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New Pedestrian Mall Slated for Charles River Campus

Street closures begin today


A new mall is coming to campus, but—remain calm shopaholics—it’s of the pedestrian kind.

In June, Boston University paid the City of Boston $11.45 million to buy Blandford, Hinsdale, and Cummington Streets as part of a long-range plan to make the area more pedestrian friendly. The purchase of the streets (now called malls), and therefore the air rights above them, makes it easier for the University, which also owns all the buildings abutting the malls, to plan and make changes to the area. Gary Nicksa, senior vice president for operations, says the deal “unlocks and unties our hands in terms of being able to think about the planning in a much more efficient and effective way.”

Plans for the area will evolve in the coming years, but some action starts today, when the three streets will be closed to through traffic, except for emergency vehicles, transportation services for people with disabilities, and delivery vehicles with commercial license plates. Access to the Warren Towers Garage via Hinsdale Mall will not change, and a new garage exit onto Cummington Mall (at the west end of 700 Commonwealth Avenue) will give drivers a convenient path to a left turn onto the westbound lanes of Commonwealth Avenue.

The University will station a parking attendant for several months at the entrance to Blandford Mall from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and extended hours during Red Sox home games to inform drivers of the change. Parking & Transportation Services and the Boston University Police Department will enforce the new rules after normal business hours and arrange the towing of unofficial vehicles parked on the malls.

In a move that eliminates 136 parking spaces, including seven handicap spots, the city will remove parking meter heads on the newly purchased streets, and the posts will become bike racks. Drivers who currently use the handicap spots should contact Parking & Transportation Services to arrange alternative plans. Webb Lancaster, director of operations for Auxiliary Services, says a Parking & Transportation Services survey of meter usage on surrounding streets found that the average number of vacant spots exceeded average demand along Blandford, Cummington, and Hinsdale Streets, indicating that sufficient meter space is available on neighboring streets.

For drivers who prefer an alternative to metered parking, officials say parking permits might be a good fit, allowing drivers access to day commuter, pay-on-entry, and evening fixed-price parking lots. Late-night visitors could use the pay-on-entry Granby Lot at 655 Commonwealth Avenue, which the University has switched to 24-hour operations, Monday through Saturday, with lower rates from now through Fall Semester while it assesses demand.

Students, faculty, and staff who use the area to drop off or pick up equipment or research specimens will still be able to park in 30-minute loading zones on Blandford and Hinsdale Malls and in a few spaces in the Warren Towers Garage.

The University’s purchase of Blandford, Hinsdale, and Cummington Streets was not done to make parking more difficult or expensive, says Nicksa. “Open space is so precious to BU,” he says, “that whenever we have the opportunity to create some calmer, more pedestrian-oriented space, we need to take that opportunity.”

Leslie Friday, BU Today, Boston University
Leslie Friday

Follow Leslie Friday on Twitter at @lesliefriday.

38 Comments on New Pedestrian Mall Slated for Charles River Campus

  • john on 07.30.2012 at 8:30 am

    I have no real problem with the concept of more pedestrian friendly areas within the BU Urban Community.
    I have a big problem with BU’s communication about this rather major change for those of us who work in the schools directly adjacent to this new mall.
    Reading today’s article was the first I heard abut this, and that is really unacceptably poor communication…and that is putting it rather kindly.

    • WHB on 07.30.2012 at 9:44 am

      Gary Nicksa, Senior Vice President for Operations, sent an email to the entire BU Community on July 9 (email titled Blandford, Cummington, and Hinsdale Street to become a Pedestrian Mall).

      Even if you deleted the email on receipt, we were warned well in advance with a clear subject line.

      • Bruce on 07.30.2012 at 2:58 pm

        I work in the School of Management and got that email on July 9. I think that’s plenty of notice. I also think that having more space around the central campus is always a good thing.

    • Student on 07.31.2012 at 4:01 pm

      This is also not the first publication regarding this new development.

  • Vidit Goenka on 07.30.2012 at 8:47 am

    I was planning to choose this topic for an important high school assignment I have to complete. Is there any way I can get more information on this project? Thank you.

    • JH on 08.03.2012 at 10:07 am

      I’d contact BU Parking and Transportation Services directly or the article’s author.

