The street between the Boston Public Library and Copley Square could soon become a pedestrian-only plaza following the apparent success of a 2022 pilot program.
The Boston Planning and Development Authority, or BPDA, voted unanimously Thursday to spend $100,000 to hire a design consultant to jump-start the project, which they’re calling the Copley Connect Long-Term Design Strategy.
Ted Schwartzberg, a senior planner for the BPDA who presented the proposal, said with renovations to the Boston Public Library and Copley Square already finished or underway, the agency would need to “address the public realm of Dartmouth Street.”
For 10 days last June, the BPDA and Boston Transportation Department closed the area of Dartmouth Street between the Boston Public Library and Copley Square to nonemergency vehicles and transformed it into a pedestrian-friendly environment that maintained existing bike lanes, but added café seating and community programming, including dance lessons, yoga classes, and block parties.
According to the BPDA’s report of the test program, the Dartmouth Street closure would increase the number of visitors in Copley Square while not significantly disrupting vehicle travel times.
“An analysis of motor vehicle routes in the area found that travel times during the pilot were generally comparable to pre-pilot travel times,” the report said. “Motor vehicle traffic decreased substantially north of the pilot block on Dartmouth Street, which made for more comfortable walking and biking conditions.”
The pilot program also sought community input through interviews with over 1,000 members of the public.
“Briefly put, there was a lot of positive reception from the stakeholders we talked to,” Schwartzberg said. “Of course it was not universally well received, but most people ... really liked the idea of creating a world class space here.”
The idea to permanently close the block to vehicles circulated when the Boston parks department and its landscape architectural firm finalized a redesign of Copley Square in April 2021.
The move also aligns with Mayor Michelle Wu’s plans to revive downtown Boston after the COVID-19 pandemic, which sparked the ascension of remote work, decline of office occupancy, and resulted in drastically reduced foot traffic in the city.