Traffic Experts Defend Turning Shea Circle Into Shea Square

Proposed at-grade solution for Casey Overpass, including Shea Circle (right) being turned into Shea Square.

Massachusetts Department of Transportation

Proposed at-grade solution for Casey Overpass, including Shea Circle (right) being turned into Shea Square.

Transportation officials want to make the traffic circle going from Forest Hills into Franklin Park into a square intersection with stoplights.

It’s part of the Casey Overpass project, in which the crumbling bridge is to be torn down and replaced with a network of streets.

But there’s a hold-up. The Massachusetts Historical Commission asked to review those plans in light of the fact that, believe it or not, the Shea Circle rotary is part of the Morton Street Historic District. The commission wants proof that destruction of the 1939 traffic circle is worth it in terms of increasing safety for pedestrians, bike riders and car drivers.

On Wednesday, the Department of Transportation released a letter and 17 pages of supporting documents for why they should be allowed to remove Shea Circle and turn it in to Shea Square.

“MassDOT believes that a signalized intersection is the most prudent design at this location,” reads the letter, “and will substantially improve connectivity and safety for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists while maintaining efficient travel flow on this heavily-traveled highway.”

The letter gives point-by-point responses to questions and criticisms offered by Tom Jacobson and Jeffrey Ferris.

Below or at this link you can dive in to the whole 20-page packet of materials.

One interesting tidbit is that very few pedestrians and bicyclists use the current configuration. On weekday mornings, only 54 pedestrians cross the area and a scant seven bike riders. For the afternoon rush hour, those figures are 24 walkers and nine cyclists. A consulting engineer said the “reluctance” of pedestrians and bicyclists to use Shea Circle is likely because the current design is unsafe.

If the Historical Commission were to give its blessing to a signalized intersection where Shea Circle now stands, it is widely expected the project will be put out to bid. That would be a major milestone in a project that will change the face of Forest Hills for generations to come.


  • amian3

    Thanks for noting that Shea circle is part of the Morton Street Historic District, not the Emerald Necklace as is so often said. It helps to understand the context of the review by MHC.

  • JamaicaPlainNews

    Thanks for the compliment.

  • The “Morton Street Historic District” was defined and added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 2004. Its “Period of Significance” is defined in the original filing documents as being “from the 1930’s, when the [Morton Street] parkway was built, to 1956.” That designation does indeed justify MHC’s consulation in this matter. However, it should certainly be noted in this context that the historical Period of Significance for the rest of the Arborway and the original connections the Emerald Necklace parkways made between it, the Arboretum and Franklin Park are far earlier. In the case of the Arborway, those dates are defined as 1879-1921, designated on the National Registry as a feature of the Olmsted Parks System in 1971. The Shea Circle rotary was built in the 1930s on land that was almost entirely part of Franklin Park (also designated in 1971). Restoring safe connections, crossings and pathways for all modes of travel – pedestrian and cycling as well as vehicular – along this portion of the Emerald Necklace is one of the long-standing goals and will be one of the many lasting benefits of the Casey Arborway project.