  • Brian on 07.30.2012 at 9:17 am

    John I heard about this months ago. Where were you?

  • Victor on 07.30.2012 at 9:38 am

    John, do you go to the president’s annual management conference? I feel like we’ve been hearing about this for years, each time with greater specificity.

  • jeff on 07.30.2012 at 9:39 am

    John the university actually sent out a mass email about this about a month ago. Perhaps you missed it or forgot to read?

    I think this is great. Hopefully they do something to make the area more attractice… brick work, plants, etc.

  • Rahul on 07.30.2012 at 9:40 am

    I welcome the acquisition of the streets by BU. But I disagree with removing the parking spots from the streets. Until we come up with a better idea that helps the entire community, keep those spots available for BU students and employees. From what I have seen on ground, there is almost never an available parking spot on these streets whenever I have tried and that includes ‘off-peak hours’ and ‘off-red sox game hours’. There is rarely a spot available on even Saint Mary’s Street or other streets in the vicinity. The only people to benefit from this are the parking lots in the neighboring areas.

    • Bruce on 07.30.2012 at 3:25 pm

      You make a good point Rahul, BU really does need to address parking. I think saying that the only benefit is for parking lots is an exaggeration though. I think adding any space at all to the central campus benefits the students, especially those living on campus. I think BU’s long term goals should include creating more of a central campus. They should buy that stretch of Comm Ave next and then eventually cap Storrow.

  • mary on 07.30.2012 at 10:01 am

    This is really unnecessary. Parking is so valuable in Boston especially near Fenway Park and this street is barely used for anything other than that. Also, the area is used for parking mostly on Sundays and at night when students are no longer in that area. I could understand a high pedestrian traffic area undergoing this change but not some quiet back street where pedestrian traffic is low. Why would BU make such a useless purchase while still making tuition costs higher and higher each year?

    • Bruce on 07.30.2012 at 3:19 pm

      Mary they might have plans for the future to completely redevelop that area. Without owning the streets they would be very restricted in what they could do. Calling it a useless purchase seems preemptive to me. 136 parking spots weren’t solving the parking issues BU has anyway. They need to address that independently everywhere on campus. Tuition has gotten out of control, but I think that’s a separate issue to debate.

      • Isaac on 04.09.2013 at 9:25 pm

        Two critical words: Air rights. In the not too distant future you can expect a crossover of sorts right over the highway to connect the main campus to the residential/admin areas on the other side if the highway.

  • anonymous on 07.30.2012 at 10:34 am

    Eliminating the parking spots on the streets means more cars will be forced to park in BU’s lots, thus making them more money. When the Red Sox play that could result in 136 cars having to pull into the BU lots and pay.

  • Duney Roberts on 07.30.2012 at 10:35 am

    Too bad! Park somewhere else.

    I think this is a brilliant idea, and I only wish I hadn’t yet graduated so that I can enjoy it more.

    • Bruce on 07.30.2012 at 3:13 pm

      Agreed! Parking is always an issue on campus and 136 spots won’t make that much of a difference. Like the article says get a parking permit.

      • Ness on 07.30.2012 at 3:53 pm

        They’re making an area pedestrian friendly that the only people who walk through it are employees or students walking to class or their departments, so these are people who probably need those parking spots. How will this make it more pedestrian friendly when people use sidewalks to walk on! Also, it is unfair to force students, like me who may only be attending one night class, to pay for a permit when prior to this I was able to park for free (since metered parking ended at 6). How I am going to have to pay for a permit for just two weeks left of class? Or pay $30 to park each time because of red sox games? That’s difficult. Yes removing 136 spots does not solve Boston’s parking problem as some suggested- it makes it worse. It is in no way going to improve the transportation issues the city is having. And until I hear about exact plans for the use of these streets, the inconvenience and price-tag provides more cons to this deal.

        • Duney Roberts on 08.01.2012 at 10:09 am

          I have no solutions for people who drive. I was only saying that I think that this is a great idea for that horribly hideous Cummington Street and the buildings that line it. It’s definitely going to spruce it up. For people who drive in for night classes, there are always available street spots aside from those on Cummington and Blanford. My point was simply: too bad. Park somewhere else. There is always somewhere else to park, even though it might not be as convenient.

