Public views Mass. Ave. plans

About 200 Arlington residents and fellow travelers came to Town Hall last night for the seventh public hearing on much-delayed plans to refurbish Mass. Ave, which is still slated for 2012.

It was the first opportunity for the public to question the consulting engineers about the plan since April of 2009. The Board of Selectmen submitted the plans for State review last August.

New drawings were on display at the meeting

New drawings were on display at the meeting

Most of the basic elements of the plan are unchanged: the lane configuration, including bicycle lanes, new pedestrian crossings, and traffic signals at Teel/Thorndike, Lake, Bates/Marion, and Linwood/Foster.

As described last week, however, the latest drawings remove a proposed traversable median from  much of Mass. Ave., widen traffic lanes, and reduce or eliminate proposed sidewalk widening in the business district around the Capitol Theater.

One sidewalk would even be narrowed in one place to accommodate the wider traffic lanes.

The engineers made these and other changes in response to criticism of the 2009 version made earlier this year by Mass. Highway District 4.

Comments and questions following a presentation by Rick Azzalina of Fay Spofford & Thorndike were wide-ranging. Azzalina repeatedly described the design as “a work in progress” that could be influenced by public comments.

However, his responses to comments mostly explained why particular changes were unlikely or inexpedient.

Azzalina said the plan is to resubmit the so-called 25% plans to Mass. Highway next month, for a formal hearing in September paving the way (through many intermediate steps) to advertise the project in December of 2011.

My notes, incomplete and unofficial as usual, follow; my personal comments are in red.

At about 7:15 Selectman Jack Hurd welcomed the crowd to what he called the seventh public meeting about this project.

He said that the rebuild will be funded with state and federal monies that can’t be used for any other purpose in Arlington.

If we do not spend this money, he said, it will be allocated to road projects in other Massachusetts communities.

Carol Kolwalski, the town’s Planning Director, said that regardless of the design, “all roads and sidewalks will be remodeled.”

She said that the proposed lane configuration is adequate for traffic on Mass. Ave., and that the latest design improves traffic flow so that there will be less reason for drivers to leave for side streets than the current design.

She praised the design and said that she had worked in a community where a similar process has been very successful.

It was pretty clear that Hurd and Kowalski made these points in response to assertions made by opponents of the project: that the project is optional, that we can “send money back” to Washington instead of using it, or that there are fundamental flaws in the design. Opponents made some of these points anyway in their comments.

The bulk of the presentation took the form of a power-point presentation from Rick Azzalina of Fay Spofford & Thorndike, the engineering consultants the Town retained for this project.

This presentation covered a lot of familiar ground and I am not going to even try for a comprehensive recap. Here are a few things that caught my eye.

Azzalina continued the theme of addressing myths and criticisms put about by opponents of the project.

He said that three traffic studies since 2001 had all concluded that Mass. Ave did not need to be four lanes, except at the busiest intersections, and noted that this study alone had made three separate traffic samples: in October, in May, and in June. At last week’s committee meeting he also said that the three samples corroborated each other closely.

He projected the text of the Massachusetts law and the Federal policy requiring bicycle accommodation, and said we had to satisfy those requirements to get the funds.

Accompanied by a map showing both Mass. Ave. and the Minuteman Path, he basically said, Look how these routes go to different places.

The net effect was a little defensive, but I’m glad the Town addressed these points head on.

Azzalina also described some of the changes made in response to District 4, such as the lane widening and the elimination of the previously proposed traversable median.

He said it was “very usual” to get these kinds of comments in the process, and specifically noted that the median had been eliminated to “play it conservatively” with District 4, not because it was a bad idea.

One of the slides in the presentation was a sketch of an idealized streetscape–a wide sidewalk with lots of stuff going on, storefronts and signage and benches and vendor carts and happy people.

It was just a sketch but very suggestive of some real places around here–it reminded me of Lexington Center or downtown Winchester.

The drawing provoked some muttering, and then a round of forced tittering that seemed to me to go on a bit long. That was finally answered by some applause that felt equally forced and theatrical.

Although this was an “informational” meeting, many people apparently feel plenty informed already and have chosen sides. I guess the seven public meetings have done their job in that respect.

For a while, Azzalina took questions called out from the audience to clarify parts of his presentation. These began to get a little argumentative and Kowalski asked people to hold questions until the end.

In response to questions and comments, Azzalina, the other engineers, and Kowalski  said,

  • Mass DOT had reviewed allegations that Arlington did not have the legal authority to redesign Mass. Ave., and found “no problem” with proceeding.

The opponents have apparently threatened to sue the Town on this point. Officials did not seem too worried.

  • Many of those responsible for the latest plan agreed that the proposed medians were good ideas that ought to be allowed, but nonetheless declined to try to persuade District 4 on that point. It would “not be a good use of our time,” Azzalina said.

