Broadway Plaza at heart of vision for center

A boldly re-imagined Broadway Plaza keynotes an otherwise conventional redesign of Arlington Center that consultants presented at Town Hall on Thursday night.

Broadway Plaza and Memorial park joined and reconfigured.

Broadway Plaza and the memorial park joined and reconfigured. For reference, the Civil War monument near the center of the drawing remains at its current location. Click for close-up. Source: Town of Arlington.

The fourth and final public meeting on the conceptual design was also marked by skepticism about bike lanes from an unexpected source

The plan would incorporate bike lanes and bump outs, commonplace features of the urban and suburban landscape in Massachusetts and key elements of the recent rebuild of Mass. Ave. in East Arlington. Traffic counts did not support removing motor-vehicle through lanes, according to Laura Castelli, a consultant.

The meeting took place just blocks from where parts of Arlington Center lie torn up for the Arlington Center Safe Travel project, a separate effort now under way.

About three dozen Arlington residents came to the Town Hall Auditorium on September 22 to view and react to the final conceptual design for Mass. Ave. Phase II, envisioning the stretch of road from Mill Street to the end of Stage I at Pond Lane.

The design team from Vanasse Hangen Brustlin based its work in part on a survey of existing conditions, including traffic counts at five key points. The design team met with the public three previous times, including a site-based “walkshop” on May 12.

The designers met separately with local business owners, the director of the Cyrus Dallin Art Museum, and members of the Veterans Council, which is concerned with the status of the memorial park between Broadway Plaza and the fire station.

A conceptual design is not final. Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine described the meeting as “the end of the concept” but not of the design process, which as yet has no timetable or funding.

Chapdelaine said the next design phase will include public participation, and throughout the evening the consultants referred to that future process as the means to resolve issues with the design raised by residents.

Trade-offs and changes

To make room for the bicycle lanes on both sides of Mass. Ave. and to widen some sidewalks, the design would largely do away with the median strip that divides Mass. Ave. in Arlington Center. Also, the design would narrow the sidewalk in front of Town Hall Park, removing several street trees.

These changes prompted Phil Goff of East Arlington to question whether the street might be better off with a median area such as the one created in the East Arlington business district during the redesign there.

Goff recalled the “bland overly wide stark character” of Mass. Ave. in East Arlington before the recent redesign there and said that in the Arlington Center design “some blocks are quite stark,” especially west of Route 60. He suggested it might be worth removing one of the bicycle lanes to permit some kind of median treatment other design features.

(Update: Phil tells me that he doesn’t favor swapping a bike lane for a median, but perhaps for wider sidewalks west of Route 60 and a pedestrian island.)

At the same time Goff complemented the design team for finding room for the bike lanes in both directions.

Goff is a co-chair of the east Arlington Livable Streets Coalition and a member of the Mass. Ave Review Committee for the Phase I project.

Broadway changes draw criticism

By far the most dramatic changes are imagined for Broadway Plaza. Broadway would end at Alton Street, which would be extended to Mass. Ave. The memorial monument and park would directly abut Broadway Plaza, separated by a curving wall.

Consultant Stephen Dendiorion, left, discusses the plan with East Arlington resident Chris Loretti.

Consultant Stephen Dendiorion, left, discusses the design with East Arlington resident Chris Loreti.

The plaza portion would nearly double in size, and other improvements would make the plaza more usable in all seasons.

Alton Street resident Michael Ruderman objected to the reconfiguration of Alton Street citing fears of increased traffic on Alton. He proposed closing Alton Street at Broadway.

VHB’s Castelli said that the design would lose “zero” parking spaces near Broadway Plaza. She cited a new 16-space parking lot near the fire station and additional side-street parking on Mass. Ave. and Alton Street.

Also at the meeting

Trees in Whittemore Park, at the corner of Route 60, would be thinned to open up the space and make the Dallin museum more visible from the street. The fence around the park would come down and the railroad tracks would be removed but memorialized by a pavement design.

New timed traffic signals will eliminate the need for dedicated left-turn-only lanes  eastbound at Medford and Franklin streets.

None of the existing unsignalized pedestrian crossings qualify for a conventional pedestrian signal, according to Castelli. However, some might be suitable for a hybrid beacon signal like the one planned for the new crossing at Swan Place. (I describe this signal starting about halfway through this report.)

New sidewalks would be “smooth concrete” with a decorative edge of “pavers.”

Stephen Dendiorion of VHB said the sacrifice of street trees in front of Town Hall Park was justified since there are many trees in the park directly behind the wall separating the park from the sidewalk. He called the current situation “a little bit of a redundancy” and said the concept would be “a fair exchange” for bike lanes.

There is no plan to remove the wall in front of the park, but the concept would make the entrances more obvious and inviting.

The five-foot bicycle lanes would be separated from the eight-foot parking lanes by a gap of from 6 to 12 inches. This is tighter than the layout the lanes in much of East Arlington and would substantially overlap the door zone from parked cars. However, the dimensions are not out of line for street designs in nearby cities and towns and are similar to those in the East Arlington business district.

The consultants’ work is done. At some point, according to Arlington DPW Director Mike Rademacher, the Town plans to hire a designer and seek state funding for construction.

