Arlington Center plan has skinny lanes, new crossing

MassDOT will hold a 25% hearing next month on Arlington’s plan to add bike lanes and make other changes to the intersection of Mass. Ave. and Route 60.

Sketch of intersection showing bike lanes in green, including start of cycle track at upper left.

Sketch of intersection showing bike lanes in green, including start of cycle track at upper left. Click for larger view, but note that some lane widths have changed. Source: Town of Arlington.

The newest version narrows parking and travel lanes to shoehorn seven parking spaces by Cambridge Savings Bank and beyond. It retains a proposed new traffic signal on Mass. Ave. at Swan Place.

The Town sought and won a design exception from MassDOT for these narrow lanes.

According to the formal notice available though a link on the Town’s web page for the project, the hearing will be on 7:00 PM Tuesday, April 23, at Town Hall.

The changes were the subject of a public hearing early last year that led to a preliminary design including a new crossing signal at Swan Place, bike lanes connecting the two halves of the Minuteman Path, and a dedicated cycle track parallel to the sidewalk by Uncle Sam Park.

The design declined to implement some of the more daring ideas from the hearing, including a diagonal bicycle crossing through the intersection.

The key changes to the design since last year are as follows:

  • Seven parking spaces on the south corner of Mass Ave between Route 60 and Swan Place are restored, but to make room for them some vehicle lanes are narrowed to an unusual 10-1/2 feet. The parking lane itself is only 7 feet wide, and one turning lane is 9-1/2 feet.
  • A parking lane that narrow is probably adequate for parking but poses a hazard for cyclists when a bicycle lane channels bicycles too close to the doors of parked cars.
  • The raised median on that stretch of Mass Ave is also narrowed to about 2-1/2 feet, again to make room for the parking spaces.
  • Six new parking spaces proposed for Mystic Street near Whittemore Park, though still shown in some drawings, are no longer included.
  • A proposed bicycle lane leading to the intersection from the east has been dropped.

The following new features are preserved:

  • A new traffic signal across Mass. Ave. at Swan Place, and a new crosswalk there.
  • The new signal will be timed with existing signals at Route 60 and Medford Street.
  • A westbound bicycle lane from Swan Place that crosses Mass. Ave., turns left, and proceeds to the intersection with Route 60.
  • An eastbound bicycle lane from Route 60 to Swan Place, now sandwiched between parking and a travel lane.
  • Curb extensions at the corners of the intersection to shorten the pedestrian-crossing segment of the light cycle.
  • An extended left-turn lane on Mystic Street approaching Mass. Ave.
  • A dedicate cycle track connecting the northwest corner of the intersection to the Minuteman Path.

The design partially knits together the two halves of the Minuteman Path that run though Arlington Center.

According to Arlington Senior Planner Laura Wiener, MassDOT invited the Town to expand the project to include resurfacing of affected streets, with 100% funding by the state.

Of the two sets of drawings available on the Town’s web page, the conceptual plan (excerpted above) is less up-to-date than the official 25% filing, though easier to follow. The conceptual plan shows slightly different lane widths and the presence of parking on Mystic Street.

Thanks to Wiener and to Town Engineer Wayne Chouinard for help interpreting the drawings. Any errors are mine.

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13 comments so far

  1. Mark Kaepplein on

    Oh, when will MassDOT just put in writing that acceptable lane widths vary in order to justify dedicated bike lanes and that all other factors including safety is secondary? Cambridge and Somerville declare parking spots and bus stops to have 7 foot widths if they can shoe-horn even 4 foot wide bike lanes between traffic and parked cars. Now we have such shoe horn’ing in Arlington, only so that fewer cyclists might ride on sidewalks. Lest we forget, the funding for this project is intended to reduce air pollution. That is unlikely to ever happen with the design.

    BTW, MAPC presented some data last fall on shared paths around Boston. The Minuteman was the only one not increasing in use. Is the only reason this intersection?

  2. Charlie on

    Thankfully 10.5′ lanes are becoming more commonly accepted by MassDOT. They often insist on 11′ minimum lanes, which in many cases means bike lanes are sacrificed. 10′ lanes are common in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, and other cities, but MassDOT is in generally not comfortable using lanes that narrow as general travel lanes (although they did approve 10′ travel lanes on the reconstructed BU Bridge, which allowed for the new 5′ bike lanes).