This point deserves some amplification and perhaps even its own post. The questioner had a copy of some Mass. Highway design rules describing and praising the sort of traversable medians to which District 4 had objected.

Azzalina essentially said that was correct but the Town had nonetheless decided not to contest the issue with District 4.

Update: I’ve posted the excerpt from the Mass. Highway design manual, and further information, here. Weird.

  • Wider traffic lanes were a direct result of eliminating the median, to find a place to put the eliminated width.
  • The finding that the new design would not increase cut-through traffic is based on data that show (a) that traffic does not exceed capacity along the corridor and (b) that service levels at signals are as good or better than at present.
  • These data (and others) are in the Functional Design Report (here, but subject to revision with this new version of the plan).
  • Flooding issues will be addressed at a later stage of planning.
  • A new housing development planned in Arlington was announced very recently and its impact on the project will be factored in to the analysis. I admit I don’t know anything about this. Does anyone know where it is?

In many respects, the comments and questions were the most interesting part of the evening, lasting about 70 minutes.

I’m not going to try to summarize that in this post, which is getting pretty long, but I thought most comments fell into three categories roughly equally.

  • First were comments hostile to basic elements of the design.
  • Second were comments criticizing the recent changes as unfriendly to pedestrians or businesses.
  • Third were comments or complaints or ideas about traffic and transit, not all necessarily related to Mass. Ave. For instance, one woman spoke about the dedicated bicycle paths in some Northern European countries; another about traffic near her house on Lake St.

I hate to be cynical, but seemed unlikely to me that these comments would have much of an effect on the final design. The first group was arguing about things that have long been decided, such as the number of lanes. Mass. Highway seems fine with the basic design, so they are no longer at issue.

The second group was arguing about a decision not to contest comments from District 4, although there are apparently real grounds for doing so. This ought to be in bounds at this point, but it really sounded to me as though the Town had made up its mind not to fight with District 4 even with the facts and the law on its side.

The third group, with some exceptions, wanted more than the scope of this project could hope to accomplish: less traffic everywhere, European bicycle paths, etc.

The whole evening got a little raucous but was well run and was nothing like some past meetings where opponents of the project tried to shout other people down.

People have taken sides in this debate, but I saw many people clapping for everyone who spoke, regardless of what “side” they represented.

There was a LOT more–and if I anyone wants to fill in blanks in the comments, please go ahead–but I think this captures some of the issues and the flavor and the scene.

From the Town’s point of view, I think, this was a successful event, with lots of genuine interest and many viewpoints leavening and diluting the increasingly bitter tone of the opposition group that was so outspoken in the Spring of 2009.

36 comments so far

  1. Peter B on

    I really appreciate the write-up. I am Not a fan of the project. I don’t think the traffic samples in Oct, May, and June are representative. May & June are summer months and traffic is dramatically reduced.

    This project is going to create pinch points where traffic will back up and noise and air pollution will increase dramatically. As it is now, Lake Street backs up from Mass Ave to Route2 in both directions. Keeping the streets friendly, means keeping the traffic moving. If not, our town will become even more of a city.

    I do Not think Mass Ave will become safer, but I do think other areas will become more dangerous. Traffic will be forced into other neighborhoods. We’ll have to turn many streets into one ways to keep people on Mass Ave. The current wide open style provides space to avoid accidents. If we widen the sidewalks and add bike lanes, it will become crowded and accidents will increase. One small accident might close all of the Ave, there will be no way around it.

    The minute man bike trail runs parallel to Mass Ave, so bikers are not an issue. I assume all of Mass Ave will have a bike lane installed and not just the section being renovated – or what’s the point.

    Just because someone is willing to pay for the project doesn’t mean we should do it. Just re-deploy the resources. We can’t do that locally, but the state and feds can do it at their level. Let them know we appreciate the funding, but can’t accept the money in good faith. That will create good will and increase our chances of future funding.

    Give the money back – it’s the right thing to do.

    • Adam Auster on

      Thank you for posting, Peter.

      I think you have provided a very clear synopsis of many of the arguments that opponents of this project continue to make.

      It probably is only small comfort to you that all of them were addressed directly in the presentation on Tuesday night. But at least the planners are listening, even if they draw different conclusions than you would like.

  2. Gordon J on

    I concur that it is most unfortunate that the town is not pushing back on the median concept, especially given the fact that it appears to be something that MA-DOT likes and has approved in the past…

    A bit of overcompensation in my opinion – And one that will reduce the village/community feel that the prior iteration of the plan more effectively provided…

    Looking fwd to the project getting underway and seeing the transformation of East Arlington into a great multi-use commercial district and shopping destination for those in/out of town

  3. rekha6 on

    “Looking fwd to the project getting underway and seeing the transformation of East Arlington into a great multi-use commercial district and shopping destination for those in/out of town”

    I agree with Gordon J. A multi-use commercial district also becomes a place where residents can hang out and run into each other and meet each other.

    Thanks for this write up – very helpful.

