Town drops head-in parking on Swan Place, seeks other alternatives

Arlington is “no longer pursuing” a plan to site 7 head-in parking spaces on Swan Place by the entrance to the Minuteman Path and will seek other new parking in the center of town, according to Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine.

This plan, minus the head-inparking on Swan place, was center stage at the hearing.

This plan, minus the head-in parking on Swan place, was center stage at the hearing.

Chapdelaine and Public Works Director Mike Rademacher identified 9 potential new parking spaces scattered across the center, from the First Parish Church to the fire station.

Three of those would be parallel parking in the same Swan Place location studied for head-in parking. The others would be made possible by relocating or removing fire hydrants, some of which are redundant, according to Chapdelaine.

His remarks opened a hearing earlier tonight (November 6) at 7 pm on the Town’s plan to improve mobility in the center of town, effectively separating the parking issue from the discussion of the mobility project.

That project would add new bike lanes and a new pedestrian crossing to the center, and make improvements to the flow of motor-vehicle-traffic. The hearing was called by the state’s Department of Transportation.

About 50 people, and 1 cat, attended the meeting at the Senior Center. 22 had questions or comments.

During that part of the hearing, MassDOT officials and the Town’s engineering consultant presented aspects of the plan, answered questions, and responded to ideas and criticism.

The hearing formally presented to the public the latest version of the project plan, including the re-removal of six parking spaces and a taxi stand that, according to consultant Keli Pyke, allows “a little more space for everything.”

It had been the loss of these spaces that prompted the Town to develop the idea of adding 7 new head-in spaces on Swan Place, under a proposed lease agreement with a private property owner.

Pyke also said

  • The traffic signals would be coordinated and timed so that vehicles moving at 25–30 mph would continue to meet green lights as they pass thought the center. “Speeders won’t get” the benefit, she said.
  • However, it is not yet decide how best to integrate the new signal at Swan Place into that system.
  • The traffic light at Swan Place will be activated by a sensor in the street (for vehicles, including bicycles) and a button for pedestrians.
  • Traffic on Swan will have to wait for green.
  • The designers are evaluating ways to lengthen the crossing time for slow walkers, including a button located on a bollard in the median by the crosswalk and a system to detect walkers, and adjust the crossing time, using microwaves.
  • Designers are considering marking the bike lanes a solid green, to emphasize them as extensions of the Minuteman Path.

When the mobility-project segment ended at 9 pm, Chapdelain and Rademacher detailed the potential new parking spaces as follows:

  • 3 parallel spaces on Swan Place
  • 1 on Mass. Ave. eastbound, west of the Library bus stop
  • 1 on Mass. Ave. eastbound across from the Civil War Monument
  • 2 on Mass Ave westbound near the fire station
  • 1 on Alton Place where it joins Broadway
  • 1 on Medford Street across from the bookstore

Comments at the hearing ran a wide gamut from those who favored a more complete separation of cyclists from traffic to specific concerns about the location and geometry of bicycle lanes and other elements.

Some bemoaned the loss of parking and others praised it. A few asked for wider bike lanes to encourage families with children to brave the intersection.

Some expressed a preference for the diagonal bicycle crossing that was considered, but then ruled out, earlier in the process. One man spoke twice in favor of removing motor-vehicle lanes from Mass. Ave. and ending the separation of turning and through phases at the main traffic light.

Another exchange led, apparently, to an immediate reevaluation of an idea that had been under consideration. Pyke said that the designers were considering allowing southbound through (straight ahead) traffic and turning traffic to overlap for part of the time. Currently, these occur separately.

When a man pointed out that this would put at risk cyclists who currently cross diagonally during the turning cycle, Pyke acknowledged the problem and suggested the change should not go forward.

Reaction to the Town’s parking alternative, presented after 9 pm when attendance had begun to flag, was generally favorable.

I am sorry this account is so mingy, but it is all I can manage. You’ll have to look to other news outlets for more-comprehensive coverage. I think I got the highlights.

I hope the map of the potential new parking spaces, shown at the meeting, is published soon. If I could, I would have recreated it and put it at the top of this report.

My reaction when I saw that map was that most of those new spaces would be more useful to me, personally, than the 6 they would replace (which seem underutilized most of the time). Of course, if you are a merchant there, you might see it differently.

The Town deserves a lot of credit for continuing to work on this issue.

The biggest question for me is, what about those 3 proposed parallel-parking spaces on Swan Place? They are certainly less of a hazard than 7 head-in parking slots would have been.

On the other hand, they are located right where the Town wants to steer Minuteman traffic, arguably a bad idea.

What do you think? Would you bike there, with your kids, with that parking?