My thoughts:

Thursday’s presentation finally answered for me the question of, What is “concept” plan good for? Since it is not final, has unresolved issues, and does not produce an actual design that can be used for construction work.

This one showed us not only what might be possible but what the major trade-offs are likely to be, setting the stage for what could be a productive and informed discussion going forward.

Update: I’ve replaced the image of the plan for Broadway Plaza with a better one from the Town of Arlington (it was not immediately available when I write this post).

Click to view a larger version, or download an ever bigger version, along with the rest of the slide presentation, from the Town’s web page for the project. (The Broadway plan is slide 10.)


13 comments so far

  1. Ryan Jacobs on

    Hi. Apologies for the tangential question, but…. ….can you contact Goff (in his capacity as a member of the Review Committee) to ask when the heck the utilities company will be doing their job so that Lynch can finish theirs? What was once mere farce has now climbed to the pinnacle height of incompetence and a lack of oversight.


    • Adam Auster on

      Ryan, I share your frustration.

      However, neither Phil, nor the Mass. Ave. Review Committee (which last met in 2011), nor the Town of Arlington itself has the slightest authority over Eversource (the current name for the entity that is laughing down its corporate sleeve at us in East Arlington).

      The Arlington Advocate used to run a photo every week of oddball and occasionally scary double poles that utilities were conspicuously failing to replace. Those photos, which ran for several years, were taken by Chad Gibson, the other co-chair (with Phil) of the Livable Streets group.

  2. Phil Goff on

    Just to clarify my position on bike lanes vs. wider sidewalks vs. a median:
    – I believe continuing the East Arlington bike lanes from their current terminus to the Minuteman Path crossing at Rt 60 is critical. In the stretch between Franklin St and Medford St, my preference would be for a 6′ wide flush/raised median to break up the scale of the wide street–similar to Capitol Square–over widening the south sidewalk which is currently 11-12′ in width
    – the median treatment above would provide the opportunity for a new crosswalk and refuge island similar to Marathon and Grafton in East Arlington, roughly half way between Franklin and Medford, lining up with the new roadway extension of Alton Street
    – west of Route 60, my personal preference (not necessarily the position of EALS Coalition) would be to maintain at least 10′ wide sidewalks on each side, the minimum width to plant street trees. Unfortunately, this would be at the expense of a bike lane in one direction, which to me would be an acceptable compromise to maintain a more comfortable pedestrian environment, have street trees and minimize the widening of Mass Ave along the Town Hall/Library block. The direction without bike lanes would need to have enhanced, greenback sharrows–not the standard ones–placed in the center of the rightmost lane to encourage riding outside of the door zone
    Phil Goff

  3. AiGi Py on

    Any chance you can link to a graphic of Memorial Park plan that is clear, not fuzzy?

    • Adam Auster on

      @AG: I am waiting for the Town to post the drawings online.

      Until then, the snapshot I took of the graphic as it was projected on a screen at the Town Hall Auditorium is all I’ve got.

      Sorry! I figure it’s better than nothing at all.

      • AiGi Py on

        Thank you, Adam. I understand. And appreciate your efforts.

        • Adam Auster on

          Got it! And revised the post with the better graphic.

  4. markk02474 on

    Newsflash: Pedestrians cross roads not just at crosswalks, especially when lined on both sides with parking spots and stores. This is why continuous raised median pedestrian refuges cut pedestrian crashes in half. That is the most effective road treatment possible after putting sidewalks where none exist, and pedestrian activated, high intensity crossing lights on unsignaled crosswalks.

    The plan doesn’t call for added crossing lights for pedestrians at crosswalks and calls for removal of raised median. Instead, bike lanes are put where there isn’t a bike safety problem, adjacent to a bike path. The plan priorities are upside down, reducing pedestrian safety for a landscaping and bicycling agenda.

    • Adam Auster on

      I can’t argue with your observation about the value of medians to pedestrians outside a crosswalk. I also wonder if it’s possible for pedestrians to get more out of Phase II than this. (Maybe not, since things are so constrained in the center.) To be fair, the park improvements would be pedestrian gains.

      I also think you ultimately exaggerate your case. As we’ve seen in East Arlington and elsewhere, bike lanes can confer tangible benefits to other users and pedestrians in particular, by regulating traffic and separating motor vehicles and pedestrians. Classes of users “win” based on qualitative improvements, not on how many inches of road width they wind up with. It’s not a zero-sum game.

  5. Charlotte Keys on

    I think removing the tracks in front of the Dallin site would be a pity. I see children playing on them and fascinated by them all the time. Otherwise I like the look of the plans. I’ll send a comment to the town.

    • Adam Auster on

      Charlotte, you should also be prepared to comment when the actual design process begins. Not that any such process has been scheduled yet!

      • AiGi Py on

        They could keep the rails, but have them at surface level. Like a street crossing. Silly planners.

    • markk02474 on

      Charlotte, One of the designers told me that the museum asked for the tracks to be removed due to many sprained ankles and other injuries from them. Its ridiculous for the Town to spend many thousands of dollars to put padding in the play grounds while keeping a trip and injury hazard in the heart of the town.

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