  4. Christo A on

    Thanks for this great synopsis.

    This section of Mass Ave needs improvement. Right now it is mayhem regardless of whether I am on a bike, car or am a pedestrian. Other world class cities and towns in the world have made incorporated the multi-use nature of these sorts of plans….and improved safety and traffic management for everybody. (lord knows that my 82 year old mother would benefit from a few more seconds crossing Mass Ave at the Capital!)

    To people who argue that as a cyclist I ought to take the bike path I would like to point out a couple of things. One- Mass Ave is usually transportation for me. My wife commutes on sections of it. The bike path is primarily for recreation. Two- A car driver could easily be told to “take Route 2”. Well that may not quite be where you are going. Same thing applies to bikes. Plus bikes, cars and motorcycles by law all enjoy EQUAL privilege of use of such roadways. Managed coexistence is why I support the plan.

    Also, one argument that I have heard is that these changes will slow down traffic on Mass Ave. Is that really a bad thing? People regularly drive 50mph+ down the road! This is just plain unsafe.

    We are a world-class community. There is no perfect solution to improve this road as it used to accommodate trolley cars down its middle (oh, that’s why its so wide…). But we need to move into the 21st century. Status quo will no longer cut it. Equal access. Safer for everybody. Perfect? No. Improved? Yes. I think that people will be surprised in the end at how this improves the town in so many ways.

    See you on the road!

  5. SolarInst on

    “A car driver could easily be told to “take Route 2″.”

    That’s a bit out of the real context – it’s that IF we want dedicated bike only lanes take the bike path. Bikes are of course able to ride on Mass ave and many of us do so (and the bike path is NOT just for recreation for many of us in E. Arlington who bike west for non recreational reasons of for those using Alewife as a terminal).

    Use Rte 2 when driving? I’d love to – BUT half our streets are one way heading towards Mass Ave (including mine). How exactly are we suppose to use Route 2 if we can’t even get to it without traveling on Mass Ave (it’s the only LEGAL choice for car egress from my house). I too pay excise taxes so yeah, I just want to get where I’m going to on the roads I pay those taxes on. And as a cyclist I’d be happy enough to have the long neglected road-surface repaved (and for narcissistic drivers to shove their cellphones where they belong). I don’t feel any safer once I cross into Cambridge and have to drill holes in parked car rear windows with my eyes to see if a car door might be fling open into the bike lane (a so greater worry than cars traveling with & around me in the same direction).

    I went to the June 22 meeting. There was a lot of amen’ing for the plans and a lot of concerns raised too…..and some of the answers were down right excuse making by FS&T.

    For example – How is counting side street traffic half way down the street counting how long it will take to get anywhere? It doesn’t measure time waiting to cross two Ave lanes and funnel into what is now 2 lanes but what will be a reduced-to-single lane. How is undersampling with two mid week days of car counting half way down a street really studying anything? Do they think we’re stupid? Even with what they sampled 5 cars a minute at the half way point isn’t the only relevant point as they(we) bunch up already waiting for a time to cross and a place in the west bound queue – one west bound north facing car can tie up the entire side street and that car counter half way down is oblivious to such detail. It’s not always bad but when it’s bad it’s a bear (i.e. during any rain, snow, sunset/dark, rush-hour jams at Lake St and whenever any little other snafu further up the ave happens)and this queueing does pedestrians no favors either. Sample period – Traffic studies that only include two mid week days aren’t close to meaningful or compelling a sample rate/duration and I think FS&T should know better and does know better if their worth their salt as “engineers”. That they asked the state afterwards for their blessing & excuses is quite beside the point that it’s a crap study (even if the state doesn’t know better). This latest “study” was also done without giving residents notice thus blowing another opportunity for community participation or in allowing us to making note of it’s flaws or limited sample session before it was too late (I asked the guy installing the counter he said he didn’t know what or who it was for). Why sneak this stuff in? More of the same. It seems more like sampling to prove the plan justified rather than to really measure current use vs presumably projecting impact from changes. Its a shame there’s only interest in making permanent neighborhood changes and not in even making reasonable measures of traffic, in not asking residents or voters what they want (these meetings are only where the outspoken lobby for what they want), and no interest in mocking up changes, as much as is possible, on the cheap to see their impact. The only way residents or commuters will see how good or bad this plan is will be when it’s too late to change it because we all know this is a permanent change to a neighborhood that has not been changed in a half century+. If we’re to believe Mass Ave is so underutilized and that speed is a problem then this does not fix that only law enforcement will curtail drivers from jackrabbit starts & high peak speeds, inattention by distracted drivers on cellphones, related road-rage and street cut-throughs, and that cyclists less than often obey street traffic laws (seemingly more-so the commuting speedo wearing road-bikers I see blowing past my ratty mountain biking self and through redlights). In this 21 century world-class community will courtesy and care be the default behavior? Can we only walk on wider sidewalks or use our ave if ti has park benches. If not this self indulgent project solves nothing and just makes it harder for we residents to get to or from home.

