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Empty sidewalk tree pits worry pedestrian

Chinatown holes hard to sidestep

Christina Pazzanese for the Boston Globe

Avenue de Lafayette on the border of Downtown Crossing and Chinatown in Boston has large pits that once held trees.

As unpleasant as it may be to consider, winter is almost here. Reader Kathleen Creegan Damaskos has an added worry about the imminent wintry weather: She tells GlobeWatch she’s worried that snow will make some unsafe sidewalks near Chinatown more treacherous for pedestrians.

“The sidewalks along Avenue de Lafayette in the Downtown Crossing area between Chauncy Street and Kingston/Essex Streets have numerous large pits that, at one time, may have been covered with metal grates for planted trees,’’ Creegan Damaskos wrote in an e-mail. “There are no trees now and these pits represent significant hazards for pedestrians who are faced with the options of possibly turning an ankle in one of the pits or walking in the street.’’

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Damaskos, who works in the area, brought the problem to the city’s attention in September, filing a request online using the “24-Hour Constituent Services’’ system on the city’s website. She was notified that her case was being combined with two previous requests.

“Evidently, pedestrians have been complaining about this situation for months,’’ she wrote.

“With the possible advent of wintry conditions in the not-so-distant future, it seems likely that these pits may become hidden under a layer of snow, making for even more dangerous conditions than what you can now see.’’

On a recent visit, a Globe reporter found more than two dozen tree pits on the sidewalks of Avenue de Lafayette between Essex Street and Harrison Avenue Extension. The square pits were large, often taking up half the sidewalk’s width, making them difficult to sidestep. Lined with metal trim that protruded upward, the dirt-filled squares were several inches below the sidewalk grade, forcing pedestrians to step down as they crossed over them. Only a handful of pits housed trees.

THE CITY RESPONDS

The Parks Department, which oversees management of the trees on the city’s streets, has been working with other agencies to address complaints about the empty pits, spokeswoman Jacquelyn Goddard said in an e-mail.

Starting in summer 2010, the department began taking out trees on Avenue de Lafayette that were dead or whose roots had erupted through the sidewalk and sidewalk grates.

The city has decided not to replace those trees because “many factors on that stretch of road make it a location where the odds are against a healthy tree thriving,’’ she said. A lack of steady watering, handicapped accessibility demands, as well as heavy pedestrian and vehicle traffic in the area are among the factors that led to the decision, Goddard said.

In order to remove the dead tree stumps, the grates were taken off and the pits temporarily filled with mulch.

Goddard said the empty pits were scheduled to be sealed over with asphalt over the weekend, a job expected to take a couple of days.

Who’s in charge

Antonia Pollak

Commissioner

City of Boston Parks Department

1010 Mass. Ave., Third floor

Boston, MA 02218

617-635-4505

GlobeWatch appears every other Monday. Readers with problems they would like addressed can send e-mails to globewatch@globe.com.

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