Arlington Center improvements

The Town has $290,000 in federal funds from MassDOT to improve the intersection of Mass. Ave. and Route 60 in Arlington Center.

There will be a public hearing on the design ideas at Town Hall on January 10 from 7–9 pm. Update: report here.

Not part of the Mass. Ave. Project but I thought folks would like to know.

There are several ideas in play, but all of them would

  • widen the sidewalk in front of Uncle Sam Park (essentially extending the Minuteman Path to the corner)(but maybe not, see comments),
  • extend some sidewalk corners to shorten pedestrian crossing distances, and
  • lengthen the northbound Left Turn lane on Mystic Street to help more cars clear the intersection.

So, something for everyone, potentially.

The boldest proposals by far would add a special diagonal crossing for bicycles:

One idea for the center

There are several flavors of this under consideration, and not all options include the diagonal bike lane.

The Town has set up a special web page for the project that includes links to drawings of six plans and other information.

Construction would be in 2013, same as the Mass. Ave. Project in East Arlington.

I am not sure what I think of these ideas but look forward to learning more about them.


26 comments so far

  1. Mark Kaepplein on

    Adam, you have errors:
    The $290,000 is not from MassDOT, its from a federal transportation cleaner air and congestion mitigation grant. The town also got it wrong by calling this a safety project instead of a clean air project.

    The sidewalk won’t be widened in front of Uncle Sam and trees/shrubs removed, the sidewalk will be narrowed and a bicycle track will go next to the sidewalk. Its a subtlety that is likely lost on all the bicyclists who ride on sidewalks and crosswalks. Likewise, the diagonal crossing is just for cyclists while crosswalks are still for walking. I wonder how many pedestrians would pay back cyclists by using their diagonal!

    Given the extra traffic on Jason St. and Mass Ave from the Mill Street apartments, I eagerly await more details on the plan and how much traffic congestion will be helped. Specifically, how many more vehicles per hour can traverse in each direction based on each change. I suspect coordination of lights at Pleasant and Medford Streets will improve traffic flow and pollution reduction.

    • Adam Auster on

      Thanks Mark. I have corrected the MassDOT reference. Even if the money comes through MassDOT (which it probably does) it’s more accurate to give the source.

      The other issues are less clear to me (which does not mean you are wrong). I do agree that pedestrian-bicycle interactions are a critical issue at that intersection and that a new design should ease conflicts rather than introduce new ones.

  2. dr2chase on

    You do realize that many of the regular bicycle commuters have figured out that there is already a diagonal crossing at that intersection; it’s called the left turn phase for Rt 60. Some use the existing left turn lane, and some improvise a left turn from whatever lane they happen to be in.

    Coming from Lexington, to do this, you depart the bike path early into the parking lot next to the high rise, then join traffic on 60, and pick a good place to start your turn. If you miss the “left” phase, then you ride straight across, stop, and prepare for the Mass Ave traffic to get their go-straight signal.

    It might not hurt to have some lane markings to make it clear to everyone where they belong. I have no desire to play after-you-after-you with an oncoming left-turning cyclist between two streams of left-turning cars.

    • Adam Auster on

      Since July 15 there has been a “no left turn” in effect at Water St. and Mass. Ave., the on-bike through route eastbound if you are on the Minuteman Path.

      This has inspired me to try several alternative routes, including the one you describe, taking a left turn from Route 60 southbound.

      It’s probably my least favorite, most-white-knuckle option, but it is doable.

      I have also seen cyclists execute this turn from the curb. Actually the first time I saw this I was horrified, but I have to admit it seems to work for some people.

      On balance though I think this strategy is not going to work for many cyclists. It just feels too tricky.

      Maybe there’s some combination of road marking and bike box that could make it more mainstream.

      • dr2chase on

        I’m several standard deviations out in my tolerance for crap traffic, but that left turn’s not too bad (with practice). It has the bonus that for some of the drivers, it “makes them think” (i.e., it gives them the willies). The advantage in starting from the curb is that if you miss it, you can move to the next corner on the straight-phase of the light pretty easily without crossing traffic. Of course, we’re also not supposed to ride on the sidewalk.

        The one risk in starting from the curb comes from possible illegal right turns (against a red) that would cut across your path.

      • Mark Kaepplein on

        Just two days ago I saw a rider take an illegal left from Library Way on one of those bikes with a child trailer hitch.