  • Sam Stone on 07.30.2012 at 11:34 am

    I don’t feel like this changes anything. I walk back there for my psychology classes and I’ve never had any trouble with cars. Call me when they buy all of commonwealth avenue.lol.

    • Bruce on 07.30.2012 at 3:15 pm

      I think it will still give the university more of a campus feel to have less areas with traffic. They could also now do anything they want with that space. The first thing I thought when I saw the email was that they should go after Comm Ave next haha. Then cap Storrow and we’ll have a real campus.

      • Ness on 07.30.2012 at 3:56 pm

        If you want a real campus you are at the wrong school! BU was never meant to be a traditional campus and should not try to force it’s way into taking over the city of Boston to make itself a real campus. It is too disbursed and unfair to the residents of Boston (and I am a student of BU and disagree with your comment). You are not going to have a campus feel but removing parking because like you said it does not remove parking from every street near a BU building. That is not going to make it feel like a campus, all it is going to do is inconvenience a lot of people including students.

  • Sandy on 07.30.2012 at 4:21 pm

    As someone who used the handicapped spaces on Cummington Mall for almost 3 months while my leg was broken, this is pretty disappointing. The city of Boston granted me a free short-term handicapped placard which allowed me to park close to COM in any designated handicap spot, or any available meter (free of charge) so I wouldn’t have to crutch a long distance. I originally approached BU regarding any disabled transportation (doesn’t exist which is shocking) or if there were any handicapped spots in the deck in Warren Towers that I could utilize for several months. I thought that they would have these spots open to any student who needed them due to their condition. Wrong again, they wanted me to pay several hundred dollars for a parking permit which would then allow me to park in the deck. No thanks. This pedestrian mall will be a serious disadvantage to any disabled student looking to park close to class. Those parking spots were a huge lifesaver to me this winter. And honestly, who walks back there besides students that have class back there? It’s also really dark and sketchy at night back there.

    • Dark and sketchy on 07.30.2012 at 8:25 pm

      I’m sure they are just going to buy the streets and then not improve the area at all to make it more appealing. That makes perfect sense.

      • Duney Roberts on 08.01.2012 at 10:10 am


  • Terry on 07.30.2012 at 4:49 pm

    Anyone who really favors BU’s $11.4 million buyout bargain over the hundreds of other needs to which the bursary could have allocated these funds (e.g., financial aid, research, expansion of colleges and academic programs, etc.) is either a very blithe and light-minded thinker, or an absurd one. This is entirely backward. Any pedestrian problem that might exist on Cummington St. is so slight and barely perceptible as not to warrant mention, and–as I said–not while our administration ought to have many other priorities hierarchically more important and for which they’ll need the financial wherewithal.

    After the Student Service Center, I didn’t think we could get more senseless. Why don’t we just write a check donation of our entire endowment to BC?

    • J on 07.31.2012 at 4:13 pm

      I can’t agree more. That $11.4 million dollars could easily be devoted to financial aid. Not to sound selfish, but my financial package is the same as it was from the previous year, even though my EFC has dropped by about 50%. (BU is expecting me to pay 2.01 times my EFC) You would think that BU would want to help out its students considering their reputation depends on it, but instead, BU buys 3 streets that won’t really benefit anyone.

      The Dean’s List ENG student

    • Classroom Critique on 08.01.2012 at 10:27 am

      Just think about all that money every time you sit in a Registrar-owned classroom without air conditioning, melting into a puddle while your sweat-soaked professor drones on…

    • Susie on 09.07.2012 at 10:04 am

      agreed – I teach in some really outdated CAS classrooms with poor temperature control, bad lighting, 19th century AV, and miserably uncomfortable seating (so I’m told). I never thought traffic was an issue on Cummington and it was one place it was possible to park when visiting campus. It’s hard to imagine that this was the most urgent use of $11.4 million….

  • Thomas on 07.30.2012 at 5:35 pm

    Streets cost $11.45 nowadays??? Geez. I think Cummington Street is a perfect place to make a pedestrian mall though and I really hope they embrace it. A question this makes me think of is why do we still have parking attendants? Like couldn’t that easily be automated and save the school a lot of money?

