Some safety features have been restored to Mass. Ave. design

Extensive changes to the design of Mass. Ave. near Milton and Marathon Streets, instigated to preserve two parking spaces in front of the Arlington Diner, have been reversed in the final plans that the Town hopes to file with Mass. Highway soon.

Another set of changes that widens the pedestrian crossing at Wyman St. and removes right-turn lanes in the stretch between Pond Lane and Linwood St. remains in the design.

These decisions were made last summer but not publicized.

The changes at Milton and Wyman Streets were the subject of public comment and criticism at a design open-house at the Hardy School last April 4 on the East Arlington Mass. Ave. project.

The Town had filed the changes last February as part of the so-called 75%-design plans.

The Milton-Marathon changes, now rescinded, would have replaced the existing pedestrian crosswalk at Marathon St. and a new crosswalk at Milton Street with a single crosswalk at Melrose St.

The new design would have also shed safety bump-outs and a pedestrian safety island.

Safety restored: Two crosswalks, both with safety features. The Milton St. crossing (at right) is new.

As revealed March 30: One crossing at Melrose with minimal safety features

At the western edge of the project, the Town is sticking with its February plan to replace safety and traffic improvements between Pond Lane and Linwood Street with an extra inbound travel lane.

Though the extra lane is not needed to meet ambient traffic volumes, the Town wants to provide additional queuing capacity at the Linwood light inbound.

Wyman Before: Safer crossing

After: No island, extra lane to cross

The pedestrian-safety improvements at stake were promoted by the Town’s consulting engineers in the 800-page Functional Design Report that describes and justifies the design.

For example, the report’s list of pedestrian-safety improvements on pages 50–51 includes the following:

  • Crossing of travel/parking lanes at Wyman Street is 60% (40 feet) shorter due to raised, median island; bike lanes and sidewalk neckdowns….
  • Crossing of travel/parking lanes at Marathon Street is 50% (33 feet) shorter due to raised, median island; bike lanes and sidewalk neckdowns (limit of Capitol Square area);
  • New pedestrian crossing at Milton Street is 45% (30 feet) shorter due to bike lanes and sidewalk neckdowns;

These claims are a simplification (see note), but capture the potential for dramatic improvement in overall pedestrian safety at these crossings.

Wyman Street was to be perhaps the single-most-improved crossing of the entire project. It was the location of the first of two traffic fatalities that, in 1996, launched efforts to make the street safer.

Ironically, the elaborate plan to preserve two parking spaces in front of the Arlington Diner would have sacrificed more spaces on the next block, for a net loss of parking.

The safety improvements at issue were included in 25% plans filed last year. These plans were developed by the Town’s engineering consultants and vetted by engineers at Mass. Highway.

They were also the subject of a public hearing in April of 2011 and were approved by both the Board of Selectmen and the the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. On that basis, funding for the project was approved in September of 2011.

In neither case did the Town set out to degrade pedestrian safety features. However the pursuit of other goals—parking for the Arlington Diner and increased queuing capacity at the Linwood light—led to further changes that proved far reaching, as previously related.

Note on shorter crossings:
It’s not clear that expressing safety in terms of feet (as in, “30 feet shorter”) does justice to all the proposed improvements. On its face, the numerical claim seems to be exaggerated, counting (for instance) a foot of avoided parking lane as equal to a foot of avoided motor-vehicle lane.

However, these numbers are also a proxy for other safety benefits to which they correlate. For instance, the lane reduction in the original design at Wyman St. would have eliminated any possibility of multiple-lane-threat crashes.

That’s pretty significant, and suggests that the numbers stand in for the more-complex reality in a faithful way.

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2 comments so far

  1. Thouis Jones on

    Any idea if the Wyman St. changes might possibly be changed back, as well?

    • Adam Auster on

      Wyman street is not changing, according to Laura Wiener.

      This is the design that the Town wants to make final and send out to bid next March.


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