    • Mark Kaepplein on

      Sorry Charlie, 10.5′ lanes are only OK on slow roads where trucks and buses are prohibited, given their 10.33′ width. Resulting slower travel speeds increase congestion and air pollution, opposite of funding goals. Pedestrians Jay walk more when traffic is slow, again increasing congestion and pollution.

      Parkways are commonly 40′ wide – four 10′ lanes, and no trucks or buses allowed – that was the standard when designed. Excess sidewalk width often needs trimming to make safer bike lanes instead of travel and parking lane width games. Too much sidewalk widening happened in the 1980s with the decline in cycling following the 1970’s boom.

      Mass Ave in Arlington has the 10th busiest bus route, the #77, Several other routes transit the project intersection. The intersection includes US highways 3 and 3A, federal trucking routes, State highway 2A, and state route 60. Secretary of Anti-Transportation Davey is promoting road transportation losses, so MassDOT is just following orders with lane narrowing and removals.

      • Adam Auster on

        MBTA buses are 8-1/2 feet wide, not 10 feet wide.

        • Mark Kaepplein on

          Bicycles are not 5 feet wide either. The minimum working width of a bus WITH mirrors is 10.33 feet. That is still really tight for such a big vehicle that could be 40-60 feet long also. Do you claim threading a city bus through a lane requires less buffer than a little bicycle?

    • Adam Auster on

      Charlie, clearly 10-1/2 feet lanes are okay for a road like Mass Ave. (and some are 11 feet).

      It’s the 7-foot parking lane, right next to the bike lane, that concerns me.

      • Charlie on

        Good point Adam. 7′ parking lane next to a 5′ bike lane is really the bare minimum. Interestingly, Cambridge did a study on Hampshire St with and without a bike lane (where the dimensions are 10′ travel lane, 5′ bike lane, 7′ parking lane), and discovered that bicyclists on average actually rode further away from parked cars when the bike lane was striped than they did without one. The only way to make the parking and/or bike lanes wider would be to remove parking one on side, which based on how much crap Somerville is getting for proposing that on Beacon St, it’s no wonder Cambridge hasn’t gone down that road.

      • Charlie on

        But yeah it’s too bad Arlington felt the need to preserve the on-street parking next to the bank that has it’s own parking lot. Definitely less than ideal for bicyclists.

        • Mark Kaepplein on

          It should be no surprise that the interest of Cambridge Savings trumped bike safety, pedestrian safety (with loss of raised median refuge),vehicular safety and flow (cramped lanes), and MBTA drivers and passengers.

          Similar things occurred with the Mass Ave design. At Lake Street, instead of Capitol Creamery getting its wide sidewalk trimmed to give cyclists more room on the road to the bike path, two trees are being put in to impede pedestrians on the excess sidewalk. Across the street, the right turn lane should have started back in front of the pill box apartments, but Selectmen opposed MassDOT’s request.

  3. dr2chase on

    Hard to say. The proposed lanes match what I do when I’m riding there, and that seems like it ought to be better, but sometimes we get stuff like this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/32419497@N05/8379882857

    • Adam Auster on

      Not me, at least not eastbound. I don’t ride that close to the cars. (This is part of my evening commute, in season.)

  4. Alex on

    Mark K: If you ever spot a truck or bus more than 8 1/2 feet wide, you should probably check your vision, then call in the Feds. That’s because Federal regulations (23 CFR 658.15) limit the width of ALL commercial vehicles to 102 inches. You won’t find any vehicles wider than that. Hence, 10 and 10 1/2 foot lanes are safely compatible with even the biggest big rig. 12 foot lanes are used for 65 mph Interstate highways and are NOT appropriate for a densely populated town like Arlington. Unless you want Mass Ave to become an Interstate…but that’s another story.

    • Mark Kaepplein on

      Thanks, I checked the regulation and section 658.16 (b)(1) allows rear view mirrors, handholds etc to go beyond the basic vehicle maximum width. Its not like a cyclist or pedestrian has ever been struck and/or killed by a side mirror. Oh, yeah, right, they have. Also excluded are specially permitted vehicles with signs reading WIDE LOAD on the back, say carrying a furnace for MIT or a house.

      There is a big difference between actual width of a vehicle, bus or bicycle and the WORKING WIDTH needed to safely operate that vehicle down the road. That is speed dependant, so 12′ at Interstate speeds are not necessary on a 30-40 mph road. In any case, there is plenty of room for 4 lanes legally on Mass Ave.


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