  • Joe six pack on 07.30.2012 at 6:04 pm

    I always laugh when people rant about how BU spends money… Not like they are going to sell the streets back to the city because you think you can manage the schools allocations better than they can

    • Isaac on 04.09.2013 at 9:31 pm

      Agreed. These major expenses are not made to help you feel better about your personal parking situation or because you don’t like the lighting in one of your classrooms. They are made to develop infrastructure you may not see in your time at BU, but which will create the university of the future for many more generations to come. Lets think big picture, folks.

  • Jen on 07.31.2012 at 4:19 pm

    The thing that gets me is how nice can they possibly make it for pedestrians when delivery trucks (for the laboratories and offices back there) will have to be able to drive in every day several times a day? It has to remain a road for those purposes, there are loading docks (3 by my count) back there and with the chemicals and science equipment delivered, not to mention FedEx trucks, etc they won’t shut the road down entirely.

    So we’ll have a road the kids can walk on. Sometimes. Except when the trucks come. So, no planters, no benches, nothing to ‘beautify it’.

    This was a way to be able to build without going through the city, I fully expect buildings back there to be renovated/built very soon. The ‘pedestrian walkway’ kerfuffle is merely spin. That’s not the focus.

    Also, when you take the tops off the meters and leave the posts, you *can’t* lock bikes to the poles (people can just pick the bikes up!) so they’re going to have to install racks.

    Also, it DOES get very sketchy back there in the winter when it’s dark at 5 PM, and without the usual traffic it is going to be even sketchier.

  • Happily Detached on 08.01.2012 at 10:07 am

    This is being put forth as good news by the people who engineered the change, but like with so many things at BU this is just another ill-conceived project that will end up with no true benefits for those who work along Cummington. I give it three years before they reinstate a few parking spots – starting with the handicapped ones. Calling it a “corridor” is apt, since there’s no sunlight that reaches the ground back there, which means no greenspace will come out of this. (Not that BU cares about greenspace – that tradition goes all the way back to Silber, who wanted to build a new law school on the BU Beach.) This won’t be a pedestrian mall, because pedestrians will continue to hurry through it on their way to offices or out onto Comm Ave.

    BU would desperately like to see itself at the center of a Harvard-like campus, organically integrating the surrounding neighborhood into itself, but the culture just isn’t there, and won’t be there.

    • LarryO on 08.21.2013 at 8:49 am

      If you read BU history, you will find that when the university bought the land where Marsh Chapel, CLA, BU Beach are now, it owned the property right to the river’s edge. Two separate state projects took that land away from BU: The Esplanade, and Storrow Drive. Comm Ave. wasn’t much of a street way back then, and was going to be the back door of river facing university.

  • Alex on 08.01.2012 at 10:43 am

    I think that this will be a great renovation for the campus. As for everyone complaining about less parking spots why not take public transportation – no issues with parking and your helping to reduce the major traffic issues in Boston.

  • SJ on 08.03.2012 at 11:56 pm

    I think this is more of a long-term trick into reconstructing all the old 2 floor buldings that line up Cummington St without the City of Boston complaining about the mess. 2-3 new buildings have been constructed in the last decade or two and it was a mess when it was happening. Now – it’s all BU’s own land.

    I don’t think BU cares a bit about the parking spots that are gone. BU could have easily made the lower floor of the parking lot under Warren as pay and use with meters, but it won’t.

    @Bruce – 136 spots/day is not a small number. Those 136 cars that could have parked there will keep going around searching for spots and make Comm Av a mess for be forced to pay $20/day parking (and $40/evening for game days). What is gained by creating a calm walking way will be more than offsetted by the nuisance.

    @Alex – I drive to BU everyday and live in a part of the city where the T doens’t go and I have to switch two-three buses. Half the PhD and graduate students do the same. Also some of the teaching staff. I doubt you want us to take public transportation and spend 2 hours in the Bus everyday.

  • CD on 08.07.2012 at 10:56 am

    I’m not sure if this information is correct, but I heard BU spent $11.5 million to purchase those streets. I mean, SERIOUSLY??? is it really necessary to raise tuition almost 4% then go waste 12 million bucks to buy streets from the city? It’s not like the streets are exclusively for pedestrians now anyways, commercial vehicles are still permitted to drive through as are emergency vehicles (and i’ve seen many personal vehicles as well)

    The way BU wastes our money seriously pisses me off.

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