Suburban Complete Streets

Arlington

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Mass Ave in East Arlington will be reconstructed from the Cambridge line (at Alewife Brook) westward and "up hill" until Pond Street (just short of Arlington Center), starting this week (June 2, 2014).

The Town of Arlington's Project Page includes an enormous 52mb PDF of the construction drawings.

First studied in 2005 (.PDF), this has been in active planning since 2008, and overlapped with the MBTA's Key Bus Project study of the 77 in East Arlington and its stops (which began in 2009 as a stimulus project). Both projects (Road reconstruction and 77's Key Bus) got delayed in order to synch with each other, and, meanwhile, the car lobby used the delay to claw back a lane for themselves.

It had exactly the sort of cars-vs-others fight that you'd expect, but will represent an advance for most non-car modes, though not quite a "complete streets" victory.

Quick History:

- Arlington MA is a happy victim of the Minuteman Bikeway's success: too many cyclists of too-broad a spectrum cannot safely mix on the path. High-speed "commuters" have not mixed will with the random-direction trikes and strolling groups, and so there's a big demand for safer "experienced cyclist" mixing onto Mass Ave. My sense is that everyone agreed that taking the commuter-cyclists off the Bikeway and putting them on Mass Ave bike lanes starting at Arlington Center would be good for everyone, except the few crazy cars who appreciated East Arlington's utter lack of lane markings. Recently, new boardwalks allow a Mass Ave Cyclist to "cut back" to the Alewife T, if that is their destination, and it is also a decent bike ride to intercept the path at the N.Cambridge Trolleybus garage or go all the way to Porter/Harvard Sq.

- In this section of Mass Ave, the pavement is about "two and half" lanes wide in each direction--because it originally had trolley lanes. It has always seemed that when they pulled up the trolley tracks there was no consensus on how the "extra" space should be used and so lane markings were never painted (having talked to old-timers). In general, Mass Ave has the feel of the 1950s autos-beat-streetcar / too-wide-to-walk-across / strip-retail-on-streetfront.

- The Engineers proposed one full car travel lane and one bike lane in each direction, with generous left turn lanes, right turn lanes, pedestrian bump-outs, island refuges, and bus berths, which made the bike, ped, and bus riders happy. They cited Somerville's Somerville Ave as a comparable design (which I think works great).

- But Arlington is just a little too suburban for something that works in Somerville: car users freaked and demanded two "full" car lanes in each direction (campaigning for "4-lane Mass Ave").

- Starting in 2009 as part of the "Key Bus Routes" initiative MBTA proposed (separate, later project) stop consolidation with little net parking change, but bigger (longer) berths. (although, in East Arlington, no stops were lost)

- The political fight over lanes was essentially a stalemate, pitting the pro-bike Selectmen (backed by the "activist" citizens) against "the masses" (to whom the loss of a car lane seemed like it was bad for the car parts of their lives). In April 2013, the Vote Yes 4 Lanes faction won a non-binding referrendum 4,334 to 4,097 (Disclosure: I favored the original plan and oppose 4-car lanes, but had moved to West Medford)

-Ultimately, everyone got half a loaf: 2 travel lanes "inbound" and 1 travel lane outbound. I recognize this as good politics and bad engineering and accept it as the cost of moving ahead.
 
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choo

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^Thanks for the summary. so sounds like just a regular bike lane and not a half-cycle track with some protective buffer, right?
 

Matthew

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Good read. Shame about the compromise. In addition, I hope that Cambridge gets some motivation to fix their part of Mass Ave. It's pretty crummy.
 

davem

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Thanks for the great summery Arlington. It's a shame they aren't taking the opportunity to install cycle tracks, it's certainly wide enough there for it. But, even for car users that section of Mass Ave sucks, so anything is an improvement.

Now where's Mark024#whatever to complain.
 

Arlington

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^Thanks for the summary. so sounds like just a regular bike lane and not a half-cycle track with some protective buffer, right?
Yes, that's my understanding from reading the drawings--it is a "regular" bike lane of the sort where cyclists will have to ride in its leftmost 12" for fear of being doored.

Even back in 2009, for the "one lane with turn aids" concept the "surplus" width was not devoted to shaping a cycle track but rather devoted to median islands (that "set up"/punctuated the left-turn lanes and provided a few pedestrian refuges).

