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70 hear options to address mix of vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians at Center

Proposals aim to connect bikeway

Plans to connect the Minuteman Bikeway, divided at Arlington Center since the path opened in 1992, drew a largely supportive yet sometimes critical reception from about 70 in Town Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 10.

Of the five options to improve safety for motorists, cyclist and pedestrians presented by Howard Stein-Hudson of Boston, developed for the town under a state-administered federal grant of $290,000, many of those commenting said they liked options three through five while adding questions about particulars. One aspect that a number question involves potentially dangerous sight lines of drivers who exit the Cambridge Savings Bank.

See all five options here >> (large .PDF)

John Allen's comments | Word on the Street here | Notes from Howard-Stein

Key proposed changes in options three through five include use of a track -- called a "crossbike" -- dedicated to cyclists cutting diagonally across Mass. Ave. from the corner near the Uncle Sam statue to the one at Cambridge Savings. The track would also run beside the sidewalk from where the path now stops at Mystic Street and continue along Mass. Ave. to Swan Place, where it connects to the path toward Alewife.

This track would have its own signal allowing traffic to cross during the existing 12-second right- or left-turn phase (Mass. Ave. westbound right onto Mystic, Pleasant northbound left onto Mass. Ave.).

The other options propose routes without the diagonal track. Commenters suggested still other routes, including use of Water and Mill streets.

The project, which could get underway in 2013 and would involve a public hearing, is separate from the Mass. Ave. redesign in East Arlington. At least one critic of the latter project, Mark Kaepplein addressed questions about the Center proposals.

"I see nice pictures," he said. "Where is the data?"

He was referring to information about vehicle and pedestrian safety. Laura Wiener, a member of the town planning department, said the proposed changes to the major intersection were spurred after concerns about safety. In addition, in June 2010, selectmen asked for longer-term solutions after they discussed bicyclists riding on the sidewalks there, violating a town bylaw.

5 options summarized

Keri Pyke, director of transportation planning for Howard Stein-Hudson, summarized the five options (see listing below). Mike Trembley, transportation planner, took notes, which are to be posted on the town's website soon.

Asked by a member of the audience whether a dedicated diagonal track to connect a divided bikeway has been used elsewhere in the United State, Pyke said she did not know.

Rachael Stark, representing Walking in Arlington, a group that advocates for pedestrians, raised concern about the sidewalk along Mystic as well as the potential danger of the cars emerging from Cambridge Savings between parked vehicles.

Deb Douglas was among those in the audience asking about extending the bikeway along Water Street.

Another commenter asked whether plans included mobility for inline skaters, who take up more room than cyclists.

Joseph A. Curro Jr., who is a member of the School Committee and is running for selectman, emphasized the importance of addressing the needs of pedestrians, as well as bicyclists and motorists. He noted the importance of the median as a pedestrian refuge, but also pointed out that only option 3 included a crosswalk at Swan.

He asked if there was a particular reason that this wasn't included in other options, asserting that this would help to better unify the two sides of Mass. Ave. and cut down on dangerous jaywalking by people who do not want to walk the extra block to Pleasant/Mystic or Medford Street.

Mark Streitfeld, a Precinct 20 Town Meeting member, addressed options that would remove parking, noting that it is at a premium in the Center.

Glenn Koenig, a former Town Meeting member and long active in cable TV and video, spoke strongly urging planners to deal with the danger at Cambridge Savings where a sign says "exit the bank."

Kaepplein noted the $290,000 grant is aimed at lessening pollution. He said that might be done via "improved efficiencies" rather than through a redesign aimed at connecting the bikeway.

A Watertown cyclist who said she suffered a concussion in a collision with a car that had turned in front of her on Pleasant Street urged planners to route cyclists around the intersection.

Option 6 urged

Adam Auster, a Precinct 3 Town Meeting member who cycles to work on Water Street, asked engineers to consider a sixth option aimed at cyclists though the intersection in traffic. It would emphasize a safe left turn onto Mass. Ave. from Swan Place, as some of the options do, and onto Mass. Ave. from Water or right from the path onto Mystic, as none do.

"I do not know that such a plan would be best, but it might be," he wrote in an email Jan. 12.

He added that he wished he had said at the meeting: that "the option with the signalized crossing at Swan place is quite good, and I think would be very popular. It would be the greatest new improvement for pedestrians in the whole plan."

An audience member from Somerville said the 110-second light cycle was too long, encouraging "people to do other this"; that is, become impatient and break the law.

Laurence O. McKinnon, a Precinct 7 Town Meeting member long active in supporting Uncle Sam activities, thanked those involved for their beautiful presentation.

Wiener said planners and engineers will review public comments and those received via email (send to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), choose the best option and then pursue a full design. The project is in the state's transportation-improvement program for 2013, which means it has to be started or at least advertised for bid by Sept. 30, 2013.

Changes common to all options

The town's explanation of the project dated Nov. 21, 2012, says the five options build on each other, and build in complexity. Here are changes included in all the options (key to letters: P=Pedestrian Improvement; B=Bicycle Improvement; V=Vehicle Driving Improvement):

1. Extend bikeway along the sidewalk edge of Uncle Sam Park, for biking in both directions (P, B, V).

2. Elongated left turn lane on Mystic approaching Mass. Ave, to move more drivers through the intersection during each light cycle (V).

3. Curb extensions at Jefferson Cutter House and UU Church corners, to shorten crossing distance and time for pedestrians (P).

4. Signal timing adjustments at 3 signals (Chestnut and Mystic, Mystic and Mass. Ave., Mass. Ave and Medford Street).

5. Modernization of signal equipment at Mass/Rte. 60 (P,B,V).

6. Accessible ramps at Swan Place (P, B).

Variations among options

Option 1, Shared Lanes (13')

1. Shared bike and vehicle lane (13') in both directions (B, P)

2. 1b Adds signal at Swan

Option 2, Bike Lanes

1. Bike Lane (5') on both sides (B, P, V)

2. Reduced median to accommodate bike lane width (B)

Option 3, Adds Crossbike (diagonal crossing lane)

1. Bike lanes, as above (B, P, V)

2. Crossbike diagonal crossing from Uncle Sam Park to Cambridge Savings Bank (B)

3. Signal Modifications for Crossbike (B)

4. Median removed to accommodate bike lanes (B)

Option 4, Cycle Track with Parking

1. Crossbike, as above (B)

2. Two way cycle track next to Cambridge Savings Bank, between parking and sidewalk

3. Median removed (B)

4. Signal modifications for crossbike (B)

Option 5, Cycle Track without Parking

1. Crossbike, as above (B)

2. Two way cycle track next to Cambridge Savings Bank, in current parking lane (B)

3. Parking removed (B)

4. Median retained (V)

This story was published Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012, and updated three times therafter.

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