The Boston Globe, the Boston PhoenixBoston Magazine, the Time Out Boston guide, and many other publications. She holds a certificate in Field Botany from the New England Wild Flower Society. 

  One Reply to “The Esplanade Beyond the Ferris Wheel”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *