Arlington Center to get conventional bike lanes, improvements

The plan calls for a new signalized crossing at Swan Place, bike lanes, and other improvements. Click drawing for larger view.

The Board of Selectmen last night approved a plan for the intersection of Route 60 and Mass. Ave. that features a new pedestrian crossing, bike lanes, and other tweaks to improve safety and traffic flow.

The Board also gave a preliminary go-ahead to a plan that would bring temporary art installations to Mass. Ave.

The Arlington Center decision implicitly rejects a more-innovative design for a diagonal bicycle crossing that would have made the Minuteman Path continuous through the intersection for cyclists only.

The plan will also remove parking from the south side of Mass. Ave. between the intersection and Swan Place, and will lengthen the left-turn lane for Mystic Street inbound.

Update: The Town has since posted on it’s web page for the center-crossing project a drawing that differs from the one in I used to illustrate this post above in several respects. For instance, the new plan shows six new parking spaces on the east side of Mystic St. (described as something to “explore”) and no bicycle lanes on Mass. Ave. west of the intersection.

The new parking spots follow a suggestion made at the public design meeting back in January.

Other features of the plan include shorter crossing distances for pedestrians, improvements to signal timing, and an extension of the Minuteman Path through Uncle Sam Park that will bring the northwest segment of the path as far as the sidewalk at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Route 16.

The new crossing, at Swan Place, will have a traffic light coordinated with the signals at Route 60. It includes a dedicated bicycle crossing separate from the pedestrian crossing. The bicycle crossing connects to a new bike lane leading though the intersection.

The idea of a diagonal bicycle crossing, called a crossbike, got strong support during the public design discussion held by the Town on January 10.

However at last night’s meeting the Town’s DPW Director, Mike Raedemacher, explained that the project working group decided to rule out the crossbike due to safety concerns.

Raedemacher said that some pedestrians and rollerbladers would be drawn to use the crossbike but would not have time to cross safely.

At the January 10 meeting Keri Pyke, a consultant working on the design, had also expressed concern that a cyclist riding outside the diagonal crossing to pass slower pedestrians there might collide with a turning car.

Work in the center, like that on the Mass. Ave. Project in East Arlington, will begin early next year. The temporary art installations would not appear until after that work is done.

Also at the meeting, the Board heard a proposal to exclude sidewalks from the Mass. Ave. redesign in East Arlington so that only the road would be rebuilt, and another to place a question about the design of Mass. Ave. on the ballot in the spring of 2013.

The sidewalk proposal would rescind authority granted last year by Town Meeting; the ballot proposal is a repeat of one rejected two weeks ago.

The Selectmen voted to recommend “no action” (that is, do not accept) to Town Meeting on both votes.

A busy night for Mass. Ave! All of these votes were unanimous.

My take: The idea of making the Minuteman Path continuous through the center is aesthetically compelling, but the safety criteria should come first.

The plan does create a continuous route for cyclists outbound from Swan Place, which is no small achievement. I hope cyclists will use this to get through this intersection without using the sidewalks, as indeed many cyclists already do.

The Town should next take a fresh look at improving the inbound bicycle connection from Water Street or Uncle Sam Park to Swan Place.

7 comments so far

  1. dr2chase on

    The plan pictured looks like it might help inbound a little — doesn’t it remove parked cars from the inbound side, inbound lane of Mass Ave and add a bike lane?

    And do I understand that they have legitimized “riding on the sidewalk” on the outbound (northwest) section where the path leaves the intersection? That is helpful.

    It would also be helpful if they could, while not creating an official diagonal path across the intersection, at least include a diagonal guide line in the center. I’ve seen people crossing diagonally on bikes who are Not Very Good At It (hint: there may be oncoming, left-turning bicycle traffic. You should not be so afraid of the same-direction cars on your left that you veer into the oncoming bicycles to your right).

    • Adam Auster on

      Yes, some parking spaces are gone (as noted above), which is a lot safer.

      No, however, “riding on the sidewalk” is not what is planned in the NW corner. The plan is to build a separate track next to the sidewalk.

      Or were you just referring to crossing the sidewalk at the corner? That will probably continue to be a place where cyclists and pedestrians conflict, if anything more so than today.

      I am not sure that a diagonal line would do more good than harm. Certainly cyclists who are Not Very Good At It should consider other ways to hone their skills!

      • dr2chase on

        Separate track next to sidewalk, is better than no track at all. That could increase bike traffic in that patch, since all the people who want to both be legal and not get off their bikes are currently on roads instead.

        A diagonal line might provide some guidance. If people simply stayed on the proper side of it, it would be better. What I fear is after-you-after-you into a head-on collision.

        • Adam Auster on

          I’ll give that track a try, but personally expect to keep riding on Mass. Ave. to Water St. and getting on the Minuteman at that end. The new bike lane there will be a big improvement!

          My big concern about the diagonal line would be what drivers would do when they came upon it. It’s not exactly a standard or expected road marking, and it doesn’t take much to confuse or distract at that intersection.

          • dr2chase on

            It’s not as if we lack for confusing intersections around here, or poorly placed signs, or no signs at all. You might hope that if someone was confused, they would slow down to a speed matching their cognitive abilities, but perhaps that is overoptimistic. It’s what I do — whenever the roads are confusing, I assume it is intended as a form of traffic calming, and that by slowing down, I am doing what is expected and desired. Or have I misunderstood New England road “design” conventions? :-)

  2. Mark Kaepplein on

    You must not have been at the hearing or listening to the presentation on Warrant article 69. It is not about sidewalks, it is about temporarily taking away something needed to complete the project design phase. This is about the only thing that residents can do to influence Selectmen. The goal is to pause the project until residents can get their opinion counted on lane reductions. You and Selectmen don’t want people to voice an opinion – you both know residents don’t want the plan. More numbers only make that undeniably obvious. Its certainly more important for a ballot question than being able to have beer with popcorn at theaters.

    • Adam Auster on

      I stand by my characterization of Article 69.

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