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Why so many unpaved roads?

I've always enjoyed exploring Boston on foot, especially gardens and smaller roads. During the quarantine we've explored more of Roslindale, West Roxbury, Hyde Park and Mattapan than before. Everywhere we walk, we find unpaved roads.

I know there's been discussion on here of 'The Grove' and of private/public ways. But I'm curious how this happened? How does such a wealthy city have so many unpaved roads? If you live on a "Private Way" that is unpaved, does your street get plowed?




No plowing when I lived on a Terrace/private way. I lived there for two years as a renter and that was one of the reasons I moved somewhere else.

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Walking on cement is jarring and exhausting.
They also guarantee that car drivers aren’t likely to speed by you.

I wish Boston had many more unpaved public and private ways.

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Unpaved roads without sidewalks are unsafe and difficult for people in wheelchairs, on crutches, or using canes or walkers. They are also hard on people pushing strollers.

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I push strollers, ride a bike and have had more than one occasion to use crutches and a cane for long periods of time. I very much appreciate the opportunity to get off killer cement.
Flat hard surfaces like cement lead to many of the health and safety problems that put people in need of mobility aids in the first place. Ever take a bad fall on a sidewalk?
This is why you often see people walking or using a wheelchair in bike lanes even when a cement sidewalk is right next to it. Asphalt and other mediums are more forgiving but plain uneven earth is best of all. That’s one of the reasons why hiking feels so good, even and sometimes especially to those with disabilities.

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Unpaved surfaces are HELL on my bad knees, and I am not alone in that.

Also, in many cases the reason people in wheelchairs use the bike lanes (or just the street, whether or not it has bike lanes) is that sidewalks may be blocked or otherwise can't be navigated in a wheelchair, and it's a pain to get on and off the sidewalk to get around the blockages. For instance, the sidewalks in my own neighborhood are completely impassible in a wheelchair - barely wide enough at best and repeatedly cut with driveway ramps.

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.... I stopped walking on flat cement, did some proper exercises, told the surgeon who bungled my right knee no thanks to his offer to bungle my left knee and started walking on softer uneven surfaces as much as possible.
Now my right knee is almost as good as my left knee.
Do some research.

Voting closed 3

When your road is private, you have to pave it.

That said, there are upsides of not paving the road. For instance, you don’t have to worry about people driving on the road.

As for plowing, I believe the vague answer is “it depends.” I run on private roads a lot, some of which are poorly paved. The city will plow if there is a residence to get to. Safety and whatnot.

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Why should someone get the public benefits of a road (services like plowing) without giving up the public costs (allowing others to use it)?

Either sign the road over to the community, who will (a) pave and sidewalk it, and (b) apply parking restrictions, but also (c) plow it and collect trash, or keep it private but expect no more than reasonable best effort for government services.

That's my opionion.

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Some time ago, Vermont communities started tallying the cost of keeping a certain class of roads marginally paved versus doing thorough maintenance on dirt roads.

So now a lot of their lower traffic country roads have been depaved in favor of less expensive dirt. The result is pretty excellent, even in mud season, because the roads are in better driving shape than they were when they had frost-heaved pavement that suffered from neglect. They are a joy to bike on - low traffic, and much better than pavement that is deteriorating that the edges.

Some people who don't pay for those roads complain about getting their car dirty, but I don't think they will start paving them again soon, as the benefits are real.

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NH has similar roads. I grew up in a small NH town where only the main roads were paved.

And our town was pretty poor (and still is @ less than 2k residents), so the main road (2nd NH Turnpike) is a state-maintained road.

But the town-paved roads aren't as nice. Lots of pot holes and such. I think the town might re-pave a road every few years (like 1 road) outside of fixing all the potholes.

But there's difference classes of dirt roads in NH.. I used to think there were classes until I wrote this and can't find anything to cite but.. at least in our town we had a few different types and what type there were is how they were maintained (and plowed)

Type 1 - Like paved. Usually these were hard pressed gravel and dirt roads. Often pressed with a roller. The combo of gravel and dirt compressed made for a like-asphalt like road. Smooth, and fairly dust free (except small rocks. My town had many of these, and many were plowed by by the town in the winter, albeit usually after the paved and main roads were done. Mud season depended on the road, but well traveled, packed roads were like paved ones.

Type 2 - "dirt road". Usually just dirt/gravel thrown down (no press) just to make a road over uneven terrain. Mostly these are un-plowed and unmaintained by the town. These are the dusters people hate and are awful in mud season. You mostly see these as private roads to a house or a group of houses.

Type 3 - What I call "Wagon Wheel Roads". Town was established in 1764 so lots of these. Many are just abandoned and overgrown, but many are still occasionally used. The town might assist in trimming the trees if houses are on the road, but usually these are abandoned. (and mostly used as hiking and snowmobile trails)

I still an amazed at how many roads Unity had that are unused today.


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I grew up on Unity Road in Claremont. I think you are thinking of Class VI roads, https://www.nhmunicipal.org/town-city-article/class-vi-roads-and-mainten...

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Private roads are tantamount to driveways in the eyes of the city.