  6. Mark K. on

    So many issues here. First, the road is US route 3, Mass 2A, and Mass. Ave. – a major road. If it were a minor road, there would not be requests for bike lanes.

    I favor transverseable medians AND flush cement pavers for crosswalks as supported by all design principals. Sparse, raised pedestrian refuges eliminate the need and snow removal problems of bump-outs.

    Ten feet (2×5′)for bike lanes is excessive for vehicles paying no excise or gas taxes. Cambridge uses 4′ lanes, 3′ in Harvard Square, and shared space in No. Cambridge Mass Ave.. They know more about bikes and planning than Arlington, so we don’t need 5′. Bicycle Utopians want it for riding too fast (spandex commandos), side by side, and don’t like sharing the road with anyone. They don’t like the Minuteman trail because they have to share with pedestrians, and I guess because they get too much exercise with a little longer ride, and not enough exhaust fumes.

    A short note on spandex commandos. Car racing or motorcycle racing are not appropriate on shared, public roadways. Like traffic lights and one way streets, they think it doesn’t apply to them. Racing shoes and racing pedals don’t belong on busy streets – banning them would improve stop sign/light compliance, slow their speeds, and calm their racing mentality. They should use toe clips on public streets and mount racing pedals for races.

    Basically, cyclists are selfish. Nearly all of us rode bikes as children and nearly all of us have matured. Autonomous travel is the cyclist’s paradigm, same as single occupant vehicle drivers. Its the opposite of mass transit, thus perpetuating selfishness, and hindering greater adoption of mass transit. Unlike motorists, cyclists are usually going to areas served by mass transit and should be making sure the MBTA sees strong demand in Arlington.

    If cyclists are riding for exercise, they have the multi-million dollar Minuteman trail for that, soon with the expensive connector along Rt. 16. Until cyclists pay similar taxes motorists do, they get what they pay for (nada). Motorists will be nice though, and let them share the road; 10′ of their own they don’t share, no way.

  7. Mark K. on

    SolarInst, this statement is incorrect: “The only way residents or commuters will see how good or bad this plan is will be when it’s too late to change it because we all know this is a permanent change to a neighborhood that has not been changed in a half century+.”

    We can prototype the proposed changes by painting the road with its lanes, and seeing how that works. It isn’t perfect, but I think its better than the guessing we’re doing now. Our current dumb traffic lights will make results worse, but other differences and anticipated traffic growth balance it back. Paint is much cheaper than $5 Million, months of construction nightmare, and having it not work with no money to fix it.

    • SolarInst on

      Mark unfortunately I believe I am correct and that you misunderstood my POV. I agree mock-ups are possible, practical, and are more than reasonable but because there is little to no interest in that kind of objective measures and trials it’s a safe bet it won’t ever happen or even be considered. So it seems we agree with each other that it would be useful – I’m merely resigned to the forces gaming this towards change WITHOUT proper data collection – as yet another recent case in point a shoddy 2 day mid street mid week traffic count passes off as an impact study on side street use and rash convenient conclusions are drawn from it. It’s a scam.

      • Mark K. on

        Data collection is an interesting subject. I’d like to see cost-benefit data for all applicable changes. For example, what is the benefit of tightening side street entrances and possible pedestrian accident reduction (any history here?) vs. increased fuel use, noise from squealing brakes then acceleration, and brake dust produced. Urban/traffic planners take ZERO consideration of fuel savings into designs. Even at MIT with both urban planning and an auto engineering center focused on policy to improve efficiency, the two don’t talk.

        I’ve wondered about traffic counts – how can we be sure those gray boxes are not terrorist roadside IED’s? :-) Boston cops wasted $100K, scared by suspicious electronic signs!

        Data we do have is that downsizing on Rt 16 and Rt. 60 brought congestion. Arlington should fix Rt. 60 before creating new problems. The committee’s argument is upside down – that its OK to narrow Mass. Ave. because traffic is bounded by the streets already narrowed. The sensible thing is to not also screw up Mass Ave. so when the other mistakes are fixed, it won’t be the bottleneck.

  8. Jay H. on

    In response to the comments about cyclists and their use of the roads, do you really think that cyclists don’t own cars? The argument that we don’t pay taxes so we shouldn’t be allowed to decide on what to do with the roads is ridiculus. We pay taxes on our cars just like everyone else in Arlington. Selfish? Do you think it’s easier to just hop on a bike and ride to work? Think about the logistics of riding a bike to work and you’ll realize that we’re not selfish, just motivated. It’s selfish to think that only cars are allowed on the roads. Why can’t we share the roads?

