The future of Burlington’s Blanchard/Wheeler Corridor will be connected, multi-modal, sustainable, balanced and vibrant, according to a vision plan presented by the Burlington Planning Department and contractors with the firm VHB in a recent public meeting.
“The corridor will provide pathways for connecting its employees, residents, and visitors to destinations within the Corridor and surrounding districts,” the vision statement read. “Through creative placemaking, the Corridor will reflect the character of its population, history, and natural environments.”
The vision statement was the culmination of research and public participation, said Luke Mitchell, senior urban planner with VHB, the company contracted to help develop the vision for the corridor. “I think the best part has been how constructive and enthusiastic and participatory you folks have been,” he added.
Within the vision statement were an array of action items that could get the town closer to its goals, such as advocating for a bus connection plan with the MBTA; creating a bicycle lane network; diversifying dining and retail options; developing a district parking plan; creating public parks; improve drainage to prevent flooding and icing; and review zoning bylaws to encourage denser development.
As part of its background research, VHB found the Blanchard/Wheeler can be broken into several clusters of space, with much of the area’s southeast region currently open space, and much of its northern region classified as general industrial or innovation space. The corridor includes Mary Cummings Park, the Northeastern University’s Innovation Campus, workplaces employing about 5,000 people, and four restaurant or retail properties on Middlesex Turnpike at the corridor’s western edge.
At the first of two public meetings, residents said the strengths of the area included its natural resources and green spaces. In terms of challenges, residents cited unsafe roadways, lack of connectivity, traffic congestion and flooding.
Mitchell said Burlington’s experience is similar to other communities’ experiences with trying to find the best uses for space as people’s needs change.
“You have a lot of office space, people are using office space differently, so you have some buildings that are vacant or not fully occupied. And then in terms of the roadway itself, it was built once upon a time for automobile traffic and nowadays there’s a much greater emphasis on pedestrian and bicycle movement. So how can we factor that in? And there’s so many elements within that of safety and placemaking and comfort.”
In the public meeting, residents broke out into focus groups to share their feedback on the vision plan, which VHB will incorporate into later, more focused versions. “These are just goals, so we’ll map them out on a timeline, what comes first, who’s responsible for what, focusing less on the wishy-washy goals and more on actionable items,” Mitchell said.