        What baffles me is how the thought of dismounting and walking on the sidewalk never enters the consciousness of bicyclists. It beats riding around the block to make a left turn. They just seem trapped in the mindset of riding.

        • dr2chase on

          Mark, was it a hazardous turn, or merely illegal? It’s pretty much the rule around here that most vehicles are breaking some traffic law or another almost continually; speeding, rolling stops, poor lane discipline, rolling over stop lines, you name it. You shouldn’t expect them to suddenly start obeying the law just because they are riding bicycles.

          Which is to say, it seems no more wrong to them, than fudging the speed limit does to most drivers. The major difference is that the cyclist can make a much more plausible claim to “it’s not hurting anybody” (except possibly the cyclist) — last year I checked there was one bike-crash pedestrian fatality, versus 3100 auto-crash pedestrian fatality.

        • Adam Auster on

          Um. “Never enters the consciousness of bicyclists.”

          Why post something like that on the blog of a cyclist (one of many ways to describe me I guess) who seriously considers exactly that when navigating the center?

          Why ever do it?

        • dr2chase on

          PS – one reason cyclists don’t necessarily get off and walk is that drivers don’t dependably stop for people in crosswalks; the pedestrians often have to wait. Drivers often act as if it is a Really Big Deal to move that foot all the way over from the accelerator to the brake pedal. This makes walking slower than it ought to be — and if cyclists come to expect that drivers will break the law to save a little driver time (not stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks), then why shouldn’t the cyclist break the law and save himself a little time instead?

          And remember, when a driver takes this legal shortcut, they put somebody else at risk of physical harm, where the cyclist mostly does not.

          • Adam Auster on

            DR, when the left-turn ban went into effect at Water Street I dutifully adopted the routine of dismounting, walking 3/4 of the way towards the library, then resuming my ride down Mass. Ave.

            It feels stupid as heck, but I have been pleasantly surprised at how readily drivers yield to me walking in the crosswalk there. Not universally, but then I’ve been cut off by cyclists there too.

            I actually get through that intersection faster this way than I used to. I work on Water St. so I do this a lot.

            I agree that cyclists don’t like to do this—I still don’t, for instance. It just feels wrong. But I think it’s about that feeling and wanting to stay in the saddle more than fear of cars.

            • dr2chase on

              There is the issue of wanting to stay in the saddle. If you practice your dismounts (so you don’t actually need to stop), it helps. With a dropped or low top tube, it’s pretty easy to get a leg over.

              Re-mounting smoothly, I have not yet figured out. I think with a true dropped top tube (“women’s bike”) it would not be hard. In theory it is the inverse of a dismount, but stepping down while moving is easier than stepping up while stopped. I’ve done it, but it’s not smooth.

  3. Mark Kaepplein on

    Sorry, I should have wrote Many cyclists don’t think of walking on crosswalks, Not imply all. Cyclists should consider themselves lucky to have this option that drivers lack, not inconvenienced. Looking at walking bikes this way would help to improve behaviors. Think of it as being able to easily context shift between pedestrian and vehicle rather than super-pedestrian. Motorcyclists are vulnerable in accidents but don’t consider themselves fast pedestrians.

    With pedestrians on crosswalks, its a matter of assertiveness and clear expression of intention, much like rotaries used to mostly be. I’m patient and hang back and wait so fewer vehicles need to stop for me. On foot, I’m not going anywhere quickly, so a little wait helps the environment. Yes, reducing vehicle stops/starts decreases fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Its not all about time. Likewise, rolling through a stop sign which often ought to be a yield sign is more about fuel use, the environment, and brake/clutch dust emissions than saving two seconds for only the sake of lawfulness. Unrealistically low speed limits has produced the cry wolf response much like excessive cautionary package labeling (caution, coffee is hot). Some people associate speed limits with government revenue enhancement.

    • dr2chase on

      I do this (switch from bike to ped) and can dismount pretty quickly. But drivers are not consistently good about stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks (and it is slower for everyone). Some of us ARE in a hurry; in theory if a driver sees me running down the sidewalk towards a crosswalk, they should be prepared for me to run across the crosswalk, too. In practice, that would be suicidal. And in other cases, people are not so happy with “assertive” (which in my cases means, not pausing for an instant, possibly waving whatever I am carrying out in front of me).

