$750,000 sought for Lake Street signal


The Town’s Capital Planning Committee will ask Town Meeting to appropriate $750,000 for a traffic signal at the intersection of Lake Street and the Minuteman Path.

The Town sought and failed to win state funding of $400,000 for this project in fiscal 2018 and again in fiscal 2019.

The Capital Planning Committee made its report available last week. The funding request is included on page 15, and Town Meeting will consider the capital budget under Article 58 of the agenda.

Proponents say the project will speed rush-hour traffic on Lake Street and make the intersection safer. However, crash data suggest that the crossing there is not especially unsafe.

Complete Streets?

The Town had sought $400,000 for this project from the the state’s Complete Streets grants program.

These grants were established to encourage communities to respond to the needs of pedestrians, bus riders, and cyclists, as well as motorists, when planning road projects.

The Lake Street signal is widely understood as an attempt to benefit motor vehicles stuck in traffic.

Town officials responded with uncharacteristic anger last year to suggestions that the the Town should not submit the project as a Complete Streets project.

Arlington received $400,000 from this program in fiscal 2017 for improvements to the Gray Street walk-to-school corridor.

The Town has a list of other Complete Streets projects it would like to build, but did not apply for any of them during these two grant cycles.

The $400,000 sought for Lake Street is the maximum amount available to any community in one grant cycle.

Other projects on the Town’s wish list include many improvements near schools and some that would serve environmental-justice populations.

The Lake Street application in effect displaced these other projects from consideration.

However, there is no guarantee that a request within the scope of the Complete Streets program would have fared any better.

A Costly Traffic Light

The estimated cost of this project has grown from $150,000 when first proposed, to $750,000. Here’s why:

  • The new signal be linked to the signal at Brooks St., just 200 feet to the north, to avoid snarling traffic. The Brooks St. signal will also need to be upgraded.
  • In addition, the path crossing will need to be modified to minimize the impact on pedestrian and bicycle traffic and to account for new and potentially unsafe traffic patterns that the signal will introduce.

I wrote in more depth about why this is not a simple traffic signal last year, when the cost had risen to $700,000.

Debt service on this expenditure would add about $2.70 per year to the tax bill for a single-family home with average assessed valuation.

(This rough estimate, which is entirely my own, is based on scaling the same method used to estimate the much bigger impacts being asked for a new high school.)

Correction: The above is wrong, not in magnitude but in actual effect on the tax rate, which after all is capped.

I apologize for the error.

Lake Street and its discontents

The Select Board has clearly expressed a desire to ease the daily traffic jam on Lake Street. Traffic is especially bad inbound during the evening commute.

However, proponents have scaled back their predictions of how much of an improvement the signal will make, from 7 to 4 minutes for a peak-hour trip.

Critics have suggested that 4 minutes may be an overstatement, and that other, simpler changes, such as changes to the Brooks Street signal, might be more effective. (Disclosure: I share this skepticism.)

Others say that to the extent the signal is successful, it will shift the traffic bottleneck to the signal at Mass. Ave. This will encourage cut-through traffic in the Hardy School neighborhood between Lake St. and the Alewife Brook.

Another criticism is that to the extent that the signal speeds traffic, the result will draw more traffic off of Route 2 and elsewhere.

Even proponents agree, at one point estimating an additional 200 rush-hour cars during the peak hour alone. However, they say the reconfigured road will be able to handle the greater traffic volume.

As a commuter who frequently runs the Lake Street gantlet, I would love to cut time off of that stretch of road.

I suspect, however, that this plan won’t shorten the trip by much.

The Town is right to fund this through the property tax rather than a state grants program for bicycle, pedestrian, and bus mobility. If we want this, we should be willing to pay for it.

I regret that we missed out on two rounds of Complete Streets grants, but there is no guarantee our other projects would have qualified.

Cyclist crossing Lake St. on the Minuteman path.

The Minuteman and Lake St. in a less-congested hour. View is north. PHOTO: PHIL GOFF


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4 comments so far

  1. MarkK on

    Idiotic on so many levels. Firstly, as much of the cost as possible needs to come from CPA taxes. The Minuteman qualifies as a recreational resource and that part of the project should all come from CPA money. Then with a smaller leftover project, it should have been pitched to the state. Who are the idiots working for our Town who didn’t do this?

    Second, three quarters of a million dollars is a hefty burden just because cyclists don’t obey stop signs and other road laws. I’d rather that sum pay for police to work at the intersection every workday during major commute hours and hand out new town violations that have to be paid unlike state bike tickets.

    • Adam Auster on

      Wrong side of the bed yesterday, Mark? The Town did pitch it to the state. Twice.

      I would say that bad behavior by motorists and others at this crossing has co-evolved. But if the signal will solve the problem, the question of who started it is purely theological.

      • MarkK on

        Sorry, I forgot to blame drivers too. The ones who stop and yield to a cyclist or two while delaying a line of drivers behind them. They don’t think of anyone behind them, just what’s in front of them and making themselves feel like they are a good person, all while doing more harm than good. Cyclists aren’t producing excess CO2 while waiting, while those delayed behind are.

        • Adam Auster on

          That’s the spirit! A pox on everyone’s houses.

          What I see at that intersection is drivers on their phones, who slow down simply because they are not paying enough attention to evaluate whether they need to.

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