What do you like about the Greenway?

On September 22, 2018, Pangea performed on the East Boston Greenway. East Boston residents and out of towners alike were enjoying this music so much, we felt guilty engaging them in a conversation about their use of the Greenway. Even so, we managed several brief conversations, and one very clear response.

(Scroll down for pictures)

The larger question was about people’s usage of this public amenity, but the more specific one, as in the title, was designed to determine what they enjoy about it. Here’s what we heard:

“We like it because it serves a purpose for us.”

It turned out there are several purposes — purposes that serve people’s lifestyles. The purposes themselves range widely, but the common running thread is that being on the Greenway is in and of itself an outdoor activity.

  1. Walking with kids
    • For families with small kids (toddlers), the only safe place to let the kids walk is the Greenway. Street sidewalks are out of the question, because, as anyone with a toddler knows, the toddler doesn’t know where she or he is going 🙂
  2. Skate-boarding
    • For folks who love skate-boarding, the Greenway is a fun place. And skate-boarders range from late teens into thirties.
  3. Running
    • This is a significant portion of Greenway users. And their destination is not so much a place they enjoy the views from, or a place to read, it is more the destination that serves their running distance goals.
  4. Biking
    • Whether it is their own bikes, or blue bikes, or the trikes that Friend of East Boston Greenway introduced, people love biking on the Greenway. This works especially well for families with kids of biking age.
  5. Going to the library/Y/PiersPark
    • For several folks, the Greenway is a nice alternative to walking on the streets — safe, beautiful, and slow-paced (compared to motor-vehicles). The destinations we heard repeatedly:
      • Bremen Street Park
      • Piers Park
      • The library
      • The YMCA in Bremen Street Park
  6. Sitting down to eat my lunch
    • It appears some residents who work from home near the Greenway step out to grab lunch and sit on the Greenway to enjoy their lunch with a view, and presumably some social interaction.



Which way to the waterfront?

Did you know that the East Boston Greenway connects two bodies of water? The Inner Harbor and Constitution Beach.

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The East Boston Greenway connects Constitution Beach to the inner harbor with beautiful views of the Boston skyline from East Boston’s south western waterfront.

The Friends of the East Boston Greenway were out on the Greenway (Gove Street intersection) with Somali chai, chatting with neighbors who use the Greenway. We recorded no fewer than 150 users in those 3 hours. We chatted with about 50 of them about their knowledge of, and use of the Greenway to access the waterfront. Here are the responses:

  • “Of course! We go to Piers Park all the time via the Greenway.”
  • “What? The Greenway extends beyond Bremen Street Park?”
  • “Constitution Beach? We go there, but by car. Didn’t know the Greenway goes there.”
  • “We tried to go to the beach by the Greenway and got lost.”

Turns out this is not uncommon. People get lost at Frankfort street intersection, because they are not expecting to have to cross the street. Like everything in Massachusetts, it’s not hard once you know what to do.

Let’s say you are going along the Greenway at Bremen Street Garden passing by the library (on your left, and then Excel academy). You’ll then go under the highway. When you emerge, you’ll be at the intersection of Martin A Coughlin bypass Road and Frontfort Street. You cross Martin A Coughlin bypass road first. Then you cross Frankfort Street. (See below). Voila! Now you are on the Greenway connector leading all the way to Constitution Beach!

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In order to continue on to Constitution Beach from Bremen Street park along the Greenway, you have to cross Frankfort Street.




  • “We only use the Greenway to go from home to the library and to Bremen Street park.”
  • “I bike the entire 2-mile stretch regularly.”
  • “We know we can access Constitution Beach via the Greenway but we don’t like it [Constitution Beach] because you can smell the airplane exhaust. We go to better beaches further north.”
  • “I know you can get to Constitution Beach if you go this way.”


This question about waterfront access and the conversation that ensued turned out to be a learning experience for most people, including many regular users of the Greenway.







“I hope it doesn’t stop there”

That’s a comment from one East Boston resident, regarding the deployable flood wall designed to go under the Sumner Street overpass.

On September 8, 2018, we (the Friends of East Boston Greenway) positioned ourselves, with some reusable grocery bags, on the Sumner Street overpass. It was the Zumix block party day so the foot traffic was unusually heavy. We chatted folks up as they were returning from the party and were therefore in a good mood 🙂

One of the topics we brought up is the vulnerability of the Greenway due to coastal flooding. According to the city of Boston’s Climate Ready East Boston report, the Greenway is one of the high impact channels to coastal flooding, as it can bring the water into the neighborhood.

