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.