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Birch Street pedestrian plaza latest Boston street closure—but not the last

The city plans to close the Roslindale Village run to vehicles next summer

A rendering of a pedestrian plaza in Boston, with people milling about and sitting. City of Boston

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced over the weekend that the city would turn Roslindale’s Birch Street into a car-free pedestrian plaza permanently. The city tested the closure in May during a six-day series of what it described as pop-up plazas.

The city has picked landscape architecture firm Merritt Chase to design and implement the plaza, which is schedule to open in summer 2020. The firm has worked and will work with the city and with the nonprofits Roslindale Village Main Streets and A Better City, as well as neighborhood business owners, in devising the design.

In a statement, Walsh linked Birch Street’s closure in Roslindale Village with the city’s master plan for 2030, in particular that plan’s “tactical realm guidelines.” Those guidelines are supposed to streamline and standardize the processes for creating plazas, small parks, outdoor cafes, and street murals. Think the Tontine Crescent in Downtown Crossing.

Also, Walsh hinted that Birch Street is likely not the last such transformation around town.

“The Birch Street Plaza highlights how the City of Boston is activating public space to create a fun, safe environment for people of all ages to gather and enjoy their community,” Walsh said. “This project will make Roslindale Village even more vibrant, and we look forward to similarly transforming more street space at locations throughout our neighborhoods.”

Indeed. A wide swath of Downtown Crossing has long been closed to vehicular traffic, and the city periodically tests closing Newbury Street in Back Bay. What other avenues and areas—in Boston and surrounding it—could do with the sort of plaza creation Walsh described?

After all, so many car trips in the city, and around it, are under 3 miles—and plenty are under 1 mile. And many a grizzled commuter has explained to a newcomer that it’s often faster to simply hoof it between locations downtown than to drive or train it.