      I think you’re wrong about what speed limits are “unrealistic” or not. It’s apparently common for them to be as low as 18.5mph (30kph) in parts of Europe, in residential areas. The risk to pedestrians apparently rises very quickly between 20mph (5% fatality rate) and 30mph (45% fatality rate). Using an exponential fit between those two points means that each 2mph increase in speed compounds the risk by a factor of 1.55x (an exponential fit minimizes the estimated risk at 22mph — 7.8%, versus 13% from a linear fit that adds 8% for each 2mph increment).

      • Mark Kaepplein on

        Yes, there can be resentment toward pedestrians who demonstrate entitlement more than considerate sharing of a limited resource and respect for others. J-Walking, crossing on the red hand, and not pausing slightly to cross as a group of pedestrians are irritating behaviors displaying lack of common consideration. I’ve made a point of highlighting how Central Square is #2 in pedestrian accidents despite lane reductions and bump-outs. The race card is that some pedestrians seem to deliberately cross slowly wherever and whenever they please without pause in some sort of protest and power play to respect them. Some have earned my horn as the same respect they display for others. Generally, motorists can’t get no respect and for many, the sentiment becomes mutual.

        So, what is the safe speed for the chain in a chain saw given its potential for harm? Should the chain be limited to 18.5 miles per hour or less instead of 55-60 so it does less potential damage? My point is to consider circumstance over abstract consequence. Speed limits are most unrealistic on interstate highways designed for safe 100mph travel. On the Autobahn, its normal and uneventful. High speeding fines combined with the toys to issue them more easily make enforcement profitable much like seizing drug assets. People drive the speed they feel safe already, so dissonant posted limits breeds contempt and dismissal.

        • dr2chase on

          But Mark, pedestrians ARE entitled to cross without delay at crosswalks. It’s written right into the vehicle code. It’s illegal, not just impolite, for a driver not to stop when a pedestrian wishes to cross. It’s illegal, not just impolite, for a driver to stop their car in a way that obstructs a crosswalk. In some jurisdictions, maybe not Massachusetts, using your horn to signal annoyance (and not a safety issue) is illegal — not just impolite. If you “can’t stop” for someone stepping into a crosswalk, that’s not their fault — it means that you were driving too fast. It may have felt safe to you, but if you could not stop when you were legally required to stop, how is that not too fast for conditions?

          Read the vehicle code — nowhere does it say that pedestrians should display respect, or pause to let a few cars pass, or not dress as ninjas. Even when pedestrians jaywalk, drivers are still obligated to not hit them if it is in any way possible.

          Interstates are not residential areas — Germany has both (very) low speed limits in residential areas, and (as far as I know) no speed limits on the autobahn (Verkehrsberuhigter Bereich, 7km/h). I don’t have any statistics on chain saw speed safety, so I cannot recommend a “safe” speed there. I can find statistics for auto speed and pedestrian safety, so in a place where there ARE pedestrians likely to interact with traffic, I think a speed limit in the 18-20mph range makes a lot of sense, because it makes the pedestrians much safer.

          • Mark Kaepplein on

            I’m merely suggesting that people consider others and not just themselves. The great disparity in wealth may be legal, but that doesn’t make it right or best. Selfish behavior by pedestrians and bicyclists and motorists is escalating, much of it do to the unmet demand for road capacity; all competing harder for a depleted resource. Water is not a substitute for food, but that is what is being provided as bike facilities instead of roadway.

            • dr2chase on

              Oddly enough, that is precisely how I think (when I am a pedestrian or a cyclist) about the way people driving cars behave. They’re in a great big climate-controlled comfy-chair, with stereo sound, and layers of protective armor to keep them safe. It costs them almost no physical effort to pause for a pedestrian, or to wait until it is safe to pass a cyclist on the road.

              As far as road capacity goes, surely you have seen that poster comparing people-in-cars with people-on-bikes and people-in-bus. Driving a car consumes a huge amount of space.

              • Mark Kaepplein on

                When driving, and the weather is bad, I feel bad for the sorry looking pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists, giving them an extra break. In fair weather, when traffic has a green light, I often don’t see respect of that time slice being for those vehicle operators and passengers. For a vehicle to stop and/or wait for a pedestrian or cyclists there is extra fuel, air pollution, and brake dust particulates involved, while there is no cost for the cyclist or pedestrian to wait at all. Rain and snow create a cost for them and not the driver, so advantage finally shifts to pedestrians and to a lesser extend cyclists. Walking is more necessary while riding is often a choice.

