Arlington Center revamp to begin in April

Contractors will break ground in Arlington Center on or about April 4 on a project to improve vehicular and pedestrian flow through the Route 60 intersection and draw cyclists off the sidewalks and onto new bike lanes and other facilities.

One feature of the new design will be consicuously marked bike lanes connecting the east and west trailheads of the Minuteman Path. Source: MassDOT.

One feature of the new design will be conspicuously marked bike lanes connecting the east and west trail heads of the Minuteman Path. Source: MassDOT.

Compared to the large and sometimes raucous design meetings for the Mass. Ave. Project in East Arlington, a project briefing at the Town Hall Auditorium last Wednesday was subdued.

About 35 Arlington residents came to learn about the new design and the construction schedule at the public meeting, called by the construction team and Town officials on March 23.

The scope of the project will be familiar to those who followed its evolution during the design phase in 2012 and 2013. The most conspicuous features of the new design are as follows:

  • an all-new pedestrian crossing with an unusual walk – don’t walk signal traversing Mass Ave at Swan Place (near the Kickstand Cafe)
  • vivid green bicycle lanes, a cycle track, and a bicycle box, connecting the two trail heads of the Minuteman Commuter Trail near Uncle Sam Park and on Swan Place
  • shorter pedestrian crossing distances at Route 60
  • a longer left-turn queue for vehicles seeking to turn onto Mass. Ave from Mystic Street southbound
  • new traffic signals and fresh pavement

The project is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.

Signals at Route 60 and Mystic street are slated for an “upgrade” and will be timed with each other and the new crossing by Swan Place. Timing adjustments will be made to the signal at Mystic and Chestnut streets.

The new signals will include a receiver so that emergency vehicles can preempt the regular light cycle.

bicycle signal

Paul Krueger

The current left-straight-right signal sequence at Route 60 will be unchanged.

At least two green-yellow-red bicycle signals will be added to the intersection, with timing identical to that of the regular traffic signals.

The project will remove seven parking spaces on the south side of Mass. Ave. by the Cambridge Savings Bank and Kickstand Cafe to accommodate safely one of the new bike lanes along Mass. Ave. eastbound from Route 60 to Swan Place.

The Town has identified replacement parking spaces in the business district and has already developed two of them, near the fire station.

Construction will be disruptive at times, and affected businesses will be given notice of work. The Town has a web page and email list for news of the project.

HAWK signal

New kind of signal to be installed on Mass. Ave. at Swan Place. KJBurns animation

Although the final design is little changed since its last public appearance in October of 2013, the public learned that the pedestrian signal at Swan Place will be a new design called a pedestrian hybrid beacon.

The hybrid signal has no green light and is mostly dark to vehicular traffic. It warns of an impending red light by a sequence in which a flashing yellow light turns steady, followed by two steady red lights to stop vehicular traffic when the Walk signal begins.

The above animation illustrates the sequence, which ends when the red lights flash and then go dark as the pedestrian signal switches from flashing to steady “don’t walk.”

Traffic nerds (and MassDOT) also call this a HAWK signal (HAWK being an embarrassingly distorted abbreviation of High-Intensity Activated Walk signal).

The beacon includes conventional pedestrian signals and will be activated by a call button for pedestrians and also by video-camera detection of bicycles stopped in the bike lane on Swan Place. Signal activation may take as long as as two minutes depending on the timing of other parts of traffic.

However, all vehicles, including bicycles, may proceed through the intersection from Swan after a stop, an arrangement that is unchanged from today.

 MassDOT's rendering of the view west from near Swan Place. The lanes are designed to draw cyclists off the sidewalks

MassDOT’s rendering of the view west from near Swan Place. The lanes are designed to draw cyclists off the sidewalks

Consequently experienced cyclists who are versed in the rules of the road need not wait for the signal to stop traffic if it is safe to proceed. Less experienced cyclists will be able to wait and follow the bike lane across Mass. Ave. and to the intersection at Route 16 while traffic is stopped.

The design retains the controversial proposal to route the westbound cycle lane to the right side of a right-turn only lane westbound by the corner of Whittimore Park. (See the very first rendering above.) In the past, the designers had defended that design as most likely to appeal to less-experienced cyclists, who would feel safer next to the curb.

