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Boston councilors go public with the problems of private ways

Parrott Street in Hyde Park

Some of the craters Councilor Pepén described on the privately owned Parrott Street in Hyde Park.

After dealing with the issue of Gaza today, Boston city councilors agreed to tackle a more traditional council issue: Potholes, more specifically, the rough shape of the surprising number of private ways the city still has.

The council agreed to a request from Councilor Enrique Pepén (Hyde Park, Roslindale, Mattapan) to try to figure out how to help residents along private roads who either don't have the money or the desire to fix their roads, such as, he pointed out, Parrott Street and Summer Street Place, which connect Summer and Austin streets in Hyde Park and which, Pepén said, don't have potholes, they have craters, craters that can easily take out an unwary driver's front bumper, he said.

Although there's little reason for the average motorist to go down either short street - which connect the parallel Austin and Summer streets - Pepén and other councilors said they want to figure out how to help residents who might one day need an ambulance or firetruck to get to them on the rutted roads. City Councilor Sharon Durkan (Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Mission Hill, Fenway) pointed in particular to Back Street, a fairly long private way that parallels Storrow Drive out back of the condos and apartments of Beacon Street.

Because the road are not owned by Boston, city public-works crews neither maintain them nor plow them in the winter. In his request for a hearing, Pepén wrote:

Many of these private ways in Boston - such as Maple Leaf Drive, Stella Road, and Back Street - have fallen into disrepair as their owners cannot collectively afford nor come to agreements on how to finance repairs that can range in cost from tens of thousands to millions of dollars.

He added that in his four months as a councilor, he has already fielded requests for help from residents on private ways. "I feel hopeless when I say 'sorry, public works cannot fix this road,' " he said.

Councilor Ben Weber, whose West Roxbury and Jamaica Plain district contains an entire neighborhood without a single paved road - the Grove in West Roxbury - said that even if property owners could afford repairs, repairs would take unanimous consent of all property owners, and that might be hard to get with streets with absentee landlords who couldn't be bothered or when even permanent residents just don't want to chip in.

Weber added the issue is not just potholes mangling the wheels of some residents and their guests but public safety - firefighters and EMTs could have as much trouble navigating them as people in cars.

Pepén said Hyde Park is particularly full of these roads, a holdover from the days when Hyde Park was an independent town and most residents still got around in horse-drawn conveyances or on foot. After Boston annexed the town in 1912, it did not then adopt the roads as public.

Councilors Tania Fernandes Anderson (Roxbury) and Ed Flynn (South End South Boston, Chinadown, Downtown), whose districts include pieces of the South End, said they are particularly concerned about maintenance of alleys there - and of the water and sewer lines that run along them, the maintenance of which is up to property owners along the alleys, rather than the BWSC as along public roads.

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Comments

There are some public ways that look a lot like the one pictured too!

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Voting closed 76

The city has been on a massive re-paving kick.

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Voting closed 17

...is this Highland Ave? What's the matter, nothing to see here!

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Voting closed 13

I would argue that it is better in it's current decrepit condition than properly paved. Yes, it's horrible, but if it were of the quality of Summer Street, it would be an oft used shortcut.

In general, I appreciate what Pepin is doing, and given the state of the many private streets in Hyde Park and Roslindale I run on, I can see why the abutters would want help. But Summer Street Place would be a case of being careful what you wish for.

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Voting closed 38

Just make them (Parrot + Summer St Place) both one-way going towards Austin St if that's something you want to block. Makes them both useless as a shortcut.

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Voting closed 17

There are things like speed tables, speed bumps, alternative pavers, etc that slow down cars and discourage cut through routes without also posing safety risks and making biking impossible.

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Voting closed 27

I lived right between Summer Street Place and Parrott Street until 2012...during the wintertime when I took the Route 50 bus, I usually got off at Parrott Street, but it was treacherous when it was icy. But as kids, it was always fun watching the cars come down Summer Street Place at a crawl to avoid having blown tires/undercarriage damage.

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Voting closed 24

Honestly, it's wild to me that through streets can be private at all. It's one thing when it's a dead end, but anything used as a through street should probably be public.

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Voting closed 25

I don't think the city allows private ways for new construction any longer, but here's the problem with adopting those private ways as public. The builders of those roads, and the owners of those homes knew full well that the roads were not in city compliance when they built or bought. It should not fall on the back of the public to

1. expand the roadway to city required width
2. build sidewalks
3. repair damage from unfunded maintenance.

Thats you and me paying for their externality. Basically, directly. If they want to _fix_ the roadway to city standards, and then pay the admission fee, I am 100% ok and onboard with adding that street, whereever, whenever, to the city's roster of maintenance, snow, and street cleaning. That is the cost of business, and for the public good.