They basically restored the second lane eastbound by combining eastbound's left turn lanes, the median, and westbound's left turn lanes.
 
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BostonUrbEx

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Thanks for the great summery Arlington. It's a shame they aren't taking the opportunity to install cycle tracks, it's certainly wide enough there for it. But, even for car users that section of Mass Ave sucks, so anything is an improvement.

Now where's Mark024#whatever to complain.
Ha, wondering the same!


My only concern is thus: why two inbound lanes and one outbound? When making decisions like this, my thought process is always about evacuation scenarios. Why not two outbound and one inbound, so if anything happens where any sort of evacuation (be it by peoples own will, at the urging of officials, or mandatory) there should always be the ability to have extra outbound capacity.
 

fattony

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Ha, wondering the same!


My only concern is thus: why two inbound lanes and one outbound? When making decisions like this, my thought process is always about evacuation scenarios. Why not two outbound and one inbound, so if anything happens where any sort of evacuation (be it by peoples own will, at the urging of officials, or mandatory) there should always be the ability to have extra outbound capacity.
Maybe the morning rush is more temporally concentrated? I think it usually is, no? Longfellow Bridge will have 2 inbound and 1 outbound lane also, for what that is worth.
 

Matthew

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If there is ever an evacuation, the streets will be so hopelessly crowded that people will abandon their cars in place. Automobiles don't work so well for the purpose of moving large numbers of people in the same direction. I mean, look, our road network fails at it twice a day and that's without everyone trying to drive at the same time!
 

lexicon506

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My only concern is thus: why two inbound lanes and one outbound? When making decisions like this, my thought process is always about evacuation scenarios. Why not two outbound and one inbound, so if anything happens where any sort of evacuation (be it by peoples own will, at the urging of officials, or mandatory) there should always be the ability to have extra outbound capacity.
Lanes are just lines on the pavement. If there is ever a mandatory evacuation, officials can easily declare all lanes outbound and call it a day.
 

Arlington

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Maybe the morning rush is more temporally concentrated? I think it usually is, no? Longfellow Bridge will have 2 inbound and 1 outbound lane also, for what that is worth.
Sounds right, particularly as a general principle that "most everyone" starts their day between 8am and 9am with an "inbound" trip from less-dense to more-dense uses, so we'd expect a clear flow, in this case from places "Like Lexington" to places "Like Cambridge"

The AM get-to-work/school/daycare peak is bigger/sharper because everyone's "start" leg is targeted at a fairly narrow "arrival window", while the "return home" is spread out across a broader spectrum of both dismissal times and target-return-home times. Dismissal times range from school dismissal (3-ish) to extra-curriculars (4-ish), work dismissal (5 or 6ish), and then the final "return" leg can be further delayed by the gym, errands, and "staying late" at the office.

I have a faint memory that they had Arlington-specific traffic counts (in the 2005 consultant's report) to confirm the general rule applied on Mass Ave in Arlington.
 

cden4

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The reason why people asked for two lanes inbound is because they were concerned about traffic backing up from the Mass Ave/Route 16 intersection, since that is the biggest bottleneck in the entire corridor.

Personally, I think the two inbound lanes are overkill and actually makes the design less safe. Outbound motorists turning left lost a lot of their turn lanes, which now encourages people to swing around them in the bike lane. And a turning car now has two cross two lanes of oncoming traffic rather than just one. For the inbound motorists, they lost their turn lanes too, so the left lane will really just become a de-facto turn lane (and likely also a high-speed passing lane). The town really caved in to the traffic fear-mongering and it's really disappointing.
 

Matthew

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Sounds like they should have done the center-lane road diet-style design.
 

pixelsand8

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- Arlington MA is a happy victim of the Minuteman Bikeway's success: too many cyclists of too-broad a spectrum cannot safely mix on the path. High-speed "commuters" have not mixed will with the random-direction trikes and strolling groups, and so there's a big demand for safer "experienced cyclist" mixing onto Mass Ave. My sense is that everyone agreed that taking the commuter-cyclists off the Bikeway and putting them on Mass Ave bike lanes starting at Arlington Center would be good for everyone, except the few crazy cars who appreciated East Arlington's utter lack of lane markings. Recently, new boardwalks allow a Mass Ave Cyclist to "cut back" to the Alewife T, if that is their destination, and it is also a decent bike ride to intercept the path at the N.Cambridge Trolleybus garage or go all the way to Porter/Harvard Sq.
Well I hope that these "experienced cyclists" don't turn the stretch between Mass Ave and the boardwalks into some kind of "superhighway" if it ends up getting paved. Personally I like that stretch the way it is and hope it stays unpaved - it's got a nice rustic rural feel that is scarce this close to the city. There is no reason cyclists can't take adjacent Lafayette or some other residential street to connect up with Alewife.

