Looking back, 2021 will be remembered fondly as the year Northern Strand Trail largely completed construction.
In May, work crews installed the brand new steel bridge over the Saugus River – its iconic, sturdy red trusses immediately became a destination for all trail users. July saw the installation of high-powered hot pink LED lighting under Route 1 in Revere, providing a great example of simple yet effective placemaking. October saw the opening of the long-awaited Linear Park trail section in Lynn, complete with playgrounds, planting beds and even a zip line!
These were three of the higher profile additions to the trail, and many more unsung, but significant pieces fell into place to knit these and other highlights together into a continuous, high-quality trail experience: paving throughout the corridor; safety upgrades at all street crossings; edging, planting, and invasive species removal; seating and wildlife overlooks; signage and interpretive art installations. All of these truly transformed the Northern Strand. Despite some minor disruptions brought on by COVID-19, work continued steadily through 2021, culminating in the completion of final crosswalk upgrades in Malden by late fall. A special shout-out goes to the city of Revere who proved more than capable in overseeing construction along the entire 10-mile trail length through Everett, Malden, Revere, Saugus and Lynn!
During the first half of the year, Bike to the Sea continued to adapt to mostly online activities brought on by the pandemic. However, as spring gave way to summer and vaccination rates rose, it became possible to resume scaled-down trail clean-ups and related activities. While the annual Bike to the Sea Day ride still wasn’t logistically feasible, B2C encouraged members to lead small, socially distanced group rides, taking advantage of the now-proven safety of the outdoor open-air environment. In August the annual B2C Sand Sculpture Ride to Revere Beach was able to take place again followed in October by a triumphant Fall Colors Ride with over 100 riders taking part! During these challenging times, the Northern Strand continued to prove invaluable as a resource that old and new trail users alike could turn to for walking, biking, rolling, while safely socializing and, most importantly, feeling like a part of the community.
In March 2021, Bike to the Sea hired a new Executive Director, Jonah Chiarenza, who developed a three-part strategic plan to maximize the community benefits of a soon-to-be completed Northern Strand Trail:
- Extend the Northern Strand through future trail segments and spur trails, on-road “complete streets” upgrades to key community destinations, and “slow street” neighborhood traffic calming, to collectively improve safe access to the trail for people of all ages and abilities.
- Activate the Northern Strand through partnerships with local community organizations, sponsored bike rides, trail clean up events, and temporary and permanent installations along the trail including community gardens, public art, bike maintenance facilities, and musical events.
- Diversify the Northern Strand through intentional diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts, including analysis of trail user demographics and outreach to underrepresented community members, environmental justice populations, and other marginalized groups and individuals who we want to have experience – and contribute to – our community of trail users.
Like many organizations, Bike to the Sea continued its monthly board and member meetings online via Zoom during the first half of 2021. Despite the limitations and challenges virtual platforms can sometimes pose, B2C rose to the occasion and did not cancel a single scheduled meeting or event in this critical year of trail building. In August, B2C was able to resume member meetings in person at our beloved hangout – the Dockside Restaurant in Malden, providing a mutual lift for attendees and the restaurant alike. B2C kept communications and trail updates flowing while continuing to bring our organization to the next level in terms of increasing membership, raising awareness and elevating the Northern Strand’s profile.
A direct result of this increased outreach were successful group rides that took place in the fall. B2C partnered with Malden’s Chinese Culture Connection to host the “Bike to the Moon” event in celebration of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival – complete with mooncake! B2C also partnered with Cambridge Health Alliance to host a “Healthy Lifestyles” ride. These rides hosted over 100 riders – many first-time trail users. Our annual November meeting was another well-attended in-person celebration, held adjacent to the trail in Lynn at Old Tyme Italian Cuisine. Rounding out this eventful year, many thanks to those who made the purchase and sold out our complete run of calendars for the third year in a row!
The construction process that began in early 2020 reached a fever pitch throughout 2021 – indeed at times it seemed like the entire trail became one giant work zone! The construction team successfully balanced the need to ensure the public’s safety during heavy construction with the desire to maintain access to portions of the trail for ongoing use by community members needed to get off their computers and out of their homes to enjoy the great out-of-doors. This great work continues to be overseen in the field by Stantec, with construction being handled by Zoppo and design and administration services being provided under the leadership of Brown Richardson + Rowe, who were, together with Stantec, hired by the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) to design and permit the Northern Strand on behalf of our five communities. Personnel from these firms were present on the trail at all times throughout construction in order to advance this effort. The public saw several work crews and noticed fencing and signage along the trail corridor which at times limited access. Temporary closures of the trail took place as segments were fenced for safety in order to accommodate the logistics of various work activities.
The $13+ million investment by EEA to construct the Northern Strand recognizes the importance of this trail corridor to our five communities, the North Shore, and to the entire Commonwealth. Governor Baker and Lt. Gov. Polito established an interagency MassTrails Team, which is led by the Governor’s office and is composed of staff from EEA, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), and the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). The purpose of the team is to help develop a unified vision for a statewide trails network and translate that into strategic investments, policy innovations to facilitate development of trails, and shared partnerships with municipal partners. The Northern Strand Trail project is a direct result of the group’s “one team, one plan, one vision” approach to advance multi-use trails across the Commonwealth.
