Shared-use Paths Will Improve Walking, Biking Conditions Around Campus

The sun rises over the new Northern Canal Overlook Image by Ed Brennen
The new Northern Canal Overlook, which was completed this summer, will help enhance the Pawtucket Greenway project.

By Ed Brennen

Thanks to a pair of recent state grants, students, faculty and staff are closer to having a protected, shared-use path when walking or bicycling along Pawtucket Street between South and East campuses.

The “Pawtucket Greenway,” a collaboration between UMass Lowell and the City of Lowell, is one of three pilot projects being implemented with a $165,755 grant the city received from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s (MassDOT) Shared Streets and Spaces program.  

The university, meanwhile, received a $57,000 MassTrails grant from the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) to begin designs for connecting the Pawtucket Greenway to Lowell’s existing network of paths and trails.

“We’re excited to be moving forward with the Pawtucket Greenway, which will help to create a more unified campus experience,” says Executive Director of Planning, Design and Construction Adam Baacke.

Encouraging members of the UML community to walk or cycle between campuses rather than relying on vehicles has been a major long-range planning goal for the university, Baacke adds. UML has been designated a silver-level Bicycle Friendly University from the League of American Bicyclists.

The Shared Streets and Spaces grant program was created this summer in response to the coronavirus pandemic as a means to quickly support safe and socially distanced travel options that can, in turn, help revitalize local businesses. 
With part of the funding, the city is installing free-standing stanchions to create a 10-foot-wide multi-use path along the shoulder of two sections of Pawtucket Street: the first between School Street and the Pawtucket Canal and the second between Aiken Street and the Northern Canal on East Campus.

That still leaves a quarter-mile gap between University Crossing and School Street — one that Baacke hopes can be bridged once people experience the benefits of the new protected bicycle lanes.

“That’s the trickiest segment in terms of traffic, but we’re hoping this can help build some momentum toward the larger project,” says Baacke, who adds that the university is “very appreciative” that the city identified the Pawtucket corridor as one of the locations to apply the funding.

A car and pedestrian cross the new Pawtucket Canal bridge still under construction Image by Ed Brennen
The Pawtucket Greenway will benefit from the new Pawtucket Canal bridge, which is still under construction but recently opened to one lane of traffic.

With the MassTrails grant, the university is looking to design a broader, long-term vision for the Pawtucket Greenway beyond the shared-use path.

“We are looking at redesigning the whole street along the corridor,” says Baacke, who adds that such a project could fall under the state- and federally funded regional Transportation Improvement Plan to fund construction. In order to be eligible for that program, the design must be completed using funding secured by the university or city.
“This grant will help us get a good way there,” Baacke says.

UML is providing $18,000 in matching funds (a requirement of the grant) to help pay for the surveying that will lay the groundwork for the designs.

While MassTrails grants typically go toward off-road projects like hiking paths and rail trails, Baacke was happy DCR selected an urban location like Lowell, which features a riverwalk and paths along its canal system.

“They were very intrigued by how this segment of the Pawtucket Greenway connects to the rest of the network of trails and paths throughout Lowell that the U.S. National Park Service and city have developed over the years,” he says.

The Pawtucket Greenway will also benefit from the Lowell Canal Bridges Project, which Baacke says is proceeding on schedule. 

The Pawtucket Street bridge over the Pawtucket Canal has reopened to one-way vehicle traffic heading toward South Campus, while one new sidewalk is open on the Northern Canal bridge. The projects are expected to be completed by April 2022.

Over the summer, the university finished work on the new Northern Canal Overlook, another project that will help enhance the Pawtucket Greenway. Located on the corner of Pawtucket and Merrimack streets, diagonally across from University Crossing, the new overlook provides much more room for pedestrians heading between North and East campuses on the Howe Bridge.

As part of the overlook project, the university is installing a series of four panels this fall that tell the story of the Little Canada neighborhood that once stood on East Campus but was lost to urban renewal in the 1960s.

The panels include photos and stories that History Prof. Robert Forrant and his students helped research. They will be installed at the Northern Canal Overlook, on the Northern Canal bridge, in the plaza outside the Campus Recreation Center and in the plaza in front of LeLacheur Park.