    Why not make a bike lane and then everyone knows where they should be on the road and maybe cyclists and motorists won’t clash for road space and the discussion of bikes and motorists sharing the road is over. As far as the bike lane spacing goes, I suggest that you take a bike on one of those bike lanes and figure out for yourself what a car driving 30 mph, 4 inches away from your elbow feels like. Or maybe you’ve “matured” (gotten fat from sitting in a car) and don’t own a bike.

    I am curious if you ever car-pool or take public transportation.

  9. Adam Auster on

    Re these comments:

    It’s puzzling why opponents of the new design are so obsessed with bicycles and bike lanes.

    The redesign is being driven by concerns about pedestrian safety.

    Is this a debating tactic, to deny the compelling safety concerns by turning the whole thing into a high-volume war of cars vs. bikes?

    The whole silly and inflammatory “stay on the bike path” argument seems calculated in that way.

    Or is it sincere?

    In any case, I have a question. State regulations require either (A) 5-foot bike lanes next to 11-foot car lanes or (B) a single 15-foot shared lane.

    One or the other — no accommodation, no funding. See here.

    So, were the opponents to prevail, substituting (B) for (A), they would gain exactly two feet.

    What would they do with those 24 inches that is so important?

  10. Mark K. on

    I support pedestrian safety. I oppose removing a travel lane so cyclists can have that 10′. Today cyclists have accommodation and freely use Mass Ave/US-3 – much more freely than Mass Ave in Cambridge.

    Pedestrian safety does not necessitate removing a travel lane. Surface changed crosswalks (which demarcate better, slow traffic), improved street lighting, refuges, crossing lights, and, if necessary bumpouts all improve pedestrian safety without sacrificing a shared travel lane. Safety has already been improved with wider, bolder crosswalks, bollards, and lighting such that we have not had fatalities in 14 years.

    Bumpouts are the second least desirable option as they create new problems: difficulty for delivery trucks, extra cost of snow removal, loss of parking spots to snow piles, and snow piles impeding vision of small cars entering from side streets.

    The most costly way to increase pedestrian safety is narrowing the roadway. US3/MA-2A/Mass Ave. is a primary artery through Arlington. The selectman’s plan appeals like heart disease to most residents. Implementing the most cost effective six or seven out of eight safety features is excellent in the real world of compromise.

    • Adam Auster on

      Mark, I can tell you are really cranked up about this issue. I can identify with that!

      But I am curious why you keep posting things like “I oppose removing a travel lane so cyclists can have that 10′” when (a) the most you could save would be two feet (to satisfy state requirements), not ten, and (b) the proposed lane configuration is to provide pedestrian safety. (Yes, I gather you don’t think (b) is needed for that purpose, but it is the reason it’s being proposed.)

      Both of these points were explained at the public meeting, at which you spoke.

      Do you mean to say, a pox on state law, this is what Mark would do if Mark were King?

      That’s a legitimate exercise, one that tempts me from time to time, but it’s not a very useful guide to where we go from here.

  11. Mark K. on

    Bumpouts don’t have to be all or nothing. In wider, residential sections with low winter parking demand, near Linwood and Spy Pond, for example, positives can outweigh negatives. Non-resident MBTA commuters may be the ones who suffer from it, and I don’t feel for them.

    Something I’d like to see in the plan is more effort towards congestion relief at Lake Street. Perhaps moving the crosswalk and bus stop a block or two away east may help.

    • Adam Auster on

      Re Lake Street:

      I wasn’t around for that discussion, but it seems clear that the needs of local businesses trumped those of rush-hour drivers in the design of that intersection. See here.

      • Mark K. on

        Adam, I agree easing congestion at Lake Street is vital – up there with pedestrian safety. This is what will appeal to motorists the most.

        Not being around for the discussion brings up what a major proponent of “road diets” (Dan Burden) wrote: “Effective process often includes focus groups, and highly interactive workshops and designs. Citizens, residents and business owners should help design both process and product.” Burden encountered 95% public opposition. Arlington citizens needed to be more informed and involved during the committee work.

        I can’t imagine the only option for moving the bus stop is pushing it a block east. The space in front of the Capitol could be used for handicap drop off/parking or more sidewalk in addition to freeing right on red access.

        • Adam Auster on

          Mark, I didn’t mean to say that the process was deficient, just the committee had discussed that intersection before I joined.

          At the public meeting at the Hardy School in April of 2009, one strong sentiment from people on every side of the questions–supporters & critics–was that everything that could be done for local businesses should be done.

          The decision to forgo some improvements to the Lake St. intersection so as to protect Christo’s and Flora’s is responsive to and consistent with that.

          • Mark K. on

            Firstly, without businesses, there would be few places to walk to! Pedestrian friendliness then becomes moot.

            What’s wrong with the stop just past that corner, in front of Cambridge Savings Bank’s building eastbound, and Fox Library westbound. Noise is mitigated by having the bus stop most frequently before the library opens and then again for the evening commute. The location is also more central to the 5 or so blocks of businesses and not in front of any residences.

            Is Right Turn on Red going to be allowed from lake to Mass Ave., at least?

