Resolution calling for a Beacon Street Olmsted Bridle Path restoration study

Petitioner: Jules Milner-Brage, TMM12

Special Town Meeting, November 2018

Per earlier study, it seems that there are feasible approaches to restoring the bridle path along Beacon St. in Brookline, an integral element of F.L. and J.C. Olmsted's design for the street and of historical built versions of it, and a means for rendering the street broadly more humane. And it seems that one/more of these feasible approaches would involve little car parking loss.

Restoration of Beacon St.'s bridle path would reduce conflicts among different modes of transportation and would improve support for person-scale car-alternative modes which are space and energy efficient, generally naturally have very few pollution emissions, and many of which intrinsically provide some physical exercise.

Thus, restoration of the bridle path would provide Brookline and the region numerous benefits: increasing safety for all uses of Beacon St.; reducing strain on Beacon St.'s roadway capacity; improving public health; and reducing environmental damage---all by means of reclaiming an element of the Olmsteds' design that is not lost but rather, fortunately, is simply currently hidden in plain sight.

This call for further study of Beacon St.'s bridle path is an outgrowth of preliminary study and analysis pursued over the past year (July 2017 - May 2018) in collaboration (first) with the Bicycle Advisory Committee and (second) with Prof. Peter Furth, of the Northeastern University Civil Engineering Dept., and his student Jackson Lynch.

This spring (Apr. - June 2018), the results of that preliminary study were presented to, and discussed with, the Tree Planting Committee; the Public Transportation -, Pedestrian -, and Bicycle Advisory Committees to the Transportation Board; and the Transportation Board (under an informational agenda item).

Given compelling benefits, and seemingly modest downsides, now is the time to study restoration of Beacon St.'s bridle path further: to look to the past to explore an improved way forward along this street that is so central to both the function and character of our Town.

Official Town Meeting Vote Select Board Advisory Board

Favorable Action

Favorable Action

Favorable Action




Final Result:

Favorable Action

Community Organization Recommendations
PAX Green Caucus

Favorable Action

Official Text of the Article

WHEREAS, Beacon Street is a cherished and prominent public space which provides one of the important east-west routes across Brookline and also serves many local residents and businesses;

WHEREAS, Beacon Street was designed by Frederick Law and John Charles Olmsted in the 1880s, "to make [it] attractive, not only because of the unusual convenience secured, but also because of the sylvan beauty to be enjoyed in passing over it;"

WHEREAS, the Olmsteds' design for Beacon Street conceived of it as, "first, [being] a spacious, direct trunk-line thoroughfare, specially adapted to pleasure driving, riding, and walking; and, second, [having] a cable railway...laid in the midst of [the] avenue...[and] screened on each side by two rows of trees growing in well-prepared borders;" and it remains essentially so to this day, except for one element;

WHEREAS, the Olmsteds' original design included a dedicated facility along Beacon Street's median to accommodate (horseback) "riding" use, a facility known as the "bridle-way"---which abutted the "railway" on its wider side and was distinct from the (driving) "carriage-way" further toward the street's outer edge there---that was enjoyed by local residents for decades before it was obscured in the 1930s;

WHEREAS, the Olmsteds' goals---that the "bridle-way" (specifically) be a space "where those using it may have greater enjoyment of the sociability of a promenade" and that Beacon Street (broadly) be both "a resort, and...a route of travel"---were served, in their original design, by consolidating "riding" activity in a dedicated, common (two-way) facility and by positioning both the median "bridle-way" and the two outer-edge "sidewalks" directly alongside (and thus within the shelter of) shade-tree plantings;

WHEREAS, separating modes of traffic with differing mass and/or speed ---as a means for reducing conflicts and increasing safety and comfort for all street uses---was a design principle championed by Frederick Law Olmsted, was a central aspect of Beacon Street's original design, and today is considered a transportation-engineering best practice in the design of major thoroughfares;

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that Town Meeting requests the Town Administrator to assign staff as he deems appropriate to a Scope of Services necessary to engage a consultant to study the concept and feasibility of establishing a protected path suitable for two-way, non-motorized travel along the full length of the Beacon Street median in Brookline, estimate the costs associated with such a study, and identify potential funding sources. Said Scope would be prepared in sufficient time to be considered for inclusion in the Town's FY 2021-2026 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).…