In terms of being a route to the Carhouse/Porter/Harvard Square, that entire stretch of Mass Ave is a nightmare for cyclists and needs huge improvements - ideally a cycle track and maybe less on street parking, at least to the Carhouse. It's in Cambridge though and this project is in Arlington.
 

fatnoah

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I lived in East Arlington for several years and the biggest problem I saw was that the road had no lane markings. Sometimes drivers would treat the road as one lane, much to the annoyance of other drivers. Lack of turn lanes also led to lots of dodging and weaving. Crossing the street to get to Dagg's was always a little hair-raising.

I think dedicated turn lanes and bike tracks would be better than multiple travel lanes, but it's a substantial improvement over what's there.
 

pixelsand8

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I lived in East Arlington for several years and the biggest problem I saw was that the road had no lane markings. Sometimes drivers would treat the road as one lane, much to the annoyance of other drivers. Lack of turn lanes also led to lots of dodging and weaving. Crossing the street to get to Dagg's was always a little hair-raising.

I think dedicated turn lanes and bike tracks would be better than multiple travel lanes, but it's a substantial improvement over what's there.
The biggest problem with that road are the crosswalks. They are hazard especially given the proximity to an elderly disabled public housing complex (incidentally the pathetic walk signals at the Mass Ave / Rte 16 intersection are a similar hazard);

http://www.cambridgeday.com/2014/01...osswalk-was-cantabrigian-from-public-housing/

This isn't uncommon, I one time was rear ended by another car when I stopped for a pedestrian in one of these crosswalks (probably the same one). He was going too fast but I did stop fairly quick for the ped - the wideness and flatness of the street makes people waiting to cross hard to see, even in daylight.
 

Arlington

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The reason why people asked for two lanes inbound is because they were concerned about traffic backing up from the Mass Ave/Route 16 intersection, since that is the biggest bottleneck in the entire corridor.
This is consistent with the idea that the morning rush is more sharply peaked. Sadly the two lanes are likely to induce demand, not satisfy it. Better would have been to give a dedicated bus-and-bike lane.
Personally, I think the two inbound lanes are overkill and actually makes the design less safe. Outbound motorists turning left lost a lot of their turn lanes, which now encourages people to swing around them in the bike lane. And a turning car now has two cross two lanes of oncoming traffic rather than just one. For the inbound motorists, they lost their turn lanes too, so the left lane will really just become a de-facto turn lane (and likely also a high-speed passing lane). The town really caved in to the traffic fear-mongering and it's really disappointing.
You, I, and the engineers agree. 1 thru lane with ample turn lanes would have been better for exactly the reasons you cite.
 

cden4

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This is what I don't understand about local politics. Officials and other city staff have no backbone when it comes to doing the right thing. They will consciously make a plan worse in order to appease people who have irrational fears.

I see this with bike lanes and cycle tracks. The "neighbors" are afraid of traffic back ups, so the people in charge of the project will give cars more (often not needed) space in some areas while making the bike lane or cycle track start and stop, thereby defeating much of the purpose of the bike lane or cycle track. It's infuriating.
 

Matthew

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It's incredibly infuriating.

I find that it's usually just relatively few people that make most of the noise that politicians hear. They're only human, after all. Best thing you can do is speak up, get to know your electeds and be one of those voices.
 

Arlington

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I'm renaming this thread to track any complete streets outside of Boston. There's been the Arlington version (above), and similar Toole Design initiatives in Medford (e.g. bulb-outs and crosswalks in West Medford) & Winchester (that I hope to come back to).

The immediate inspiration was the redo of the traditionally-awful stretch of Route 28 through Reading:



 
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