Mass. Ave. design moves to trees and benches

The Town’s Mass. Ave. Review Committee saw preliminary drawings for sidewalk and landscape design at a meeting in the Senior Center last night.

The subsequent discussion emphasized the areas around Grafton Street and opposite Lake Street, and also an inbound bus stop proposed to be moved from the north to the south side of Milton Street to create three additional parking spaces.

Presentations from the staff touched on trees, “street furniture,” the MBTA’s plan to relocate bus stops, and the 75%-design process.

In contrast to the state-approved 25% design, Carol Kowalski, the Town’s Director of Planning and Community Development, said the 75%-plan would deal largely with what she called the “edges” of the mile-long road project.

She said 120 business owners have been invited to review the latest drafts plans with her tonight (July 21).

The planning team, which includes John Michalak of Fay Spofford & Thorndike and Christine Scypinski, a landscape architect of the Waterhouse Group, has not finalized the design.

However, the planners expect to add bike racks, benches, trash bins, and pedestrian-scale lighting, concentrating mostly on the business district, where there will also be new shade and ornamental trees.

In response to a question, the staff said that all work will be payed for from state and federal funds. Scypinski said the MBTA is helping out with some of the benches and other “street furniture.”

The draft plan sets aside a six-to-eight-foot swath of sidewalk exclusively for pedestrians, with all trees, bins, and other street furniture on an adjacent strip that would include,in the business center, some kind of decorative pavement.

Bricks are one possible option for that decoration, but set on concrete to prevent frost heaves.

Outside the center, plans are mostly limited to replacing or restoring trees and lawns.

Emphasis on the business district
Scypinski asked the group to comment on landscaping options around Grafton Street and across from Lake Street, where wide sidewalks will allow for benches and other amenities.

Grafton St. with angled parking

Wide sidewalk facing Lake St.

The staff and the committee agreed that the stretch facing Lake Street deserved special treatment to emphasize the center of East Arlington, such as seat walls around planters, sideways benches, and possibly sculpture.

One idea for Grafton St., which is one way northbound, would remove the angled parking and make the road run in both directions for the first 100 feet. A median planter on this segment would mirror the design of Orvis Road opposite.

However, the committee conclude that some variation on the angled-parking design would be best.

Bus-stop trade-offs
Finally, the staff asked for the committee’s opinions about the location of the bus stop that is currently in front of Za and that is proposed to be shifted across Milton St. to the Arlington Restaurant (aka the Arlington Diner).

The owners recently said they did not want to lose the two parking spaces in front of the Diner to a bus stop. Meanwhile the owners of Za have embraced the bus stop and would be happy to keep it where it is.

However, the stop at Za takes up five parking slots, but due to the placement of streets and driveways a stop at the Diner location would displace only two.

Furthermore, the new proposed crosswalk would lose a bump-out under this plan to allow buses to reenter traffic, and crosswalks in front of bus stops are less safe.

Another options, to move the bus stop west to the Melrose St. edge of the block, would require four spaces and would undermine the usefulness of the new crosswalk.

In the end the Committee thought the integration of the crosswalk and the bus stop under the design as proposed was worth keeping.

Several people said that gaining five parking spaces in exchange for only losing two was a good deal for everyone, even if those five are 30 yards away.

Kowalski said she would bring that to the abutters’ attention and try to work out a solution agreeable to all.

I was persuaded by the need to keep the new pedestrian crossing as safe as possible.

It’s also a great location for a crosswalk, exactly halfway between existing crosswalks at Marathon and Varnum on a stretch of Mass. Ave. that sees many jaywalkers. It would be a shame to move it.

MBTA bus-stop plans
Also at the meeting, Michalak said that the MBTA, which has its own plans, has been generally open to the Town’s ideas about where to site bus stops.

Laura Wiener, the Town’s Senior Planner assigned to Mass. Ave., said that the T had already agreed to retain the inbound bus stop in front of the hotel near Route 16. The agency had proposed combining it with the next one at Teel St.

She said the Town would be meeting with T planners again before they draw up a revision to their initial bus-stop plan, and that the MBTA would hold another public hearing in the fall.

Also at the meeting
Michalak said that in addition to landscape design, the 75% submission to MassDOT will be a “complete plan” on which contractors will bid. The 75% submission will thus flesh out the 25% plan with more detail.

