WATERTOWN — They used to call this Hell’s Half-acre.
Over the last year, Greenough Boulevard has undergone a $2.4 million transformation, turning the once inhospitable stretch of roadway with an overgrown and sketchy trail along the Charles River into a more welcoming parkway between the Eliot Bridge in Cambridge and Arsenal Street in Watertown.
Dan Driscoll, director of facilities planning for the Department of Conservation and Recreation, said only the hardest of hardcore commuters would brave the previous incarnation of this feeder road off Memorial Drive.
“We went from having nowhere to walk or ride to having multiple options,” Driscoll said. “We are trying to be more proactive now when repaving a parkway by looking for opportunities to put in a bike lane or to fix crosswalks or to put in a handicapped ramp. We are thinking about all modes of transportation. You notice it. It is really cool stuff.”
The DCR removed a travel lane for cars, added bike lanes in either direction, expanded the parkland along the river’s edge, planted 116 trees and installed a 10-foot wide paved path for walkers and cyclists, plus two-foot wide shoulders for runners.
Other improvements to the Paul Dudley White Bike Path are underway in Watertown and Newton, along with plans to link the river paths to the Watertown Cambridge Greenway, which follows the former B&M Railroad line from the Watertown Mall area out toward Fresh Pond. The Watertown path is already in place but the Cambridge connections are still in development, Driscoll said.
“When that is built out, you will be able to go from the Charles River all the way to Alewife and the Minuteman Bikeway, and ultimately to the Mystic River, all off-road,” Driscoll said.
Bike paths have enjoyed broad support from Governor Charlie Baker, whose administration has spent $87.9 million on multi-use trails. Over the last decade, the tally is closer to $150 million already spent on pedestrian and bike trails, with at least as much funding expected over the next 10 years, Driscoll said.
“Our administration has been pleased to open new public trails and connect existing ones so more people across Massachusetts have the opportunity to commute, exercise and spend time outside with friends and family,” Baker said in a statement. “Our administration is working with municipalities and other partners across the Commonwealth to improve trail access and ensure all of our residents can enjoy Massachusetts’ beautiful environment.”
Meanwhile, the state has yet to officially open the long-awaited middle section of the Neponset River Greenway but people already are using the new cantilevered Harvest River Bridge across the river between Milton and Mattapan and a raised boardwalk over MBTA tracks. The $15 million project fills a major gap between the original Dorchester stretch of path built in 2002 to the southern extensions in Hyde Park and Milton.
The next phase of the Neponset path is still under design but will eventually take riders alongside Interstate 93, past the Dorchester gas tanks and onto bike paths expected to be part of a massive reconstruction of Morrissey Boulevard.
“The goal is to get people ultimately out to Castle Island and into the city,” Driscoll said.
Other trail major trail developments include:
The Esplanade bike paths underwent a $1.1 million facelift between the Longfellow Bridge and Massachusetts Avenue.
Design work is underway for the South Bank Bridge, a complicated bridge that will eventually carry cyclists and pedestrians from the south side of Paul Revere Park, over railroad tracks at North Station and under the Leonard Zakim Bridge before landing at Nashua Street Park on the south side of Charles River Basin. This is a companion piece to the North Bank Bridge, a 690-foot pedestrian/bike bridge opened five years ago linking new parks created out of the Big Dig.
State planners are developing an off-road option for cyclists trying to reach Boston from the Mystic River paths. A likely route from Assembly Square will cross MBTA property into Charlestown.
Bike lanes separated from motorized traffic are expected to be included eventually in road redesigns from Sullivan Square down Rutherford Avenue and across the North Washington Bridge into the North End.
The state just completed a $21 million segment of the Blackstone River Greenway between Uxbridge, Millville and Blackstone. This 3.6-mile bike and pedestrian way crosses the Blackstone River in three locations and includes eight new bridges and a tunnel.
The Blackstone path will eventually extend into Rhode Island, with officials there agreeing to build a bridge across the river, Driscoll said. Massachusetts planners are expected to begin designing the leg south to the border this fall, including the restoration of a seven-arch viaduct. Construction could begin within three years.
Another segment connecting Worcester to Millbury is under design.
Last month, the DCR completed a new stretch of paved path along the Mystic River Greenway in Medford.
Plans are in development to extend the Northern Strand Community Trail to the Mystic River in Everett, where a pedestrian bridge also is being studied to link the Wynn Boston Harbor casino property to Draw Seven State Park in Somerville.
Swampscott voters approved the $850,000 allocation to begin work on a bike path through town in a special election Thursday, echoing the vote at town meeting in May. The Swampscott trail will eventually connect with one in Marblehead, which connects to further trails in Salem.
A three-mile extension of the western end of the Cape Cod Rail Trail has been completed between Dennis and Yarmouth and is ready for riding. DOT planners are designing a new bike and pedestrian bridge over the Bass River in Yarmouth and hope to extend the path further west toward Sagamore in the future.
At the eastern tip of the CCRT, the state this summer will begin designing a one-mile extension along an old railbed in Wellfleet toward Truro. Bike lanes already have been painted on Route 6 into Provincetown but state officials are working with the Cape Cod National Seashore to come up with an off-road option paralleling the busy road.
The Cape Cod Commission is looking into the feasibility of extending the Shining Sea Bike Path from Falmouth north to the Cape Cod Canal Bike Path in Bourne. A draft of the study released in February also explores linking the canal paths to the Cape Cod Rail Trail to complete a network of trails from Woods Hole to Provincetown.
MAPC has created an interactive trail map (trailmap.mapc.org), which allows users to find not only rail trails and walking paths but viable connections along streets — many already with painted bikes and Share the Road signs. The state also maintains a website with links to each trail by region.Jose Martinez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.