However, some residents and others has expressed concerns that a right-turning vehicle operated by a driver not familiar with the intersection, or a scofflaw, might move out of phase and strike a cyclist, a so-called right hook. Critics suggested several alternative configurations.

The bicycle box in the southwest quadrant of the intersection is intended to give cyclists navigating the intersection eastbound an alternative to blocking the corner of the sidewalk by First Parish Church while waiting for an eastbound signal. The box measures 18½ by 10 feet.

bicycle box

Cyclists continuing eastbound from the path will be able to cross to the bike box rather than the sidewalk at bottom left. Source: MassDOT.

Cyclist could cross on the southbound signal from the corner by Uncle Sam Park to the bike box and wait there to head east, then use the new bike lane on the south side of Mass. Ave. to reach the trail head on Swan Place.

Westbound cyclists, meanwhile, will be able to follow the bike lane from Swan Place to Route 60, cross the intersection with the light, cross the sidewalk at the northeast corner, and ride on the new cycle track to the Minuteman path.

Cyclists are not obligated to use these facilities, and some already have alternative ways of navigating this intersection that avoid the sidewalk at Uncle Sam Park entirely.

Cycle track

At right in this rendering of the southbound approach, the new cycle track parallels the Mystic-side sidewalk by Uncle Sam Park, while the bike box is visible in the background. Source: MassDOT.

The vivid green color of the lanes, the removal of parking spaces on the south side of Mass. Ave., the bike box, the signal-protected left turn onto Mass. Ave. from Swan Place, the bike signals, and the cycle track in Uncle Sam Park are clearly aimed at making this intersection work better for inexperienced cyclists, families, and others who currently use the sidewalk inappropriately or who avoid the area entirely.

Signal improvements and changes to the geometry of the main intersection potentially benefit all users. The new signalized cross walk across Mass. Ave. is a true amenity for pedestrians, and the longer left-turn lane approaching Mass Ave. southbound will ease a bottleneck and speed traffic from Mystic Street.

The town has put online MassDOT’s slide presentation from the March 23 meeting and the project’s 100-percent plans.

Readers previously discussed aspects of this design in comments to my November 6, 2013, report on the Arlington Center project.

Update: The ground did indeed break on April 24, although work so far seems to have been limited to some cutting of the street around bus stops and other preliminary work.

Further Update: The detailed observations of John Allen about this design are, as usual, very much on point.

Thanks to KJBurns for making the animation available [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons


8 comments so far

  1. Adam Thielker on

    I’m glad that the area will be improved. It’s certainly a confusing mess right now.

  2. Steve Mahler on

    In the fifth paragraph I see a bullet point referring to a pedestrian improvement at “Route 16” and my heart started beating faster, thinking that my other “favorite” intersection is being improved also. I suppose I’ll be disappointed that this is merely a typo, cheers.

    • Steve Mahler on

      It also needs saying that this is an excellent and informative posting on an exciting new phase in Arlington’s urban development, thanks!

    • Adam Auster on

      Thank you Steve!

      It also needs saying how much I appreciate your keen eye in spotting the “Route 16” error, which I’ve fixed.

      Chalk it up to muscle memory after years of writing about the Mass. Ave. Project in East Arlington (the main focus of this blog).

  3. John S. Allen on

    Adam — thanks to linking to my comments about the Arlington Center project. I don’t know whether you’ve seen my more recent comments, here:

    • Adam Auster on

      John, I am abashed to admit I had missed that blog post. Thank you for posting here.

  4. John S. Allen on

    Oh and also: that isn’t a “cycle track” in Uncle Sam Park: it is a continuation of the Minuteman shared-use path. “Cycle Track” is used only for an on-street bicycle-only path separated from motor traffic by a barrier, and has fallen into disfavor even with that meaning, because it isn’t descriptive. And the patch in the middle of the intersection of Mass. Ave., Pleasant Street and Mystic Street is a two-stage turn queuing box, not a bike box — though the consultant calls it a bike box!

    • Adam Auster on

      I plead guilty to repeating the consultants’ errors. Thanks for the correction, John.

      I think the designers intend that the “cycle track” be exclusively for cyclists and thus not a continuation of the shared-use path. We’ll see how well that survives contact with reality.

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