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Boston’s Northern Avenue Bridge might reopen as a pedestrian paradise—so what?

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It’ll be 2025 by then, and the city will likely have taken even more monumental steps to alter its relationship with cars

Rendering of a car-free bridge across water in an urban area. Boston Public Works/Boston Globe

Boston’s shuttered Northern Avenue Bridge could reopen in 2025 under new tentative plans from the city that would prioritize pedestrians and bicyclists over cars.

Recall that the decrepit span between the Seaport District and downtown had been closed to vehicles since 1997, and to everything else since 2014. In 2018, the city launched a redevelopment effort, and began soliciting ideas. In late April, officials unveiled four proposals that all hinged on accommodating buses—not pedestrians or bikers.

That touched off criticism that in turn led to the new plan, which would prohibit single-occupancy automobiles, per the Globe’s Tim Logan. That means the crossing could essentially become one big car-free plaza (barring the odd city or shuttle bus).

But a final plan might not be in place until 2021, with construction starting the next year and wrapping in 2025. Will it seem all that unusual by then if the Northern Avenue Bridge indeed re-debuts as a car-free plaza?

It would certainly seem unusual now. Downtown Boston—and by extension the city itself—prioritizes automobiles and driving. Car-free areas are relatively few and far between.

That is changing, though. Developers are already redeveloping several surface parking lots and conventional parking garages around Boston or planning to do so. There is a renewed interest too in easing Boston’s notoriously bad vehicular congestion, including through congestion pricing and surcharges on app-hail services such as Uber.

And the city is expected in January to request proposals for redesigning Downtown Crossing’s car-free zone—the biggest in Boston—to make it even more user-friendly.

All of this, especially the unforgiving spotlight (heh) on congestion, signals a change in the way Boston and its residents, and visitors from surrounding municipalities, view accommodating private autos. It’s a change that could mean moves in just the next two to four years much more drastic than closing a bridge to cars by the mid-2020s. Stay tuned.