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12 comments so far

  1. Charlie on

    I don’t understand why the city is putting so much work into “saving” 7 parking spaces. Unless the parking utilitization in the area is at 100% for much of the time, It’s really a lot of work for very little benefit (and in the case of the spaces on Swan Pl, to the detriment of the problem they’re trying to solve of better accommodating bicyclists using the Minuteman)

    • Adam Auster on

      I think the parking spaces may be invested with political meaning beyond their actual utility.

      Put in more positive terms, businesses are an important part of the community, and it is worth something to all of us that they feel respected and looked after.

      As long as safety is not compromised, I have no problem with that.

      At this point, this extra effort by the Town has assumed even more symbolism, at least to me: of the Town’s willingness to make things work for everyone.

    • Mark Kaepplein on

      The lengthening of MBTA bus stops all along Mass Ave has already taken away parking spaces for customers. The plan presented to add spaces spread around the center is a wonderful effort. Most of the spots identified have been long overlooked opportunities that could have been done years or decades ago. The effort is worth it. I won’t shop places where traffic and/or parking is bad, given a choice of where to get similar items.

  2. Karin on

    What I’d like to know is whether the parking in the town lot is being used to capacity. Whenever I am there (granted, probably twice a month max outside of the farmers market) it’s never even close to full.

    But yeah, I agree that symbolically, if they need to “keep” those parking spots, then I agree that it’s fair in theory – though I still think parallel parking on Swan is still bad (though less bad than the head-in) and that they should make every effort to keep parking off Swan entirely.

    • Mark Kaepplein on

      The town lot is inefficiently used. A large portion is reserved only for people who have bought permits, who are not always occupying their paid spots, hence the appearance of much vacancy. Permit owners include students and staff at Arlington Catholic who won’t be using spots in summer, weekends, and late afternoons. Blue “P” signs on posts on Mass Ave and elsewhere directing people to the lot would increase utilization. Last Christmas I noticed one on a sandwich board at Medford and Mass Ave. Still no full-time sign near there. Its likely due to transportation signage regulations. To put a “P” sign might require replacing the No U-Turn sign with it, for instance. A bad trade-off. There still has to be someplace to add P signs. Then, there are the payment machines which people just rather not deal with.

    • Adam Auster on

      The Town is finishing a parking study, so maybe we will have an evidence-based answer to your question soon.

      Probably there are other things going on besides a capacity problem.

      Meanwhile, lets hope this does not become a fight-to-the-last-parking-space turf battle.

      • Mark Kaepplein on

        Why would the town start now using evidence and data? The center project design report cites data showing only two problems: traffic congestion and above average motor vehicle accidents. For the past 20 years have there been a high number of bicycle or pedestrians accidents, or accidents between the two? Not stated in the FDR. A design should have started with data and accident report analysis. What conditions in documented accidents contributed to them, so a design could address them? Important work not done or not documented, or not part of the design process.

  3. Charlie on

    Has the town said how they plan to continue the bike lanes in the East Arlington Mass Ave projects further west through Arlington Center at some point in the future? Do they plan to do a road diet through that stretch by removing a travel lane and/or parking? It seems like the city doesn’t want to remove any travel lanes now, and removing 7 parking spaces in order to properly accommodate bikes in this small stretch is already proving to be a political challenge.

    Do you think it would make sense to figure out what the cross section should be in the future for all of Arlington Center, and then implement that piece of the plan for the scope of this project? Is something thinking about how all of this is going to tie together?

    • Adam Auster on

      Charlie, that’s a good question! At one time the Mass. Ave. Project (East Arlington) was “Phase 1” of a redesign that would extend to (but not include) the Heights. It was really just a plan to have more plans after East Arlington.

      I haven’t heard much along those lines lately.

      In any case, I think we are looking at, at best, a series of incremental planning processes, perhaps informed by the Town’s Master Plan, which is now in development.

  4. John S. Allen on

    Adam — thanks for your report. It covers the parking discussion well. The first part of the meeting, about bicycle routing, raised other issues. I’ve covered some of them in another blog poase, with a proposed alternate bicycle route. WordPress won’t let me post the link here but if you Google on

    John Allen Further Suggestions Arlington Center

    you’ll find it.

    Like you, I hope that the more documentation is made public, to inform further discussion.

    • Adam Auster on

      John, I agree my coverage of the hearing, especially the discussion, was spotty. To be honest, I almost couldn’t attend, let alone play cub reporter.

      I led with the parking because that seemed to be the biggest change versus what had been publicized.

      Speaking of changes, your own prescription for the intersection (aka John Allen Further Suggestions) is a little surprising, especially given the source!

      It’s a new idea with a lot in its favor. I am trying to quell my initial misgivings and think about it logically.

      • Charlie on

        I really like John Allen’s proposal. It’s simple and straightforwards and maintains the path as a path through Arlington Center. In many ways, I think that’s the only way to ensure everyone is safely and comfortably accommodated, especially families.


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