Organizers ready to begin preliminary design study for much-anticipated project

With community and political support growing for the plan to connect Bremen Street Park to Constitution Beach thus finally connecting one end of East Boston to the other via a continuous park system, organizers of the plan say they have begun a preliminary design study.

With elected officials and residents trying to sway Massport into allowing public use of a little piece of land on airport property — Gretchen Scheider, who has been working with Eastie’s AirInc. on the project, has begun studying some early technical aspects of the design process.

“She’s researching and reporting on Greenway pinch point and national security issues, both potential obstacles to the design and construction of the buffer path at the airport’s North Service Area,” said AirInc.’s Chris Marchi who has been working to connect the park and the beach. “Word is, we’re in really good shape: first, the pinch point of concern is where the Flight Kitchen building juts into the space for a potential path. Gretchen (Scheider) reported that this narrowing measures 25-feet across.”

Marchi said there are plenty of examples of greenways and bike paths that narrow or far smaller dimensions than 25 feet. “Also, Gretchen has found examples of bike paths and public walkways that are located within the secure zones of other major international airports,” said Marchi.

Marchi and AirInc. have been working since the summer to get Massport to finally designate a small stretch of land to connect all of the neighborhood’s parks so families and children can travel from one end of Eastie to the other without ever hitting a busy city street.

However, the area has been off limits since the September 11 terrorist attacks due to its proximity to Logan Airport but since banning the public from a small sliver of land at the airport’s Northwest Service Area, Massport has tried to put a 1,700 car parking lot and now a Bus Depot.

Activists have tried for years to connect Bremen Street Park and Eastie’s other park systems to Constitution Beach via this small path in the Northwest Service area but were always told safety concerns trump the neighborhood’s desires to have a streamlined park system.

Now with the proposed Bus Depot, members of AirInc. are saying it would support Massport’s plans but in return want to once and for all have their connector.

At a recent Orient Heights Community meeting, AirInc.’s Gail Miller and Chris Marchi said Eastie has a unique opportunity to use that development to get a connector.

If AirInc. gets its way, Eastie will have one continuous park system that would go from Piers Park on Marginal Street all the way to the Bayswater Street buffer.

“This will allow everyone in the neighborhood to access the park closest to them and continue in one direction to Piers Park or the other to Constitution Beach without being on dangerous city streets,” said Marchi.

Marchi and AirInc. have long argued that having this streamlined park system could improve mobility in the neighborhood without the use of cars, improve property values of homes near the park system and build a unified community that is connect by one gigantic park system.

One of the most interesting concepts of unifying Eastie’s park system is using the old MWRA right-of-way as a greenway. The right-of-way runs parallel to the Blue Line behind Wood Island and dumps out onto Constitution Beach.

Marchi explained that there is nationwide movement called Rails to Trails that is using old right-of-ways and train track beds and transforming them into public open spaces and greenways like Eastie did years back on its own Greenway using the abandoned Narrow Gauge railroad.

Marchi explained that in addition to providing a safe place for people to enjoy recreational activities, greenways and trails often function as viable transportation corridors.

Trails can be a crucial element to a seamless urban or regional multi-modal transportation system. Many areas of the country incorporate trails and similar facilities into their transit plans, relying upon trail facilities to “feed” people in to and out of transit stations in a safe and efficient manner. The ability to avoid congested streets and highways, and travel through natural areas on foot or by non-motorized means, is a large factor in a community’s “livability”.

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