                I’ve seen a small on-line photo of the poster. Scooters and motorcycles were missing from it. Oh, yeah, there is no advantage of bicycles over them.

              • Mark Kaepplein on

                I should add that the cost of a vehicle yielding was is a little more complicated. A truck or bus has a higher cost, and an occupied bus/vehicle has a time penalty for each occupant. Additionally, its seldom that only one vehicle is stopping, its many, so again, multiply costs. If it were just one-two vehicle(s), the pedestrian/cyclist will often wait, as I do, since crossing is also safer.

              • dr2chase on

                Mark, running throughout your commentary (and that of many other people) is the assumption that driving a car is the natural state of the world, and that any “costs” associated with slowing or stopping, are of course caused by the obstacle, and should not accrue to the driver of the car, who made the initial decision to drive such a wasteful vehicle — that is the driver did not make a choice, because it is just the way things are, that people drive, and there’s nothing to be done except find ways to make cars more efficient, and anything that interferes with the peak efficiency of a car is a Problem.

                These costs are quite a bit reduced by use of electric and hybrid vehicles with regenerative braking — less energy loss, and no dust. Smaller cars help, too.

                And it’s true that busses and trucks have higher losses. But I honestly don’t think we really care about this, because after all, cars often obstruct busses and trucks, and we could avoid a lot of that waste by reserving lanes for busses and trucks, and by giving them priority at intersections. We don’t do these things; that suggests that we don’t really care all that much about this waste, except when we are looking for ways to justify our choice to break the law and not stop our cars when we could and should.

                But if avoiding the waste associated with cars braking was really a high priority for you, you would not drive a car.

                Consider if you will, that best case for an automobile is about 50mpg (50mpg at the pump, I might add). A cyclist “at the pump” gets about 600mpg; the end-to-end efficiency of 1% milk as fuel is 145mpg, potatoes is about 780mpg, oatmeal (cooked very carefully) is 3000mpg. Why should I think that you’re serious about avoiding waste, when you choose right from the start to use 3x as much energy as someone who rides a bicycle? (And yes, I know, some people are unable to ride a bike, and you fall into that category. If the only people who drove cars used them because it was medically necessary, traffic and parking would not be problems.)

              • Mark Kaepplein on

                You have taken this quite far from street sharers acting selfishly and some feeling that drivers should be subservient to higher life forms. I suppose when motorized transit has been the dominant mode chosen by people for many decades, we can consider it today’s natural state of the developed world. In countries gaining wealth, those who could only afford a bicycle are eager to own motorbikes and cars.

                We have also come to accept heated homes and buildings as a natural state without guilt and self-loathing. One could go without home heat, or only adopt it if it has zero carbon footprint and pollution. Most of us like having heat and just do what we can to increase efficiency, given that “bad” starting point. After getting people to give up cars, get them to give up heating and cooling too. That would be really turning the clock back – long before the car, the bicycle, and the wheel, there was still fire.

                BTW, hybrid vehicles do produce brake dust when power regeneration does not slow fast enough or when excessive charging current would be delivered to batteries.

                I’m still doubting the $290,000 is being efficiently used to reduce air pollution, the goal of the grant program.

              • dr2chase on

                @Mark, there are wealthy countries where a good fraction of the population gets around on bicycles (Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Germany), at least for short trips. It has numerous personal and economic benefits — more efficient parking, fewer traffic jams, reduced energy consumption, and improved health. There are rational reasons to want to ride a bike, assuming that the infrastructure is favorable. Our infrastructure is NOT favorable. This grant, done right, might be a step towards better infrastructure.

                Second, you make all sorts of inferences that are unwarranted, regarding “higher life forms”. I merely think that drivers should be much more careful around pedestrians and cyclists than they currently are, because they are both an actual hazard (3100 pedestrians killed each year by automobiles) and a perceived hazard (excluding people from roads because they do not feel safe). A lot of this “much more careful” is part of the law, but it is enforced haphazardly or not at all. The cars-are-natural POV of course rephrases this as “pedestrians should be more careful around cars” — as if this was a perfectly reasonable obligation. And you can tell that this is all about what-is-“normal”, versus actual results, because people piss and moan endlessly about those rude, dangerous, scofflaw cyclists — who, in a year, manage to kill about 1 pedestrian. 3100 dead, that’s natural and okay, 1, that’s a scandal.

