The face of a new Mass. Ave.

Never mind the sausage factory of process and meetings and interim drafts.

If Mass. Highway approves the 25-percent plans as submitted, what will we get? What will be different?

1) Number one on the list is federal funding to renovate Mass. Ave. I rank this first because, according to the Town’s DPW Director and the Town Engineer, this stretch of road (and sidewalk, and the traffic signals) is on its last legs.

Federal funding means we don’t have to divert our “normal” allotment of state highway aid to fixing Mass. Ave. (so we can spend it on other road projects) or fund it ourselves (tax increase, anyone?).

2) The most controversial change, at least for some people, is the five-foot bike lanes. The lanes will be striped in the region of Mass. Ave. near the parking lanes.

3) The most substantive change is probably the lane configuration: the outbound (westbound) side will be clearly striped as a single lane, though with either (1) extra width or (2) half turning lanes, both to allow traffic to pass left-turning cars on the right.

This change has some people worried, though numerous traffic counts (including one requested by opponents of this change) all found that westbound traffic can be accommodated with a single lane.

4) Inbound (towards Cambridge) traffic will be formally striped as two lanes for almost all of its length. This half of the road will actually be a little wider than it is today in most places. Sadly this will not prevent bottlenecks in Cambridge (or on Lake Street) from causing frustrating traffic jams periodically during the morning commute, as they do today.

5) Unsignalized pedestrian intersections will get bump outs — extensions of the curb into the parking lane. These make crossings safer in a number of ways.

6) There are also two new pedestrian crossings, at Milton and Harlow; the Tufts crosswalk will be moved to Bates (where there will actually be two crossings, one on each side of the intersection).

7) The traversable median (flush with the street) will also provide some safety benefits for pedestrians crossing the road as well as providing some extra space for cars making left turns from the outbound (westbound) lane.

7) Raised pedestrian refuge islands in crossings at Wyman, Marathon, and Orvis – Grafton. (The islands are raised, but the pedestrian crossings through them are flush with the street.)

8) Wider sidewalks in the business district. What will go on those sidewalks — Benches? Trees? Nothing? — is a question for a subsequent design process.

9) New traffic signals at all of the intersections that have them already: Foster, Lake, Thorndike. I am listing this because keeping signals at Thorndike and Foster was a huge item of community concern at the big meeting at the Hardy School in April of 2009. Also, the Foster light (which is also the Linwood light) seemed to be in jeopardy last spring.

10) For the first time, a traffic signal at Bates Road, where traffic studies have shown a need. This idea is not popular with some Bates Road residents.

11) Numerous design tweaks to improve traffic flow. For instance, a dedicated left-turn lane onto Winter Street from Mass. Ave inbound, a lengthened left-turn signal at Lake Street outbound, and so forth.

There are other changes too: Mass. Ave. junkies can dig into the Functional Design Report for details.

The whole thing is available at the web page the Town has set up about the project.

This summary omits the twists and turns along the way. The first draft would have removed the traffic signals at Linwood and Thorndike streets; community pressure brought them back. The traversable-median idea emerged last year, then disappeared, and has now returned.

It’s been a fascinating, if sometimes jaw-dropping, dance of technical expertise, finance, and street politics.

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