Plans to change out trees, improve private way also get thumbs-up

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The Select Board approved the final Mass. Ave./Appleton Street safety and accessibility project conceptual design at its Sept. 27 meeting. The vote was 3-1-0; John Hurd voted no, and  Steve DeCourcey was recused because his sister owns a neighboring business.

John Alessi, the town of Arlington’s senior transportation planner, spoke of the need to improve safety after the 2020 death of Charles “Charlie” Proctor, who was killed at this intersection while riding his bicycle.

“We looked at the corridor as a whole, and early feedback revealed a lack of crossings. With schools and churches in the vicinity, the town needs to prevent any more crashes from occurring and increase visibility for all users to improve safety. There are trade-offs between the key stakeholders – bicyclists and local business owners – and retaining street trees wherever possible,” Alessi said.

He noted that the design team had updated its plan based on feedback from local businesses, Ottoson Middle School students and Arlington’s Transportation Advisory Committee.

This new design, Alessi said:

    • improves access to side streets;
    • provides increased visibility along the corridor;
    • adds 11 additional parking spaces throughout the corridor;
    • adds four more crosswalks to increase safety for Ottoson students;
    • improves connection to the Minuteman Bikeway;
    • reopens Appleton Place to one-way traffic for access to St. Athanasius the Great Greek Orthodox Church;
    • incorporates driveways to businesses,
    • improves access to Lexington Hotel at 1211 Mass. Ave.;
    • ensures no risks of existing solar glare; and
    • incorporates bicycle parking.

To see all the design recommendations, including the replacement tree plan, click here>>

Town Manager Jim Feeney said that the root cause of many of Arlington’s challenges is the lack of space. “This design is a good compromise with limited space, yet maintains safety, and the town will present this plan next spring for Mass Works funding,” Feeney said.

Most board members favor proposal

Board Chair Eric Helmuth said, “I appreciate the complexity of this problem, as both a driver and a cyclist.” He emphasized the need to prioritize an infrastructure that provides more equality for different modes of transportation and said that having separate lanes is key to safety, noting also that people are realizing that walking and cycling are much more viable options than they’d previously thought.

Helmuth said that Ottoson teachers say many kids now bike to school and that everyone wants them to be as safe as possible. “Trade-offs are hard, but necessary.”

Board member Len Diggins said he’s fine with this design, and board member Diane Mahon said that she is “passionate about this project, and I want people to feel safe.”

However, Vice Chair John Hurd had some reservations. “I’m 90 percent in favor of this plan that would’ve saved Charlie Proctor’s life, but there are competing interests here. We could’ve addressed all the safety issues but kept some parking spots in front of businesses. I’m happy to see major safety improvements yet think there was a better way to address everyone’s needs in that area.”

Proctor’s relatives give support

More than a dozen people spoke in favor of the plan, either in person or via Zoom, including Thomas Proctor, Charlie’s brother, saying, “My brother was killed at this intersection. If these proposed changes had been in place three years ago, my brother would be alive today. I hope you can incorporate these critical safety changes.”

Sandra Voss, Charlie’s sister-in-law, said, “This is an amazing design, and it makes me think about how many deaths and injuries would be avoided.”

Alison Piasecki, Charlie’s partner at the time of the crash, said. “We biked through this intersection many times. The wider corridor makes it safer for many modes of transportation. More people will bike if it’s safer for them.”

Others also approve

Jennifer Litowski also strongly supported the proposal. “The Planning Department has done a remarkable job of balancing the needs of different users. It’s important to keep the bike lanes and crosswalks protected. It gives people a realistic option to driving with the historic climate crisis we’re now facing.”

Arlington High School "student and avid biker Petru Sofio voiced approval. “I travel through this intersection several times a day – biking, walking and driving. Bike lanes can transform this dangerous corridor. I want it to be a place I can be proud of, and not avoid due to safety concerns.”