  12. Mark K. on

    Jay H., Which is it, do cyclists want to share the road (1st paragraph) or have a part all to themselves (2nd paragraph)? I do use public transport, and every 77, 79, 350 driver I’ve asked thinks reducing travel lanes is a stupid idea.

    Personally, I used to be an avid cyclist with road bike and sew-up tires, have tens of thousands of miles on liter-class sport motorcycles, SCCA autocross competition racing experience, served as a safety worker at Louden and Lime Rock races, some 3 axle truck and trailer towing experience, 120+ mph Autobahn and left hand side driving in 3 countries experience (licensed in Australia), motorcycle and performance driving class training, and my only accident was getting rear-ended by a soccer mom at a stop sign waiting to enter Summer St./US-3.

    I used to Rollerblade on the Minute Man Trail. I can’t bike now due to overuse/overexercise damage to my knees (“runner’s knee”, though I am not a runner, just former skier, skater, and weight trainer) and having my left kneecap subluxate every crank rotation. Yes, I have gotten fat and there is no guarantee partial knee replacement will let me be more active.

    What drives me crazy is that statistics geeks at MIT Urban Planning school, DOT and elsewhere have mostly personal bicycle and public transit experience, little else – forget about tractor trailer experience. They don’t seem qualified for the decisions they make, as evidenced by numerous bad DOT safety decisions that had surprising (to them) repercussions.

    A local example of change in the name of safety creating a worse problem was the narrowing of Rt. 16 near I-93. To avoid the resulting congestion there, I and many others take Rt. 60 through the center of West Medford to Rt. 38 instead. A place where there are few pedestrians (Rt. 16&38 intersection) is safer at the expense of a place where there are many pedestrians (West Medford center). Let’s not make the same stupid mistakes in Arlington.

    • Jay H. on

      Thanks for the autobiography.

      Mark K. From your comments it’s all or nothing for using the road? If you look up the definition of sharing you might find that it means “to participate in, use, enjoy or experience jointly or in turns.” That’s what I was referring to. There is room for both autos, bikes and pedestrians such as joggers.

      Has anyone looked at what Belmont and Cambridge has done on Concord Ave. This to used to be 2 unofficial lanes of auto traffic. Now there is a nice wide bike lane for everyone to enjoy. I ride by there in the morning and the traffic moves pretty efficiently even with lane drop and all the school drop offs.

      • Mark K. on

        The bio was in response to your ad hominem attack.

        I oppose dashed and bike lane markings because people then become possessive of their space and don’t move over when needed (ie double-parked delivery truck). Hence, we now have the “Move Over” law so drivers jump to the next lane because drivers wouldn’t all squeeze over.

        The only place I’ve experienced people not being possessive is on Manhattan’s Avenues. As a pack of 30-50 cars speeds up or down an Avenue, 4-5 wide, towards an upcoming double-parked vehicle, the whole group will shift and squeeze together to flow around it. All, without anyone slowing down – its a beautiful thing! Sadly, an out of towner often won’t know to encroach on a neighbor to start the shift and get stuck stopping behind the obstacle.

        Your marked bike lane will get blocked by trucks, buses, parking cars, and safety vehicles. When you enter the car’s lane to go around it, they will be conditioned to stay centered in their clearly marked lane and not give up some space to you. This is not an issue on Concord Ave. where a bike lane makes sense, but sure will be on Mass. Ave. where a bike lane does not make sense.

        • Mark K. on

          Another example of unthinking motorists driving centered in lanes is on one way streets entering Mass. Ave.. Too often they stop in the middle of the lane for left turns. If they had been in the left half, motorists turning right could get by and be on their way. What’s needed is paint at the stop to indicate there are two lanes with arrows to the left and right showing turn direction.

      • Mark K. on

        Being July 4 weekend, I should mention less lane marking offers more freedom. DOT bureaucrats dislike freedom and want more “controlled and orderly” traffic. Meanwhile, “shared space” design used in Europe, which is more modern than “livable street” design offers the most freedom with no marking of vehicle, bicycle, and pedestrian boundaries, yet fewest accidents! In general, Europeans enjoy more freedom than Americans despite the rhetoric. I’m not suggesting we become teabaggers, just think more out of the box, be less structured, less scheduled, and free when you can.

      • SolarInst on

        My Office is on Concord Ave in Belmont – I drive, bike, and run there between Fresh Pond and Belmont Center. There are few businesses along that expanse and a good portion of the length are large lawn/park/school yardish that don’t even have side streets – and those that do are most often to closed residential loops. There aren’t as many side streets and short block ends – it hardly compares to Mass Ave in E. Arlington for use or side street entrance & egress.

        Also what has made presumably Concord Ave safe and more observably serene (meaning avoided by drivers) is a strong radar shooting police presence both on the Cambridge and especially Belmont ends (close proximity to the Police Dept doesn’t hurt either). Don’t mistake the islands for the reasons cars aren’t drag racing down that nice flat stretch.

