Small tweaks led to major changes in Mass. Ave. design
Sweeping amendments to the design for Mass. Ave. in East Arlington stemmed from two small technical changes instigated last summer, according to those involved.
The decision to add an unneeded travel lane to Mass. Ave. eastbound between Pond Lane and Linwood Street, and the removal of safety features from the Wyman St. pedestrian crossing there, began as a desire for extra queuing capacity for cars waiting at the Linwood signal.
Similarly, the consolidation of two pedestrian crossings in East Arlington into a single crossing with no pedestrian island is solely a consequence of a decision to honor a request by the owner of the Arlington Restaurant to move the proposed bus-stop location, freeing up two parking spaces in front of the diner.
These two minor changes had major consequences when the consulting engineers and the town’s Transportation Advisory Committee began to fit them into the existing design framework and philosophy.
These decisions were made in obscurity and even secrecy, and the changes were filed in February with Mass. Highway without any public notice until nearly a month later.
The Arlington Diner decision, before its greater consequences were known, had been discussed by the Mass. Ave Review Committee at its July 20 2011 meeting, but the staff elected to ignore the Committee’s advice that the bus stop should remain at the restaurant as the best location.
Linwood to Pond Lane: According to various members of TAC, the committee became concerned last summer that the queue for the Linwood St. signal would be unacceptably long on some mornings, based on traffic counts made by the Town’s consultants in 2008 and 2009. The committee’s solution was to add a lane to the approach to the intersection in front of Walgreens.
Subsequently, the Committee decided that the change had rendered the distance between the start of the one-lane segment at Pond Lane and its end in the approach to Linwood “too close,” so they made the whole thing two lanes.
However, no one connected to the plans believes that the extra lane is needed to accommodate traffic volume, the number of cars. By contrast the eastbound segment from Bates Road to Lake Street requires two full lanes to accommodate am traffic volume, according to the Town’s Functional Design Report.
There’s still a lot I don’t understand about this, but its clear that the traffic-queue issue is based on actual traffic counts and engineering principles. By contrast the “it’s too close” rule looks to be at best more of an intuitive thing, aesthetic preference, or habit.
Marathon to Milton: The Marathon St. crosswalk is heavily used and has been problematic. The 25% design filed last year would have made several important improvements here, including bump-outs and a pedestrian refuge island.
The proposed crosswalk at Milton would have been new and would have included two curb bump-outs.
Laura Wiener, the senior town planner assigned to the project, confirmed at Thursday night’s open house that the sole reason for the loss of these pedestrian safety features was to preserve two parking spaces in front of the restaurant by relocating the bus stop proposed there.
The simple relocation of a bus stop then collided with other design criteria and goals. These probably included such things as as maximizing parking for other businesses, locating bus stops at the far side of intersections, and keeping bus stops near crosswalks.
When the bus-stop move met those criteria it ramified into another major design change.
The Transportation Advisory Committee was involved in the Linwood decision but not this one, according to its vice chair, Ed Starr.
This project has been plagued by people who consider themselves qualified to know better than trained planners and engineers what can work and what can’t. I have no wish to join their ranks.
You and I are clearly qualified to judge, however, whether it’s worth giving up a pedestrian crossing and some safety features so that the Arlington Restaurant can have two parking spaces directly in front. That is not a technical matter, it’s a question of priorities.
At Linwood, I think we are qualified to understand the benefits of the “not too close rule,” if someone can articulate that, and similarly weigh those against the very real costs to pedestrian safety entailed by the new design there.
Update: Thanks to an alert reader for spotting an error. In the second paragraph I described an eastbound lane as “westbound.” I plead fatigue–and have fixed the error.