It will include a budget, a list of items specified for bids, a plan to manage traffic during construction, specifications for traffic-signal timing, and drainage design, and will coordinate with utilities and the MBTA.

He said the goal is still submission “this fall.”

Scypinski said the plan will add 25 new benches and would also keep existing benches provided by business owners, for a total of 37.

These would generally be against buildings, though there might be some sideways benches in the wide sidewalk across from Lake St., she said.

Options being considered for the decorative pavement edge are bricks on concrete, concrete pavers, and a colored concrete edge.

The staff is looking at cobblestone and textured imprint for the flush median, both for aesthetics and ease of maintenance, she said.

However, all crosswalks will be simple zebra-striped paint on asphalt with no texture of any kind, she said.

Scypinski she prefers a variety of trees, both shade (Red maple, Linden, Green Ash, Ginko, Elm, Japanese Pagoda, Honey Locust, Zelkova under consideration) and ornamental (Hedge Maple, Tree Lilac, Magnolia, Callery Pear, Japanese Snowbell among those under consideration).

She said the taller trees would probably go on the north side of the street due to utility lines along the south side.

Scypinski also told the committee that the plan would entail 40 pedestrian lights in the business district, similar to those in Broadway Plaza but taller, and additional bike racks and trash bins, possibly including recycle trash bins.

After the meeting, Wiener, told me she hoped to post the new drawings on the Town’s web page for the project some time next week. (Note the images I have used in this post are from the 25% plan.)

Update: The drawings from the meeting have been posted on the Town’s web page for the project.

The meeting drew about a dozen of the panel’s 18 members. Only 3 of the 10 community representatives added two years ago were present.

Wiener implied that this could be the last time the planning team will need to consult the Review Committee, because these are the last design issues.

If so, I will have to consider what that means for this blog. It has been quite a ride.

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1 comment so far

  1. Mark Kaepplein on

    Good job getting down the details. Here is one you missed: the new and replacement trees will have the state standard of two and one-half inch diameter trunks. Though some types are faster growing, it will be many years before all that new concrete sidewalk gets shade.

    People should be upset that they won’t get to make decisions on the many details to be worked out. Arlington wants to expedite things by eliminating the public input process. Of the limited choices presented, I don’t recall any votes recorded on decisions. Democracy is too cumbersome for the project proponents! They intend to be benevolent dictators.

    While I think Grafton should mirror the look of Orvis, I don’t think it needs to mirror function of being two way. Orvis has trees on the side and middle. If it were two way for 100′ or so, I suggest putting a raised crosswalk shelf on the west, outbound side to discourage: wrong-way travel entering, use for outbound, and speed past parked cars there. It would be like the corner of Somerville Ave and Elm Street in Somerville. A local candidate like that one is as Broadway crosses Franklin into the parking area before meeting Mass Ave. If that were done without replacing the signal with 4-way stops, or fixing timing, people would hate it!

    Crosswalk texture was hardly discussed or debated. Too much and its a problem for the handicapped. A little is good to give drivers more visual and feel that a crosswalk is present. It costs more, but no cost details for anything were given. MassDOT told me those 40 added lights are estimated at $5,000 each. Details were not presented on the town’s electricity or maintenance operating costs, nor intended hours of operation.

    The focus of the landscaping was on Fraiman Square (he owns the block containing the Capitol Theater). He doesn’t want his (excessive) sidewalk in front of his ice cream shop narrowed to match the width in front of businesses opposite at the end of Lake Street. That sidewalk is on the same side of Lake as Hardy Elementary, already encumbered by utility poles and not deemed a problem! So, the superfluous sidewalk stays, leaving no room for bicyclists between cars and curb.

    Really, the whole point of bicycle lanes and racks seems to be to attract kids to Richard Fraiman’s theater, ice cream shop, and pizza restaurant (his tenant). Residents get fresher sidewalks and the road repaved as a side-effect. Kids go to movies and don’t drive, so motor vehicle access comes second to bicycle and dangerous bus stop location access.

    Does tonight’s meeting for 120 business owners include areas getting no fancy street amenities? Did they get a vote on the distribution of them? Shouldn’t benches and trash bins (beyond those funded by MBTA at busier stops) be fairly spread out near businesses along the whole mile? That would mean less for Fraiman Square and too much pesky public input.


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