        So we should be careful what analogies we draw to different avenues (or US Highway routes).
        Mass Ave and East Arlington are unique (and use & needs are not as well studied as our paid consultants would have us believe).

  13. Mark K. on

    I want to help cyclists too … by solving problems on the Minute Man Trail. “Share the Road”, “Slower Traffic Keep Right”, and “Keep Right except to pass” are all standard signs, though the last two I’ve not seen in Mass, despite the need on multi-lane roads. DOT doesn’t want faster traffic getting by; they want public ignorance of lane discipline. DOT wants highways congested, everyone going slower, and thus, when there is an accident, its less likely to be fatal. On the trail, cycles are fastest and need cooperation from pedestrians and skaters to be aware and courteous. Cyclists suffer on the trail due to DOT’s safety (via ignorance) plan on the highways. We have to start from square one educating everyone about lane discipline on the Trail because people don’t have it on the road. This is the right solution, not moving to Mass Ave. to avoid those causing needless congestion on the Trail. This is another example of DOT attempting to increase safety in one place, only to create a new problem elsewhere.

    For Mass Ave., the painted share the road icon Cambridge uses( is better seen than signs on the far side of parked cars often occluded by tree branches. So, that is the safer, better signage choice.

    • dr2chase on

      I don’t see the problems that you describe on the trail, and I commute on it often enough. I have relatively few problems with pedestrians and roller-bladers, and if anything, the only thing that has bothered me recently has been passing cyclists apparently excessively concerned about lane discipline (i.e., not moving into the “opposing” lane to pass me). Just today, I had an unnecessarily close pass, while I was leaning down to get a drink of water.

      I am curious, what is the cars/hour or cars/day measurement for various parts of Mass Ave? I ask, because some years back we installed pedestrian bumpouts on Trapelo Road in Belmont, necking it down to one lane in each direction, and despite predictions of doom and gloom, they work great. I was there almost every weekday at rush hour (dropping off and picking up kids at the elementary school), and it was no problem at all, and much better for pedestrians. The volume for that segment of Trapelo is (about?) 15000 per 24 hours period. So — there is some experience you can draw on.

      I think the issue with bike lanes, above and beyond the legal requirements, is who do you expect to get on the bike lanes? The so-called lycra commandos (I ride in shorts and flip-flops, though I own some lycra, and even some wool riding shorts) would be atypical cyclists in Europe. Is the goal to make the lycra commandos happy, or is to get a more European ride share (both in size and composition)? Ordinary people, not wearing lycra, do not like to “share” the road, because that does not feel safe. 5-foot bike lanes are ok if they are not next to parking, otherwise, they are a “door lane”, not a bike lane. Not much profit in having people think something is safe when it isn’t. Some recently installed bicycle facilities on the Cambridge-Belmont border are worse than useless, because they cost money, are scary, and will give bicycle accommodations a bad name (“look what we did for you, and you don’t even use it!”).

      And from a pure minimizing-dead-bodies safety perspective, the most important thing to do is get people out of cars whenever possible. The early deaths caused by lack of exercise (caused by inappropriate and over-use of cars) swamp everything else. Fewer cars helps crashes anyhow, because no matter who is “at fault”, the mere presence of a car in the crash helps cause fatalities. All that really matters is that emergency and delivery vehicles can get through when necessary, and that otherwise people feel safe enough to bike and walk those distances where it is possible. That is safest, unless you think that heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes are “safe”.

      • Mark K. on

        Good comments. As a motorcyclist, personal safety trumps legality every time, so learning about cyclists not wanting to cross the center line is interesting. The riders passing closely to you are likely bike racers who normally ride in very tight packs to reduce aerodynamic drag. There is an element of pleasure when man and machine are in harmony and can be operated with great precision. As a race corner worker, I was amazed watching how pros will hit a corner’s apex within an inch while going ~80, lap after lap, like a machine.

        Trapelo road in Belmont is blessed with few traffic lights, little turning traffic, and less than the maximum 20,000 vehicles per day for 2 lanes. Its a whole different story in Waltham near Route 2. Good for you picking up and dropping off kids at daycare via bicycle(s).

        • dr2chase on

          I’m not sure that Trapelo Rd (+Belmont St) is that different. That segment has 15k/day. Other segments have 20k, 23k, 30k. I count 8 lights between the Waltham and Cambridge lines (2.3mi) (plus one signalled ped crossing).

          Trapelo is also getting a makeover, which is why I have all this data (I have a copy of a handy powerpoint presentation). My bias in looking at these things is that we should NOT make it loads easier to drive cars, because I’ve seen places that tried that (Houston, Pinellas County in Fla) and all you get is even more cars, and even fewer people on bikes and on foot (the weather there doesn’t help, but people do ride bikes in those places, including me, once upon a time).