One concrete action that the city has already taken, in order to mitigate the Greenway flood risk, is purchase and test a deployable flood wall to go on the Greenway under the Sumner Street overpass. This is how it will work: If and when there is a forecast of heavy enough coastal flooding from storm surge to flood the Greenway, city staff will deploy the flood wall. At that point this stretch of the Greenway will be unusable. Once the flood drains or is pumped, the wall will be dismantled and put away, and the Greenway is back in use.

By the way,  except for one person, who happens to work for a consulting firm doing climate resilience, nobody we spoke to — easily a 100 people — knew about the flood wall. Once people learned about it though, they had a variety of responses:

  • “I hope it doesn’t stop there.”

This is in recognition of the fact that the Greenway isn’t the only vulnerable portion of East Boston, given that East Boston is practically an island. This was the sentiment of most of the respondents.

  • “What about us?”

This response came from people on the wet side of the flood wall. For starters, their concern is simply that the flood wall does not help them. Moreover, they wondered if the flood wall increases their risk.


Jan 4, 2018 Coastal Flooding (high tide plus storm surge) leading to the Greenway

Extreme Precipitation

Another form of What about us? comes from those who are not subject to coastal flooding due to storm surges, but are vulnerable to extreme precipitation. The hills of East Boston, for example, are subject to mudslides when there is too much rain for the ground to handle. Mudslides qualify as flood. People living on hills must have flood insurance in order to cover damage due to mudslides.

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A mudslide in the Orient Heights neighborhood of East Boston following an extreme precipitation event in September 2017 (Source unknown — please inform FoEBG if you are the photographer).


What do Orient Heights and East Boston Greenway have in common? This couple knows it’s the increasing impact of climate change.

The Greenway has experienced severe flooding due to rain as well. It was particularly exacerbated when silt carried into drainage pipes blocked the pipes permanently. The city had to do a bypass surgery of sorts (with new pipes) in order to allow drainage to happen.

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The East Boston Greenway has experienced severe storm flooding in the past. This is from 2010. (Source unknown — please inform FoEBG if you are the photographer)

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Please contact the FoEBG.


Can’t get there from here!

Do you know if you can get to the East Boston Greenway from the Sumner Street overpass? If you haven’t tried, here’s the answer: Not directly. That applies to the Maverick Street overpass as well. If you find yourself on Sumner Street or Maverick Street, you’ll realize you have to walk to the Marginal Street entrance or to the Gove street entrance respectively. That stretch of the Greenway without any access in between is a good third of a mile. If we had access from Sumner and Maverick would that be a good thing? The Friends of East Boston Greenway talked to over a 100 people over the course of 3 hours on a busy weekend day on the Sumner Street overpass. The passers by were mostly East Boston residents, old and new, across an age range of 7 to 70, both genders, and several ethnic and racial backgrounds. Turns out not all people feel the same way.

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  • “Sure! Can’t see why it would hurt.”

This was by far the majority of the response. The more accessible the Greenway is, the better, for those who already use the Greenway, and find themselves wanting to get to it from different parts of the neighborhood. It will likely lead to more people using it, too.

  • “Of course! I would love that.”

This came from people who use Sumner or Maverick streets often, and would love to be able to get to the Greenway directly. There were a few families that live right on the intersection of Sumner and Bremen, with their parking lot overlooking the Greenway, and they seem particularly excited about being able to get to the Greenway, which is practically their backyard, from their parking lot.

This response also came from some who were concerned for their safety while traversing this stretch of the Greenway. We have heard this response previously during neighborhood association meetings, referring to other sections of the Greenway. The responders in this case prefer many ways to leave the Greenway and get on to a street if they feel the need to.

  • “No!”

This response came from people who have already noticed undesirable activity (drinking was mentioned explicitly and other illicit activity was hinted at) on the Greenway, and were concerned more access would lead to more such activity. One mother, in particular, said because sometimes her young children (preteens) go on the Greenway on their own, she’d like to be able to trust the space to be safe, and therefore less access is better.


How do you get from the Sumner Street overpass to the East Boston Greenway?