But the upfront cost of bringing the roadway to city standards, adding pedestrian facilities, and repairing the surface (not to mention potential public utility work that may be required) should be borne by the people who chose to build or buy at a discount rate because those services were not promised in the first place.

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Voting closed 12

Maybe these should be maintained as dirt roads rather than paved ones.

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Voting closed 17

Sherrin Street by Wieder Park is a gravel road. It’s weird as that block starts at Windham Road as a regular road, the kind of degrades.

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near (and in) the National Tallgrass Prairie (near Pawhuska, OK) were actually in better condition than lots of Boston streets.

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Voting closed 13

Home of the late, great Chief Jay Strongbow

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Voting closed 16

Drivers in Boston get millions in hand outs every year now they want to give them millions more because these people are too cheap to maintain their own property? That’s ridiculous. They should be ashamed to be demanding so much welfare and taking money away from schools, parks, etc. These people knew what they were getting into when they chose to live on a private street.

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Voting closed 79

A street in bad enough condition to wreck a car isn't good for bicycles, wheelchairs, strollers, or shopping carts either. Back Street in particular leads to bridges over Storrow Drive to access the Esplanade.

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Voting closed 69

If all we want is to make the road accessible to the non-car vehicles you listed, we can just lay down some wooden planks and call it a day, or better yet the abutters who own the road can do it. The needs of strollers and wheelchairs should not be used as a disingenuous excuse to do work that is obviously almost entirely for the benefit of cars.

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Voting closed 23

If Public monies are used to maintain a Private Way, do I gain the right to use that Private Way? Will "Private Way / Do Not Enter" signs be removed?

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Voting closed 33

Legally, they can't actually restrict a Private Way similar to the access rights to beaches.

I found this delightfully wonky analysis, complete with receipts:
https://cainhibbard.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Streets-Ways-May-2011...

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Voting closed 16

There is a simple solution: eminent domain.

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Voting closed 24

Yep, no public funding for private roads.

If the road is going to be publicly fixed, it should become public property.

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Voting closed 35

The alley where the Emerson students protested is a private way, we still don't know who owns the property and whether BPD could clear the students without the owners permission.

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Voting closed 19

Private ways are owned by the abutters.

Again, I run on way too many private ways.

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Voting closed 17

The PBD didn't "clear" the students. They bullied and accosted them. Particularly the students of color. The students may technically not have had the right to occupy the alley, but the cops didn't have the right to be brutal. I hope the owners of the property are aware.

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Voting closed 13

From the Emerson website:

As previously shared, Boylston Place Alley is not solely owned by Emerson College and has a public right-of-way under the jurisdiction of the Boston Police Department (BPD) and the Boston Fire Department (BFD).

https://today.emerson.edu/2024/04/24/important-encampment-update/

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Voting closed 13

Here's a novel idea, how about holding the owners accountable.

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Voting closed 20

They have to live with the situation.

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Voting closed 21

We created a homeowners association and collect quarterly dues to help pay for maintenance. But it’s definitely true that paving companies take advantage of private way homeowners. We got a quote for over 250k to pave our street (it’s not that big), it would probably cost the city 80k. Speaking for myself, if we could just use city contracts to get that price I would be happier than a pig in sh!?. Also for the record, my street was supposed to be public but ISD and the BPDA allowed the contractor to completely not build what was permitted and agreed upon during the city process. But lemonade from lemons, what can you do.

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Voting closed 13

How much regular traffic enforcement would go to sway the "unwilling" camp. I've heard people claim they know family who refuse to fix potholes purely for speed control, but no idea if it's true.

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Voting closed 15

One private way was repaved by the city and the people who lived on the street were livid because people started using the street as a cut-off to avoid a light.

City ended up putting up no turn signs and occasionally nailing scofflaws.

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Voting closed 19

their owners cannot collectively afford nor come to agreements on how to finance repairs

Boston real estate values have been doubling every 10 years. If parcel owners can't finance repairs to the roads they bought when they bought their homes, then that's their problem.

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Voting closed 29

Can you file/sue for car damages like public road potholes?

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Voting closed 15

Glad to see the continued selective concern for emergency vehicle access.

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Voting closed 29

They should go down Crosstown Ave in WR... it's ridiculous.

They plow it, pick up garbage, bring mail, everyone uses it but a small section down the end is "private" and you can lose a Pinto in the potholes.

FFS just fix the roads already...it's not like the residents get anything special out of the deal.

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Voting closed 12

My street in Dorchester is one of these stupid "private ways." There are times when utility companies have done a little extra "covering over" after they finish the work they have done, but it's never really fixed the problem, because it's not their responsibility to do it right anyway. We have awful potholes. The street looks like crap because of it - even with 3 new houses being built in the last several years. I like the area, and I'm lucky to be in apartment where the landlord hasn't ever raised the rent in the decade I've been here. But what a shabby street.

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Voting closed 11