Finally (nearly) complete, the fully paved trail now provides a continuous off-road, car-free corridor for transportation and recreation from the Mystic River to the Nahant shoreline, passing through and connecting the communities of Everett, Malden, Revere, Saugus, and Lynn. In 2022, Bike to the Sea will begin to advance future connections between the Northern Strand and the Saugus Iron Works and Revere Beach, in addition to several envisioned concepts here. Expect a ribbon cutting event in Everett during the spring followed by big plans for a trail completion celebration with all five communities!
The Bike to the Sea board members wish to thank our members, sponsors, partner organizations, and the many elected officials, city and town staff, state agency staff and leadership, for their generous support, encouragement, and enthusiasm which helped us reach this historic milestone for the Northern Strand Trail. We couldn’t do it without all of you working together!
2021 Highlights by Community:
The City began work on the latest segment which will extend the Northern Strand Trail further southward to the waterfront. Construction, which is scheduled to be completed in spring 2022 will bring the trail from its current terminus at West/ Wellington Streets southward under Route 16 to the Mystic River adjacent to the Encore Boston Harbor resort (bypassing Sweetser Circle and Route 99). The latest design features for the Northern Strand extension through Everett can be found here. This extension will eventually connect with the future Mystic River Crossing bridge, which Governor Baker committed to funding in October. In a separate project, Everett DPW is planning to expand waterfront access along the Malden River with the addition of boardwalks, new recreational areas and boat launches.
Significant safety upgrades were installed where the Northern Strand crosses Medford, Maplewood, Route 99 (Broadway), Beach and Lynn Streets. Pedestrian-activated rectangular rapid flashing beacons now alert motorists of trail users crossing these roadways, in addition to restriped crosswalks, ADA-compliant tactile warning strips and repaved trail sections adjacent to each road making for a smooth, seamless, level surface for all users. A brand new plaza in Linden Square was also created featuring new paving stones and art installations utilizing repurposed rails. B2C also continues to closely monitor developments along the proposed Malden River Greenway. This burgeoning effort – stretching through Everett, Malden and Medford – will form a critical connection between the Northern Strand and the river. Designs advanced in 2021 for the future Malden River Works at the DPW yard. Finally, a feasibility study for extension of the Spot Pond Brook Greenway was released in addition to being awarded $100,000 in MassTrails grant funding for design, engineering and permitting for these future phases. The Greenway will connect Oak Grove MBTA Station (and the City of Melrose) to the Northern Strand via downtown Malden.
Significant progress was made to the one-mile section including paving, safety upgrades at Lynn St resulting in a shorter crossing, new lighting under Route 1 as well as an authentic bocce ball court that should be ready for play in the spring! The trail provides direct access to Revere’s new Harmon Park and playground and significant safety improvements adjacent to the park with an upgraded and realigned crosswalk over Salem Street complete with rapid flashing beacons. The end of the year saw a renewed interest in B2C exploring future connections between the Northern Strand the rest of Revere, particularly to the beach. It is highly desired by board members to advance a feasibility study in 2022 that will examine the best and safest routing between the trail and Revere Beach, including possible routing through Rumney Marsh and the Northgate shopping center down Charger St to local playgrounds.
As noted above, the long-anticipated installation of the new Saugus River Bridge occurred in May, resulting in an impressive structure some have already nicknamed “Big Red.” Safety upgrades – in the form of rapid flashing beacons – on streets that cross the Northern Strand at grade such as Essex, Denver and Central also were also completed. A new pocket park with a kids’ slide and benches were also installed trailside near Essex St, complimenting adjacent facilities at Anna Parker playground. Two new wildlife viewing platforms along the Saugus River offer stellar panoramic views and ample bird sighting opportunities. B2C will be supporting one of our most devoted sponsors, the Solomon Foundation, along with partners at DCR and Mass Audubon, repurpose a magnificent property south of the Saugus River Bridge – a former construction staging area – into new parkland in the coming year. Planning also continues with the Town of Saugus on improving connections between the trail and Saugus Iron Works and the future RiverWalk.
The City of Lynn shined brightly in 2021 with concurrent projects being completed as part of the Northern Strand. The off-road portion of the trail (within the former rail corridor through Lynn) was opened from Boston Street to Western Avenue, resulting in a formal ribbon-cutting in November by outgoing Mayor and ardent trail supporter Tom McGee. New bridges and an overlook through the Lynn Marsh firmly established this stunning new amenity for thousands of new trail users within the city. The linear park section between Cottage St and Spencer St was also completed this fall, providing neighborhood residents much-needed space for new activities in the forms of raised planting beds, food truck parking, and imaginative playground equipment. The third and final leg of the project – on road bike route from the end of the path to Nahant Beach – was piloted with MassDOT Shared Streets and Spaces funding. This resulted in on-street buffered bike lanes and shared bus/bike lanes. A future version of this project will extend the trail via protected bike lanes on local streets through downtown Lynn to the waterfront. This effort held its first public meeting and is anticipated to become a future MassDOT-funded project. Both project segments – completed and planned – continued to generate much positive input in transforming Lynn into a much more bike and pedestrian-friendly city.