Archive for the ‘cut-through traffic’ Tag

Hidden winners and losers in the Lake Street signal plan

Some who live on or near the rush-hour-congested Lake St. corridor look to the proposed signal at the Minuteman Path for some traffic relief.

Unfortunately, the opposite result seems likely: heavier traffic, and more cut-throughs.

Cyclists stopped at red 

Welcome to the topsy-turvy, counter-intuitive world of traffic engineering. Perhaps orbital mechanics, where astronauts speed up in order to slow down, is as confounding to common sense.

Below is my list of likely winners and losers under this plan, which has its last public hearing next Tuesday.
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Many stories in fire hose of Mass. Ave. public record

Here’s what one Grafton Street resident told the Massachusetts Department of Transportation about crossing Mass Ave.:

student_crosswalk_sign_2I would like to tell you a true story of crossing that street with my son when he was nine, and two other boys as I was taking them to the Hardy School in the morning.

I am an extremely safety conscious person and yet, at the other end, as we were approaching Sabatino’s, it just so happened that one of the three boys who was with me was hit by a car.
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My slightly cynical crystal ball

Concentrate and ask again

Though I am hardly shy with my opinions, the focus here has been reporting on news of the Mass. Ave. projects and what others are saying and doing.

I depart from that for this post to make some outright predictions.

First, I think the state will approve the project, which will be built very much along the lines of the plan submitted. (My magic 8-ball is still cloudy about when.)

Second, Mass Ave. will neither become a paradise nor a parking lot. With a few important exceptions, the effect of the new design on traffic and safety will be small — for good and for ill. Here’s why.

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Cut-through traffic and other paradoxes

So far, concerns about cut-through traffic and Mass. Ave. have focused on fears that changes in the design of the street, and especially the new traffic signal at Bates Road, will cause outbound drivers to detour through side streets.

I took a look at this last year. Ultimately, it is not credible that drivers would take a time-consuming detour that includes two left turns on Broadway in order to avoid a 40-second delay (max) at a stoplight.

However, this whole discussion has ignored the other cut-through traffic, namely drivers who use side streets to get to Mass. Ave., for instance on the way to Lake Street and Route 2.

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Design evolves, at the margins

The latest iteration of plans for Mass. Ave. in East Arlington would, like previous version, introduce bicycle lanes and a three-lane configuration for much of the length of the street.

The drawings, made available to the public at a meeting of Arlington’s Mass. Ave. Review Committee at the Senior Center on August 4, largely tinker at the margins of the design. They are still drafts labeled “for discussion.”

But compared to the plans unveiled at the community meeting last June, the new version sports narrower travel lanes for cars, wider sidewalks in the business district, and a 3-foot flush buffer zone between bicycles and cars on the westbound side of the street.

Not restored in the latest version is a five-foot traversable median, flush with the street, that would provide a refuge for pedestrians.
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Public views Mass. Ave. plans

About 200 Arlington residents and fellow travelers came to Town Hall last night for the seventh public hearing on much-delayed plans to refurbish Mass. Ave, which is still slated for 2012.

It was the first opportunity for the public to question the consulting engineers about the plan since April of 2009. The Board of Selectmen submitted the plans for State review last August.

New drawings were on display at the meeting

New drawings were on display at the meeting

Most of the basic elements of the plan are unchanged: the lane configuration, including bicycle lanes, new pedestrian crossings, and traffic signals at Teel/Thorndike, Lake, Bates/Marion, and Linwood/Foster.

As described last week, however, the latest drawings remove a proposed traversable median from  much of Mass. Ave., widen traffic lanes, and reduce or eliminate proposed sidewalk widening in the business district around the Capitol Theater.

One sidewalk would even be narrowed in one place to accommodate the wider traffic lanes.

The engineers made these and other changes in response to criticism of the 2009 version made earlier this year by Mass. Highway District 4.

Comments and questions following a presentation by Rick Azzalina of Fay Spofford & Thorndike were wide-ranging. Azzalina repeatedly described the design as “a work in progress” that could be influenced by public comments.

However, his responses to comments mostly explained why particular changes were unlikely or inexpedient.

Azzalina said the plan is to resubmit the so-called 25% plans to Mass. Highway next month, for a formal hearing in September paving the way (through many intermediate steps) to advertise the project in December of 2011.

My notes, incomplete and unofficial as usual, follow; my personal comments are in red.

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Cut-through traffic

Many are worried about the redesign’s potential to increase the number of cars leaving Mass. Ave for side streets.

The fear is that either the lane configuration or (especially) the placement of traffic lights will cause delays, causing drivers to seek alternate routes.

Are these fears realistic? It’s a hard issue to discuss because it’s so murky. As Laura Wiener, the senior town planner assigned to the project said (at the June 16 meeting of the Mass. Ave. Review Committee), the question entails personal choices that may not be rational or predictable, and therefore can’t be modeled or projected. (Not a direct quote by any means.)

Actually, based on some of the things I learned at the two committee meetings, I think she is wrong. It is possible to model all kinds of behaviors, rational or not. Here are two examples of how you could think about this problem in terms of Mass. Ave. Continue reading

Committee Sends Plans to Selectmen

Summary of the decision: The expanded 18-member committee overseeing the redesign of Mass. Ave. in East Arlington last night (June 24) voted to submit a basic design to the Board of Selectmen.

The plan features two eastbound lanes, one-and-a-half westbound lanes, dedicated bicycle lanes, and traffic signals at all existing locations and at Bates Road.

If the Selectmen submit this plan to Mass. Highway on behalf of the town, and the state highway agency approves it, this design will be the framework within which other design issues are worked out.

Meeting Notes: (to the best of my ability, and completely unofficial. My personal comments are in red.)

The meeting began with a presentation from John Michalak and Doug Prentiss, consultants retained by the town for this project, recapping their work and explaining their requirements, methods, and some of their conclusions. This was for the benefit of those of us recently appointed to the panel, the second of two meetings at which we newcomers essentially dominated the agenda with questions and comments. The main points follow after the break. Continue reading