There are many bikers in and around Newton who use the roadways to travel to Needham and points south and west. The three roads which cross the town border (and soon thereafter, Route 128) are Central Ave., Highland Ave., and Kendrick St. Highland Avenue is considered by most bicyclists far to dangerous to use safely due to the lack of bike accommodations, high speeds, heavy traffic volume, and highway ramps. Kendrick St. is very popular with bikers as a starting point for group rides and is a major commuting artery for bikers.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is currently finishing up the design phase of the Route 128 Add-a-lane project for the Needham portion. This project involves adding a fourth travel lane from Route 9 south, as well as modifying many entrance and exit ramps. As part of this project, they intend to remove and rebuild the crossings at Kendrick St, Highland Ave, and Route 9. In the case of Kendrick St, they propose to build a new interchange there with the goal of reducing traffic on Highland Ave and providing more direct access to the Needham and Wells Avenue office parks.
The current designs, in our opinion, will slightly improve safety at the Highland Ave. interchange, but grossly destroy the viability of safely crossing at Kendrick St. Despite a vocal presence at numerous MassDOT public presentations, letter writing campaigns by our elected officials, and private meetings, MassDOT has not budged in creating a safe passage along Kendrick St.
Safe passage to Needham
The Central Avenue bridge over the Charles River, connecting with Elliot St. in Newton Upper Falls, is scheduled to close to all traffic for repairs from July 2016 to December 2016. Traffic is expected to utilize either Route 9 or Highland Ave to cross into Needham. Pedestrians and bicyclists can use Echo Bridge (aqueduct) instead.
Here's the Newton Tab article with more details: http://newton.wickedlocal.com/article/20150331/NEWS/150339477
George Kirby, Newton Bicycle/Pedestrian Task Force
May 10, 2013
The Metropolitan Area Planning Council conducted a study of a proposed shuttle bus service utilizing the old railroad right-of-way(ROW) behind Needham Street in Newton to provide faster commuter access between the MBTA Green Line and the New England Business Center in Needham. The MAPC released their final report in March, 2013, available at http://www.mapc.org/needhamnewtonrail-right-way-transit-concept. Unfortunately, the study was of limited scope requested by the Town of Needham and the City of Newton, and did not address transportation alternatives that could further improve that commuting time and experience.
The study pointed out that such a privately operated shuttle bus already serves that route (as well as MBTA bus 59) via Needham Street. The concept of utilizing the ROW would be to reduce the travel time by escaping traffic congestion, but the study estimates only a 5 or 10 minute time saving would result. Congested roadway access is still required to reach the Newton Highlands MBTA station and the New England Business Center at both ends of the route. The average shuttle speed on the right-of-way is projected at only 15-20 mph, based on the need to share the narrow lane with pedestrians and bicyclists (the shuttle would run infrequently, only during rush hours). Furthermore, the study estimates that only a modest increase in business shuttle ridership would result, in spite of the considerable capital costs required to address the roadway and ROW access ramp needs.
An excellent transportation alternative to the proposed shuttle bus would provide Hubway bicycle sharing (http://www.thehubway.com/about ) via the planned Upper Falls Greenway, between the Green Line (either Newton Highlands or Elliot stations) and the New England Business Center.
Travel time via the point-to-point Hubway service which is available on-demand to riders would permit nearly equivalent trip times compared to the shuttle bus (which makes stops and would take an estimated 15 minutes) but without waiting for intermodal connections at the station. Deploying the Hubway system would deliver a net improvement to commuting times. Furthermore, ridership demand could be extensive given the safety of the Greenway without vehicular traffic and congestion.
By contrast, MAPC estimates for a feasibility study of the shuttle bus on the ROW would cost $200,000 to $300,000 in 2013 dollars. Instead, for that study price alone we could supply capital to implement infrastructure and fund operations of a Hubway system for three years per rough guidelines provided by Scott Mullen, General Manager of Hubway:
Furthermore, there exists potential for the Greenway to reach directly into the New England Business Center without requiring Hubway cyclists to mix with busy traffic on access roads. An ideal extension of the Greenway would utilize the old railroad spur that splits off the main line, crosses Needham Street, runs adjacent to Winchester Park, and crosses the Charles River via an existing unused railroad bridge at Christina Street (see the attached map). That bridge meets an existing bicycle/pedestrian pathway to Fourth Avenue within the Business Center. The old railroad spur is currently unobstructed, and traverses land owned by the adjacent industrial property holders. It could be converted along with the Greenway main line ROW using the same low-cost construction methods since the steel rails are still in place.
This proposal would deliver a ready-to-use and easily expandable Hubway route to safely serve New England Business Center commuters entirely via the Upper Falls Greenway by the time the Hubway system reaches Newton next year. The Greenway construction costs are covered, and the Hubway capital and operating costs are less than completing the shuttle bus study alone Commuting time between the Green Line and the Business Park would be reduced compared to the bus trip, along with reduced traffic congestion and lower carbon emissions from scheduling additional bus service.