          I was once a bike racer, so I know about drafting, but I don’t look at all like one now, so I’m a little mystified at the gratuitously close passes. And the kids-to-school, I did walking, biking, and sometimes in a car.

          • Mark K. on

            Having worked in Waltham, I was only thinking of Trapelo from Rt 60 to Waltham.

            Adding air conditioning to bicycles would not negatively impact the majority of travelers unlike deliberately congesting roads. Doctors have a good policy, First, Do No Harm. I wish road designers lived by that.

      • Adam Auster on

        Re traffic-count data: The significant metric seems to be cars per peak hour, not total cars in a 24-hour period.

        Does your source for the Trapelo Rd. project provide that information? Can you share a link? It might be instructive to compare.

        The pending design for Mass. Ave. is based on this traffic-count data.

        I think the “gloom and doom” you refer to stems from people’s anxieties and subjective experiences in traffic. However, actual data make better guides.

        • dr2chase on

          I am certain that Trapelo has traffic peaks, but I don’t know what they are.

          Happily, I had already uploaded files, both presentation, and proposed design for the improvements. Not sure how this will work with no preview to check: The .ppt is 24.6MB, the pdfs are about 1.5 each.

          This is all a little old; there’s probably a more recent source for the data somewhere else in the Belmont government, but I also know that those of us commenting on this were told that this design was near-final (as in, “don’t even think about shrinking car travel lanes”).

          There’s at least one intersection where I am not dead sure how it will work in practice, but we’ll see. If it sucks, I’ll just avoid it.

          • Mark K. on

            I saw many typical, deliberately created problems: bumpouts that will challenge MBTA drivers re-entering traffic (section4), challenge snow plows, constrict traffic, and impair sight lines, especially in winter. The reduced radius street corners decrease gas mileage for the turner and all behind him.

            Avoiding renovated roads only gets more difficult as coronary roadway disease spreads. Most US drivers don’t deal with snow and these cookie cutter designs reflect that. We should model closer design features from countries with snow – Canada and northern Europe.

          • dr2chase on

            I don’t think the “reduced radius decreases gas mileage” argument makes much sense. In a world of cheap gas and no concern for GHG emissions, that’s just a wart on a gnat. Alternatively, if gasoline is very expensive, or we are trying to hit some aggressive CO2 reduction goals, then our cars are hybrid or electric. Or our cars are bicycles. Or you are walking to the corner and catching a bus. In all those cases, cars slowing for tight turns carries at most a time penalty, not a gas mileage penalty. And if we adopt a northern-European model (Denmark, Netherlands), the bikes probably get a shortcut path through the corner, so they’re not delayed either.

            Or to put it differently, if you are concerned about maximizing the gas mileage of your BigMobile, the most effective action is to get rid of the BigMobile.

  14. Mark K. on

    DOT’s lane discipline ignorance program has additional, even worse consequences: excessive lane changing, distracted driving, frustrated drivers (road rage), and road repose – drivers mentally disengaged and not paying attention. Driving too slowly in a car with too little environmental input/stimulus prompts drivers to muti-task or daydream rather than suffer unhealthy frustration (and rage). Its all from not enough mental challenge or sensory input. DOT employees don’t understand road rage because they work for government – they are able to not let inexplicable delays and a snail’s pace bother them, while many working people can’t.

    How many multi-tasking bicyclists or motorcyclists do you see? None. They are getting auditory, tactile, and olfactory stimulus, while car (cage) drivers only get visual input from their activity. Well, except for sports cars and convertibles. Passenger cars are designed to be quiet and absorb road and steering feel. Engaging more senses is why surface change for crosswalks is so much better than just paint.

  15. Mark K. on


    Compare EPA mileage for city and highway. Despite low aerodynamic drag, city mileage is considerably lower, except for hybrids which recapture power from all the braking that safety geeks impose. I’m for getting bikes to share space with pedestrians, away from traffic and parked cars as can be seen on Vassar St., Cambridge.

    I’ve primarily driven 2-seat sports cars for the last 25 years. They started out light weight and efficient, but DOT safety fascists have progressively added weight, now 800lbs. heavier. If I had kids, then, yes, I would need a bigmobile to accommodate the child car seats mandated by safety fascists (adjustable shoulder belt heights and anti-submarine belts are a better alternative) which statistics show are incorrectly used by 75% of Americans, showing no reduction in deaths. Only older kids in boosters show a 20% reduction.

    All around, DOT’s laws have significantly reduced fuel economy that technology has struggled to fight back. The extra 800 lbs of vehicle weight not only worsens city mileage but consumes far more natural resources, especially when multiplied by 100 million vehicles.

    My use of small cars makes me acutely aware of visibility problems caused by car seats encouraging SUV sales, and from snow banks. Bump outs are snow depositories that severely hamper my safety at intersections. Poorly conceived “safety” features only create new problems. The people promoting them don’t want to acknowledge problems, nor admit how little the features do.

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