Complementing Harvard’s Map of the Month series, each week, Map Monday highlights a data visualization that enhances understanding of or helps resolve a critical civic issue.
Bikers in Boston are a hearty bunch. Navigating streets replete with potholes, less than friendly drivers, and unexpected one-ways is no easy feat. Likewise for pedestrians—especially those in wheelchairs—navigating the urban chaos can be overwhelming and at times dangerous.
Boston Green Links—an initiative led by a wide variety of partners, including biking, conservancy, and health nonprofits, Boston’s Parks and Recreation Department, Public Health Commission, and neighborhood development taskforces—has responded to the challenges of maneuvering through the city landscape. The initiative envisions a connected network of multi-use park paths known as greenways accessible to all Bostonians. The problem is that not all Boston neighborhoods have access to these paths, creating a need to create green links: missing bike and pedestrian connections that fill in the seams between greenways.
In order to better understand where these missing pieces exist, the Citywide Analytics team developed the Boston Green Links map, which displays existing, in progress, and proposed projects for citizens to navigate the city more safely, sustainably, and enjoyably. The visualization takes a comprehensive look at the existing greenway network and allows the city to identify key gaps and areas for future investment. Using data from Boston’s open data portal and future development sites from the Department of Transportation and Department of Parks and Recreation, the Citywide Analytics team published the map in 2016 as part of Boston 2030, the city’s first strategic plan in over 50 years.
In addition to enabling the city to monitor its progress and plan construction of new greenways, the visualization is a useful resource for Boston residents. From neighborhood to neighborhood, citizens can use the map to plan current or future routes on greenways, linear parks with walking paths, as well as off-road paths, protected bike lanes, safer road crossings, and low-traffic streets known as “neighborways.” Moreover, the map encourages transparency and accountability to citizens, who may also find it useful as a resource to advocate for new green links. Users can identify key crossings, paths, and bike facilities needed to connect their neighborhood to the greenway network and submit to the city via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Investment in both local and regional networks of “low-stress” walkable corridors is increasing in cities across the U.S., including dedicating bike lanes, refurbishing green space, widening sidewalks, and ensuring wheelchair accessibility. These initiatives have responded to improved understanding of the need for safe and sustainable transportation to connect residents with jobs, as well as increase physical activity and build climate change resiliency by encouraging walking and biking. Moreover, the design of built environments has a direct link to chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, asthma, and heart disease, all of which tend to be more prevalent in low-income communities (which are also most likely to be located in areas of high activity with more neglected infrastructure).
By encouraging access to the natural environment and creating a more walkable city, Boston aspires to not simply prevent accidents, but improve the city’s accessibility and economic, environmental, and physical health. Mapping has revealed itself to be a useful tool for understanding where to target new projects in order to achieve these goals.