                You say this is about energy and brake dust. Bullshit. If it’s about energy, you downsize the car, you drive a hybrid, you anticipate obstacles so you don’t need to brake hard. I propose hybrids, “oh, but there is still *some* brake dust. Sure, but no matter what the situation, the hybrid will waste less energy and produce less brake dust in stop-and-go/slow traffic. When I drive, I leave enough following distance so I don’t need to constantly use my brakes to adjust my speed, I keep track of light timings so I don’t need to brake hard, I look ahead for things that might require me to slow down (people at the side of the road, bicycles, etc.) You don’t like to stop or slow down, that’s what this is really about. If the energy was really that important, you would not drive a car.

              • Mark Kaepplein on

                My cat has been crossing Mass Ave for 12 years, so the danger is exaggerated. The NHTSA just made a press release claiming about 3,100 people died from distracting electronic devices. With 3 trillion annual road miles, that works out to one death in 970 million miles, or 334,000 cross-country trips. That is slim to justify banning ALL non car maker supplied electronic devices a driver could use, including aftermarket GPS devices. A large proportion of pedestrian deaths are self inflicted acts of natural selection using drugs/alcohol or dressing like a Ninja with poorly visible clothing at night. If my cat can look both ways before crossing a street, humans can too. Pretty much only raised medians and sidewalks have shown much effectiveness in reducing pedestrian accidents because the risk is so low to begin with, and human nature. Some plans for the center actually increase danger by removing some raised median for the sake of not buying a few parking spots by the cleaners & coffee shop.

                Like your 20mph car speed limits, such top speeds by cyclists limit pedestrian fatalities. A more accurate risk would be the number of pedestrian injuries inflicted per million miles of bicycle travel vs. million miles of non limited-access highway vehicle travel. Cyclists would then look like the hazard they are to pedestrians. Statistics are always being twisted by cyclists in their holy mission. HubWay is structured to inflate usage by design in order to stay afloat with increasing taxpayer handouts. Rather than trips, bike shares need to report unique users per day.

                The Arlington Center intersection was problematic back when it was a train crossing. Geometry remains the same, so do the problems. Human nature dictates that cyclists rather ride than walk their bikes, so plans contort the physical to the behavior. Changing the behavior has never been tried using enforcement, however.

                You are absolutely correct that I weigh personal comfort, convenience, and cost with environmental and other concerns. I use fossil fuels to heat the house to a comfortable temperature and also to get me to a destination in reasonable time, cost, and convenience. I don’t want to give up either use of fossil fuels. I try not to waste by leaving the windows open or drive focused on the hood of my car, however.

  4. dr2chase on


    What you call “natural selection” is not natural at all. Cars are not “natural”. And in particular, there is nothing illegal at all about dressing like a ninja, and if you cannot see a ninja crossing the road, you are overdriving your headlights. It may be unwise to cross the road at night dressed like a ninja, but the reason it is unwise is that people habitually overdrive their lights. It is in no way illegal.

    Comparing interstates and urban and residential roads is not fair. Interstates are limited-access — pedestrians are banned by construction, and may even be arrested. Notice I have said nothing about 20mph speed limits for interstates — they’re pretty safe.

    • Mark Kaepplein on

      Lots of stupid activities are legal. Sit on the ground at a railroad crossing listening to loud music on iPod or go mountain climbing alone without ropes for a more natural death, likewise for a swim in the ocean about now or swimming with alligators. Go hunting with Dick Chaney or wear non-visible clothing in hunting season. For mere blindness, work with chemicals or power tools without eye protection. Being a bike Ninja is a $20 fine, but plenty of people do it anyway. The most extreme of nanny states still can’t always protect people from their own stupidity, even if Euro spec headlights were allowed in the US. What Arlington did to crosswalk markings 5-7 years ago, making them wider in better proportion to the length was fantastic. Most other crosswalks in the USA aren’t like that.

      • dr2chase on

        Mark, walking on thin ice and taunting polar bears are both taking chances with natural phenomena. Cars are NOT natural phenomena, and their behavior is (supposed to be) regulated by law. Notice how you keep trying to twist your analogy to either things that really are natural, or really are illegal (ninja-biking). Why do you do that? The entire point is that drivers are regulated by laws, and polar bears, alligators, ice thickness, and ocean temperatures are not.

        There’s no law against walking around as a ninja in the dark. Drivers should expect (are required by law to expect) a variety of behaviors from pedestrians, especially including all legal behavior, such as dressing like a ninja.

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