Facts on the ground: Allen St.

This week orange street marks began to blossom on Mass. Ave. in East Arlington to indicate new curb lines, including bump-outs at crosswalks.

Work on curbs and sidewalks won’t begin until utility work is completed in the fall. However, the paint won’t fade between now and then and in some cases the markings are relevant to relocating drains and utility access holes.

Workers began marking new curb lines last week. Above, part of the change planned at Allen St.

Workers began marking new curb lines last week. Above, part of the change planned at Allen St.


Today’s photo shows a sizable curb extension at the corner of Allen St. and Mass. Ave. The new sidewalk does not extend any further into Mass. Ave. but pushes a good 25 feet or so into Allen St. (The parked car at right gives some sense of scale.)

There are similar marks at Adams St., where the extensions are about half the size.

At present these roads flare broadly where they join Mass. Ave. like the muzzle of an old-fashioned blunderbuss. Allen Street is about 80 feet wide where it joins Mass. Ave. That’s wider than Mass. Ave. itself.

There are similar, if smaller, side-street normalizations throughout the project, for instance at Tufts St. and Bates and Elmhurst Rds.

Plans for Allen St. with existing curb lines. Source: MassDOT.

Plans for Allen St. showing new and existing curb lines. Source: MassDOT.

I wish I could find a good aerial view to show you how dramatic this change is, especially at Allen St., but you can get some sense of it from the project drawings (sheet 35).

The existing curb lines are indicated by faint double lines. As usual, click any image for a larger view.

The new design normalizes these intersections, with two effects.

First, drivers who take these turns too fast today will be compelled by the tighter geometry to slow down.

This will discourage, for instance, cars from entering Adams St. northbound from Mass. Ave. at too great a speed. (Allen St., shown, is one way towards Mass. Ave.)

Second, the pedestrian-crossing distances parallel to Mass. Ave. will be reduced dramatically.

This will make crossing (a) feel more comfortable and (b) be safer. It will also reduce the time during which turning and entering traffic must stop while pedestrians are using the crosswalks to walk alongside Mass. Ave.

There is potentially a third benefit, according to one Allen St. resident: Discouraging wrong-way driving on one-way Allen St., north from Mass. Ave.

When MassDOT held 25% hearings back in 2011, Andrew Bengston testified that the flaring width “encourages…a lot of people [who] are driving the wrong way up that one-way street” (2011 Transcript p. 185).

Bengston told me that wrong-way drivers are frequent on Allen St. and that the mouth of the street

is so wide that the two Do Not Enter signs are spread really far apart, putting them outside a driver’s visual field. Maybe not in both directions, probably more heading SE.

This is not one of the benefits cited by the design engineers in the functional design report, but let’s hope the new design helps drivers avoid this wrong-way turn.

Update: There’s a link to a pretty good aerial view in the comments.

Click here for recent construction news.

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16 comments so far

  1. Mark Kaepplein on

    The downside of this narrowing is reduced sight lines for drivers to see each other and pedestrians when snow banks are in place. How many of the wrong way travelers are drivers and how many bicyclists?

    • Mark Kaepplein on

      Is there any accident data showing the wide street openings being narrowed had more accidents as a result? Perhaps narrowed openings will produce more accidents in winter due to snowbanks blocking visibility.

      • Andrew on

        Mark,
        Do you have many accidents at the end of Palmer Street in the winter? On the plans, it looks like Palmer (also a one-way in the direction of Mass Ave) will remain as-is curb-wise, and is narrower than the proposed Allen St opening.

        • Mark Kaepplein on

          There are a significant number of accidents at Palmer and Broadway. I suspect two reasons: Use of Palmer instead of Franklin to avoid two traffic lights on the way to Mass Ave (the one on Broadway should be a 4-way stop); and the other reason is poor sight lines contributed to the tighter opening of Palmer at Broadway. This in turn allows parking closer to the intersection, worsening sight lines, year round. Gaining a lost parking spot by narrowing the mouths of streets like Allen is done to make up for lost ones elsewhere and promoting the project.

        • Mark Kaepplein on

          The end of Palmer Street (at Mass Ave) is made safer by having a bus stop at the east corner. This keeps cars from parking there, thus people pulling on to Mass Ave from Palmer have a better view of westbound traffic. Unfortunately, the bus stop is to move to the corner of Wyman, so we might see added accidents caused by reduced visibility due to parked cars obstructing the view of oncoming traffic. Likewise, I predict an accident increase at the corner of Allen and Mass Ave cause by reducing visibility as designers tried to make up for lost parking near Lake St.

    • Adam Auster on

      Mark, I don’t think it is very nice to belittle peoples’ concerns about traffic safety. These are residential streets with families with kids.

      I know if I lived on a one-way street where people drove the wrong way regularly I would be concerned and would welcome engineering changes to discourage that behavior.

      • Mark Kaepplein on

        I’m not belittling concerns. Its a matter of seeing what changes will improve or worsen safety. Worsening safety with worse sight lines to add a parking spot seems like a bad trade off. As far as wrong way traffic goes, why is the road one way? Is it narrower in the block between Mass Ave and Broadway than between Broadway and Warren, where two way? If not, then two-way must not be especially dangerous other than people not expecting it and failing to react well.

  2. Douglass Davidoff on

    Adam, the new Apple Maps app on both OSX and iOS has some very good close-up details. I grabbed a tight shot of the MassAve intersection with Allen Street and posted it at http://note.io/1llIcGL.

    Unfortunately, as I think you found with photography you examined, the tree inside the circle that I drew (and the tree’s shadow) at the northwest corner of Allen & MassAve somewhat obscure the significant portion of the work as illustrated on the construction plan you posted.

    • Adam Auster on

      Thank you, Doug! That image is of much better quality than anything I could find on any of the online maps.

      But surely, that can’t be Mass. Ave.? It’s not nearly wide enough. Might it be Broadway?

      • Douglass Davidoff on

        Eek! Standby! Checking …

        • Douglass Davidoff on

          Shoot. Yes … it is Mass Ave at Broadway. Preparing the right photo, which makes your point even more clear. Yikes!

  3. Douglass Davidoff on

    No amount of good photography and annotation makes up for dumb human error.

    Herewith, the REAL MassAve at Allen Street. Even better than the first attempt, not the least because now we portray the right location!

    View the correct image at http://note.io/1rIQHkK.

    • Adam Auster on

      That’s very clear! Thanks for tracking it down. (And re the dumb human error—Siri isn’t actually human.)

  4. Ryan Jacobs on

    A quick question: for the CAPITAL SQUARE intersection, will the sidewalks be redone in brick (similar to Arlington Center) entirely, partially, or not at all? I assumed that it would for the ‘beautification’ component of the plan, but I wasn’t sure.

    • Adam Auster on

      As I understand it, brick is out, though there may be a decorative border either of brick or, more likely, concrete colored and stamped to resemble brick.

      There seem to be fads in street design (like everything else) 20 years ago brick was the magic ingredient to make business districts all historic and happy. Not any more!

      • Ryan Jacobs on

        Thank you very much for your helpful reply, Adam!


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