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Safe passage to Needham

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.

Central Ave. bridge to Needham closing for repairs in 2016

posted Apr 16, 2015, 7:12 AM by Jim Lerner

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

Needham/Newton Rail Right-of-Way Transportation Improvement

posted May 25, 2013, 3:43 PM by Jim Lerner

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:

27-dock linear stations (71' long by 6' wide footprint with bicycles docked).
This comes with 14 bicycles, software, solar mast, etc.

Equipment cost: ~$64k
Operations cost per station per year: ~$24k
Based on a 3-year standard contract to run two 27-dock stations:
Total contract cost would be ~$272k.

Another scenario might be to purchase 3 stations and place one at Eliot and another at Newton Highlands T stops. The third would need to be a larger capacity station in the industrial park to accommodate demand. Assume ~$7200 to add capacity to the station above at a rate of 2bikes/4docks.

2 stations with 23 docks/11 bikes = ~$56k x 2 = $112k
1 station with 35 docks/18 bikes - ~$80k
Operations cost $24k x 3 stations x 3 years = $216k
Total contract cost would be $328k

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.

Upper Falls Greenway trail map
Map of the Upper Falls Greenway showing Neighboring Trails
(Including proposed spur extension to the New England Business Center)

Needham Bikes requests involvement of Needham officials

posted Nov 27, 2012, 9:58 AM by Jim Lerner

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,

Tad Staley

cc: Needham Bikes Board
John Bulian
Chris Dollase
Gary Levine
Kurt Mullen
Aaron Pressman
Bill Pryor
Bob Rooney
Peter Zheutlin

MassDOT response to letter

posted Nov 27, 2012, 9:47 AM by Jim Lerner   [ updated Nov 27, 2012, 9:56 AM ]

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

posted Nov 27, 2012, 9:41 AM by Jim Lerner

To: Richard Davey, Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation

Cc: Frank DePaola, MassDOT Administrator Highway Division
     Setti Warren, Newton Mayor
     Lawrence Cash & Thomas Currier, MassDOT Project Mgrs
     Robert Rooney, Newton COO
     Catherine Cagle, MassDOT Mgr, Sustainable Transportation
     Jerry Wasserman, Needham Selectman
     Josh Lehman, MassDOT Bicycle & Pedestrian Coordinator
     Daniel Matthews, Needham Selectman
     Cynthia Creem, State Senator, Newton
     John Bulian, Needham Selectman
     Ruth Balser, State Representative, Newton
     Maurice Handel, Needham Selectman
     Richard Ross, State Senator, Needham
     Matthew Borrelli, Needham Selectman
     Denise Garlick, State Representative, Needham
     Kate Fitzpatrick, Needham Town Mgr

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
• Lack of any bicycle lanes on the approaches to both Highland Ave and Needham St
• Lack of traffic control for new high-speed highway ramps on heavily-bicycled Kendrick St
• Lack of safe sightlines at high speed highway ramps without straight-through bicycle lanes

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
Tad Staley, President, Needham Bikes on behalf of the board of the Needham Bikes Bicycle Advocacy Organization
Helen Rittenberg, President, Bike Newton
Andreae Downs, Chair, Newton Transportation Advisory Group
Lois Levin, Newton Bicycle Coordinator
Alicia Bowman, Newton Pedestrian Coordinator

Recommendations from Bicycle and Pedestrian Advocates to MassDOT

posted Nov 27, 2012, 9:33 AM by Jim Lerner

Safe Bicycle and Pedestrian Passage on Reconstructed Bridges and Roadways Between Newton and Needham

Recommendations from Bicycle and Pedestrian Advocates to MassDOT

Meeting Notes – Newton City Hall, February 2, 2012

George Kirby, Newton Bicycle/Pedestrian Task Force

Presenting Engineers for MassDOT:

    Alan Cloutier of FST on the Highland Ave and Needham St corridor design
    Darren Conboy of Jacobs on the Highland Ave and Kendrick St Bridge designs


Bicycle and pedestrian advocates and city and town engineers from Newton and Needham met to understand MassDOT design plans for local bridges and roadways to be reconstructed as part of the Route 128 Add-a-Lane project. Discussions focused on the technical aspects of ensuring bicycle and pedestrian safety, including a complete picture of the uncoordinated impacts of several independent construction projects. The focus of discussions included:

• Ensuring the continuity of full bicycle accommodations on connecting roadways and bridges between Newton and Needham

• Mitigating the negative effects of high speed vehicles merging across bicycle lanes at highway interchanges

• Safety impact on current bicycle routes of adding new highway ramps to Kendrick Street

The criticisms and suggestions provided by those present and detailed below included both technical modifications to the proposed designs as well as new design alternatives. These were contributed by bicycle and pedestrian advocates who were both passionate and eloquent, since their safety and their lives are literally on the line.

Proposed Design Modifications for Highland Avenue and Bridges:

• The Charles River bridge should include one traffic lane and a bike lane each direction.  A separate pedestrian bridge will not serve both sides of the street, plus it's not easy for cyclists to use.

• Even higher merging traffic speeds than at present will be encouraged by the new three travel lane configuration on the bridge over Route 128, making cycling and walking across even more difficult than at present. Currently, cyclists consider that bridge dangerous.

• Sightlines at highway entrance ramps prevent motorists from seeing cyclists and pedestrians using the proposed crosswalk configurations. Motorists will surely accelerate onto the ramps and hit crosswalk users. Straight-through bicycle lanes would be preferable at highway entrance ramps.

• The four-travel-lane plus one-turning lane configuration on Highland Avenue does not allow for any bicycle lanes at all. Since it interrupts safe bicycle travel, this section makes the entire Newton-Needham corridor inhospitable to cyclists despite adding bicycle lanes to Needham Street. The net result is not useable for average cyclists.

• Remove the turning lane and implement bicycle lanes on both sides of Highland Avenue.

• Obtain more space for bicycle lanes by reducing sidewalks to five foot width, but place them further away from the curbs.

• The four-travel-lane configuration on Winchester Street similarly does not allow for any bicycle lanes at all. Since it interrupts safe bicycle travel, this section also makes the entire Newton-Needham corridor inhospitable to cyclists despite adding bicycle lanes to Needham Street. Furthermore, it cuts off access to Needham Street bicycle lanes even from the rest of Newton with no safe passage from Route 9 south. The net result is not useable for average cyclists.

Winchester Street will also need wide sidewalks and good pedestrian accommodations to connect Needham Street with the rest of Newton north of Route 9. 

New Design Alternatives for Highland Avenue and Bridges:

Failure of imagination has constrained the existing design proposals. Considering the hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent on streamlining traffic flow in these projects, more should be devoted to developing better bicycle and pedestrian accommodations as a preferred mode of transportation growth.

Alternative bicycle/pedestrian bridges over the Charles River and Route 128 via the abandoned nearby railroad corridor would be a useful and safe alternative to the dangerous Highland Avenue bridge and lack of connecting bicycle lanes.

New bicycle/pedestrian bridges over Route 128 that swoop widely around the interchange on either side of Highland Avenue would avoid the need to cross dangerous highway ramps.

Proposed Design Modifications for Kendrick Street bridge:

Kendrick Street is currently the preferred bicycle corridor between Newton and Needham, with nearly all riders avoiding the dangerous Highland Avenue bridge over Route 128.

Proposed new highway entrance and exit ramps are much more dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians compared to the present, and also compared to the previous interchange design that incorporated two sets of stoplights to moderate traffic flow.

Stoplights must be restored to the entire interchange design, and incorporate advanced signal light timing to resolve traffic flow issues.

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