Hubway users would also enjoy the benefits of a safe, easy, and enjoyable ride on the Greenway, plus cycling has been proven to increase workers level of awareness in the morning and benefit their cardiovascular health.
Map of the Upper Falls Greenway showing Neighboring Trails
(Including proposed spur extension to the New England Business Center)
Dear Needham Officials -
As you probably know, Needham Bikes is a private non-profit organization that since 2008 has been working on improving bicycle safety and accommodations around Needham. With great support from town officials, including Park & Rec, DPW and the Board of Selectmen, we have been able to add safe biking signage around the town to improve visibility for cyclists and raise awareness of cycling as the kind of healthy and community-oriented activity that helps make Needham a great place to live.
We have held annual Needham Bikes Fair each spring to build this spirit, offering family fun rides (see image below), bicycle tune-up workshops and a used bicycle exchange. Needham is indeed a marvelous place for bicycling, with hundreds of participants visible every day on our streets, and Needham Bikes is working to make a good thing even better.
At this time, we would like to raise to your attention a concern about the bicycling environment in Needham, particularly as it relates to safe routes - for bicycles as well as pedestrians - between Needham and Newton. There are really only three viable routes between Needham and Newton - Central Ave, Highland Ave and Kendrick St. - but none offers a clean, open and inviting route for non-motorized travelers.
The Rt128 Add-a-Lane project will expand the crossings over the highway on Highland and Kendrick, and MassDOR engineers have designed bike lanes on each street. However, because of high-speed traffic entering and exiting the highway on these bridges, we feel that the passage will become less safe, in spite of the bicycle lanes.
Needham Bikes has a vision in which more open, clean and safe passage between Needham and Newton will provide access to resources like Cutler Park and the Charles River, where shopping on Needham St. can be a less congested experience, where commuting to Newton and further in-town can be safer and more appealing. We have worked with bicycle and pedestrian advocates in Newton to escalate our concerns about the future multi-modal transportation routes between the two municipalities.
What we hope for is a re-evalution of the current designs, in a way that will enable more creativity than the standard AASHTO Highway Construction Guidelines allow. We are hoping for a Complete Streets perspective within which to view the transportation corridors, and we hope to get support and advocacy for this cause from as many local officials as possible.
We have authored a letter to Richard Davey, Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation, asking his attention on this matter. That letter is attached to this email. We would like to follow up this initiative by hosting a public hearing in Needham as soon as convenient this fall, where supportive officials can engage with MassDOT project personnel to raise our concerns and discuss alternatives.
If you have any questions or concerns about this initiative, please let me know or connect with a member of the Needham Bikes Board (listed below, and copied on this email). We will follow up with suggested dates and agenda for a prospective public hearing.
Thank you for your time and attention on this matter,
On behalf of Needham Bikes,
cc: Needham Bikes Board
Please excuse Google Documents' erroneous attempt to recognize text on the PDF image. Just skip down when you see repetitive text...
Letter to MassDOT: Safe Bicycle and Pedestrian Passage on Bridges and Roadways between Newton and Needham
To: Richard Davey, Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation
Subject: Safe Bicycle and Pedestrian Passage on Bridges and Roadways between Newton and Needham
Honorable Secretary Davey,
The MassDOT holds key responsibility for advancing the design of our state bridges and roadways to ensure their safety and functionality for all users. Your new “Green DOT” initiative is an integral part of that mandate to advance bicycle safety on new and redesigned facilities. The “Complete Streets” philosophy adopted by the Commonwealth provides guidance toward incorporating bicycle and pedestrian accommodations into the designs.
We are deeply concerned that two of the MassDOT projects for reconstructing bridges and roadways between Newton and Needham now in advanced stages of design are not incorporating these approaches! The Kendrick and Highland Avenue Bridges over Route 128 (Project #603711) and Highland Ave/Needham Street (Project #606635) have not incorporated the consensus recommendations conveyed by all of the concerned bicycle and pedestrian advocates in Newton and Needham directly to your project managers and engineers six months ago (attached). The most critical safety issues continue to include:
• Lack of coordination and continuity of bicycle accommodations between the two projects
Unless the designs are modified, these critical safety issues will continue to negatively impact bicyclists attempting to negotiate the roadways and bridges between our two communities for decades to come. As a result, the highway becomes even more of a geographical barrier between the communities instead of the projects providing a means to unite them. Furthermore, an important opportunity to advance the state’s goals of encouraging alternative transportation to reduce our carbon footprint will have been needlessly squandered.
We urge you to open a review of the bridge and roadway designs on these two projects with the attached specific recommendations and alternatives for safe bicycle and pedestrian accommodations in mind. The current state of design of the accommodations can only be characterized as inadequate and unsafe by all concerned. Considering the advanced stage of design on the bridge project, it is imperative that a fresh look be made immediately. Our safety and the vision of transportation between the municipalities for generations to come are at stake.
Thank you in advance for your attention and action in this important matter!
George Kirby, Chair, Newton Bicycle/Pedestrian Task Force