Vincent Baudoin said, “If we make this place safe, people will want to be there. This will provide more customers for business, which benefits the town as a whole.”

Ottoson parent Laura Swan, who supports safe bike lanes, said, “I favor separating different modes of transportation for the safety of the students.”

Katherine Fleming also liked it. “There are very few ways to cross Mass. Ave. Ave in this area, and I appreciate the additional crosswalks for current and future residents.”

Town Meeting member Roderick Holland, who said he rides his bicycle throughout town, including through this intersection, said, “I’m impressed with the progress made in this version.”

Board approves related tree scheme

The board also agreed to remove and replace some trees associated with the proposed Mass. Ave./Appleton Street safety improvements. The vote was 4-0, as DeCourcey recused.

To see the betterment order and all supporting documentation, look here>>

In a memo to the town of Arlington, Stantec, a local engineering consulting firm, requested the removal of nine trees, four of which will be transplanted along the corridor. Stantec also proposed 20 new trees, for a total of 24 new and transplanted trees.

The memo further states, “The proposed tree species are selected from an approved list provided by Arlington’s tree warden. It will add to the diversity of trees along the corridor, create a visually more welcoming experience for the community and assist in reducing the urban heat island effect. Additionally, we are proposing the use of Silva Cells under pavement at new tree plantings to improve root growth and increase tree health and longevity.”

Alessi said the plan also provides rain gardens, reducing the amount of water run-off onto the streets.

Susan Stamps, Tree Committee member and YourArlington advisory board member but not speaking for either body, said, “I always hate to see any trees taken down but understand the need for it for safety reasons.” Stamps added that every removed tree will be missed for a long time because new trees take a long time to reach full size.

Helmuth said that these sorts of compromises are more difficult than the typical layperson may think. “We have to make difficult choices, and I hate to see trees go. If we can take advantage of new technologies, new trees can live longer.”

Oldham Road to be repaired -- mostly

The board voted unanimously to repair and improve Oldham Road, a private way not far from the Bishop School. After discussions with the abutters, Feeney proposed to reduce the segment of roadway impacted by the betterment because the road’s condition is better in other parts.

This reduced scope of work now is to be performed based on 11 households if they commit in writing to pay the required sum of money up front. EJ Paving, of Methuen, is the contractor.

Then-Town Counsel Doug Heim explained, “Under the revised proposal, we need to still get the sufficient funds from the abutters.” (Heim’s last day employed by the town was Friday, Oct. 6; he has taken a similar position in Andover, where he resides.)

Residents weigh in

Most but not all Oldham Road residents appeared to favor the betterment plan:

Sanjeev Bollam said, “There’s no road in front of my house, and many potholes. It’s a safety issue. More than 75 percent of the residents are in favor of the road. This road needs work. It’s long overdue [without betterment] and will only get worse in the winter.”

Frank Roche said, “You can barely drive up the road now,” and said that the intended repairs will enable people using the road to be able to get up and down it easier.

Lanie Cantor wanted to ensure safety of those traveling on foot and bicycle.

Richard Kourtz said, “I’m in favor of paving the road. I concur with my neighbors; it’s a very dangerous road.”

Sone others would prefer the entire road be repaved:

Dan Shine asked, “Why are we not doing the full amount, and instead piecing it out? It’ll lead to more potholes. I don’t want to drive over a ridge to get into my driveway.”

Kathy Lyons said, “In front of my house where we’ve done the work, it’s no different from the two houses that are being excluded. Either the whole street [should be] done, or not at all.”

Sean Lyons, however, was against it altogether. “I think this is wrong on so many levels. If you do the street over, it’ll become a highway. It’s currently nice and slow because it’s a private way.”  

See ACMi video of Sept. 27 meeting:

 March 7, 2023: View final Mass. Ave./Appleton design; watch March 15 presentation

This news summary by YourArlington freelance writer Susan Gilbert was published Oct. 8, 2023.

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