During the massive storms a few years back I lived near a shopping center right outside of Boston and they had a road that belonged to them that stick into the neighberhood. For decades the city plowed all the way to the parking lot... But with snow never ending they started stopping right at the property line and it was really jarring for a lot of people who for years thought it was a real street. It ended up essentially being sealed up for over a week until the property management company realized it was their problem to deal with.

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Good question. Very strange to see. Grew up along the border of Hyde Park and Mattapan and so many streets were not really paved or in serious disrepair. Hardly sidewalks on many streets, just some sort of asphalt bump up. All throughout Hyde Park there are examples of this on private roads and public roads. Stark seeing other neighborhoods with smooth roads, modern park, enhanced public transit and see how much more resources have been poured into some neighborhoods while other are left to physically crumble.

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I live on an unpaved private road in Boston, and it is plowed the same as any other roads in the area. We have spoken to the city in the past about changing it to a public road, and the problem where I am is that the roads are not wide enough to add sidewalks, so they can't be public roads. I don't know of any rules about people who don't live here driving down the road; it's not a gated community.

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a deep dive into "The Grove" I stumbled upon it taking my God-Daughter Trick-or-Treating. Really scary vibe but full sized candy bars. Was that really a cabin with a porch up there?

How did anyone end up living there?

Bet it would be a great story.

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I once found the original ad for the sale of land in the Grove, in the Boston Globe archives. The land was being sold as a camping area - if you bought a plot of land, you got a free tent.

What were you afraid of, the unpaved roads or all the trees or the turkeys or the people or a cabin with a porch?

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It's a cool area to walk through, but the vibe I get is "small town in remote New Hampshire." OK, I guess that can be scary :-).

A few years ago, people there got a bit angry at the city - which planned to send surveyors in to establish property lines, the better to figure out how to apply property lines, but which some people there apparently thought was a prelude to a city takeover of the whole area for some no doubt nefarious reason.

In addition to not having paved roads, the Grove is unique in that it's the only part of Boston not served by sewers - all the houses have septic systems. I think (somebody correct me if I'm wrong) it had something to do with the difficulty of laying down sewers because of all the ledge (no doubt left over from the mini-volcano there, the remnants of which you can see on Washington Street, just south of Grove Street).

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the only lights were from the few houses up there and West Roxbury is not known for it's state of the art streetlights.

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So long time uhubber here.. I had to look up where the grove was.

I assume its the area bordered by Washington, Grove, Centre, and Stimson ? (as seen here)

Yeah it looks a bit out of place.

And yeah it does remind me of the larger town just north of where I grew up. Esp in the Bluff area of town (obvious), lots of narrow streets with houses at weird angles. (also near a gravel pit...)

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There is one off of the very end of HP around the corner from where I live.

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I feel like I'm walking a country lane when I'm on them. I always wondered why Boston doesn't have more dirt roads if it wants to keep speeds down. It would be a win-win. No more having to continually pave/fix roads every spring and less speeding/accidents.

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"The Grove," which includes the Cottage Street area of West Roxbury in the quarry neighborhood, was at one time the deep suburbs of Boston. City dwellers would build a summer cottage there or summer camp and adjourn there to ge away from the city.

Over time it became a part of that city as Boston expanded. For a long time many of the homes in that area had propane tanks and septic systems but many were modernized over time.

"Private Roads" are a well-established concept in Boston. There used to be a property tax break to them. By definition, each abutter is responsible for the roadway in front of their home to about the center of the street. It is essentially their front yard. They can legally tow a person parking there by calling their own private tow company. The police do ask that you notify them of course in case the car is reported as stolen.

I live on one of those private streets and the city does plow snow on them for emergency vehicle access, but it is never the same as what you might see on main or secondary roads.

Some years back my neighbors looked into what it might take to make it a formal city street. The road was too narrow in many ways to be deemed a city street. If they tried, parking would be banned on the whole length of the street, and not all home owners had driveways, so there would be no place to park their car. Our street and the adjoining private road would also be turned into a one-way street due to the narrow definition.

The condo development on our street took advantage of the private road concept and actually marked off condo owner parking spaces on their side of the street and assigns parking there to unit owners. You can bet that the cost of the condo included that space.

The deal killer was that the city would assess each property owner about $6000 for the job. It would be added to your property taxes and you'd get 3 years to pay it off. Since each condo owner in the nearby development that is addressed on that street would be assessed, the city would have collected a windfall that would pay for the street to be paved in stainless steel.

One advantage is that no one has any arguments over parking spaces especially when it snows. You shovel it, and it is your space and you can legally tow someone. Indeed, the condo development was the first to contract their own tow company and started towing our guests with a retrieval cost of about $250 from the company they used. They even had a tow company patrol the street at random times to remove illegally parked cars of overnight visitors that thought no one was checking on them overnight. Wrong.

In retaliation, private home owners then contracted their own tow companies and started doing that to condo owners and their visitors.

So when you come to my street there are plenty of "No Parking" signs and signs that list the name of the tow truck company that took your car.

Mercenary? I guess so.

One side effect is that we have few if any speeders on our streets. It' a 10-15 mph area whether you like it or not. Safe for kids, pets, and the elderly.

So collaboratively speaking, we like our private street. Newbies to the city have a hard time wrapping their heads around that of course.

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