Congestion near Fresh Pond Parkway

The following statement was released jointly by State Senator Will Brownsberger, State Senator Pat Jehlen, Representative Jon Hecht and Representative Dave Rogers.

Update 2/11/2016: Contract Awarded

If you commute inbound from Belmont, Watertown or West Cambridge, there is one problem you always have to solve — how to get past the congestion on Fresh Pond Parkway. A movement is afoot to improve the situation.

The roughly 5,000 who daily take the bus to Harvard Square often wait through a long queue of traffic along Mount Auburn Street by the cemetery. Thousands more in cars are stuck in the same mess or in the parallel messes on Brattle and Huron.

Fresh Pond Parkway is among the most congested roads in the Commonwealth. The parkway channels a huge volume of traffic through a series of busyintersections and most of those intersections simply cannot be eliminated. But there are two critical intersections that can be improved with real benefits for the commuting public.

About seven years ago, a group of us started talking about how to address the main intersection at Route 2 and Route 16 by the Alewife T Garage. After a couple of years of meetings and the modeling of a number of alternatives, we settled on a concept which will redesign the intersection and simplify the light cycle there, allowing more cars to be moving more of the time. Public hearings are complete, designs are complete to the 100% level, and funding appears to be available.We are hopeful that construction will start in the not too distant future.

A new conversation is starting about how to redesign the intersection at Fresh Pond Parkway and Mount Auburn Street. We recently held a first meeting in Cambridge to brainstorm directions. The City of Cambridge, which owns Mount Auburn street in that stretch, hosted the meeting. The state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation which owns Fresh Pond Parkway, sent a strong team.

The MBTA also participated in the conversation, confirming that, by far, this intersection is the most significant bottleneck for the 71 and 73 buses serving Watertown and Belmont. Improvements at this intersection could dramatically improve service on those busy routes. Belmont and Watertown also sent representatives who emphasized their willingness to collaborate.

We reviewed recent efforts by the City of Cambridge to improve light timing in the intersection — through the winter, the Coolidge Avenue light, immediately before the intersection, was out of synch with the main light, contributing to extraordinary delays. That situation has been rectified, but tuning of the timing continues — at the height of the rush hour on Mount Auburn, there is also a crush of parents dropping off students at the Shady Hill School.

As the conversation shifted into brainstorming mode, there was a sense of excitement in the room — it became clear (a) that no one has really studied the intersection in many years and (b) that there are real opportunities for improvement.

Aerial views of the intersection make obvious how much wasted space there is in the middle of the intersection. That huge empty expanse takes a long time to clear once the light turns to red. To allow motorists to clear the intersection, there are significant intervals when the lights are red both ways — that means that cars and buses are waiting when they should be moving. And, of course, the long crossings are very unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists.

At a minimum, it is clear that the geometry of the intersection can be substantially improved. And a wide range of other options merit consideration — the scope of study should include the whole series of intersections along Mount Auburn. The transportation bond bill approved this week and sent to the Governor includes language that we have sponsored to fund a study of the intersection.

The problem is regional and is created by congestion on a state-owned roadway. A solution will require sustained collaboration between several state agencies and several municipalities. The first meeting was very promising. As your legislators, we are committed to fighting for funding and doing everything we can to support a long-term focus on the redesign of this intersection. Saving 10 or 20 minutes a day for thousands of people is one of those little things that is actually a very big thing.

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Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

39 replies on “Congestion near Fresh Pond Parkway”

  1. Hi Will

    This is great news but why the long delays for the Rte2/16 project? After 7 years of meetings and design, and no set timetable for construction, it seems it will be 10yrs from discussion to finish product. Are we looking at similar lengthy time frame for Mt Auburn and Fresh Pkway improvements? I realize it takes time to study, discuss, design, and construct these projects but with the multitude of organizations you listed that oversee various parts of the intersection, it seems it may take even longer. I hope this is not the case because it is very bad now.

    Thanks

    1. I agree with Mayt. That 7 years to reach a conceptual solution is too long. Senator, I appreciate your effort and I understand the challenges but it appears that this approval process is a ppotential issue. Trafic pattern will change, neighboring lot will be developed , people will move in and outout. Most of the original data that support the prproposal will be outdated.

      We know that every project cannot Pleaseeeverybody, no matter how hard we try. But time is the essence for everybody, and every nation.

      Senator, can you help to design a framework to constrain the time line on public projects. We just cannot afford another 17 year big dig.

      Thank you.

  2. Honestly, the hard truth is that urban road projects take time.

    I spent 15 years working to get Pleasant Street in Belmont rebuilt from first public concept meetings to start of construction. Trapelo Road took about 10.

    There are exceptions — the Patrick administration did a great job with the Accelerated Bridge Program, moving needed repairs very fast. But there are a lot of stake holders in most urban roads and different designs favor different groups of road users and abutters. There a lot of issues requiring negotiation and if you move the process too fast, you end up with conflict that bogs thing down further. A lengthy design process, with extensive negotiation is the rule for urban road changes. That’s especially true for state funded projects where many formal design approvals are required.

    We’ll look for low hanging fruit. The City of Cambridge may be able to make some short run improvements more quickly. Nothing big will happen in less than three years and 5 to 10 is more likely.

    We’ll move it as fast as we can!

  3. . . . received this comment by email:

    In today’s Belmont-Citizen Herald you and your colleagues wrote about traffic congestion, including at the intersection of 2 and 16 by the Alewife T garage. I wonder whether plans being considered include better ingress / egress to the T garage, and consideration of adding capacity to the garage? (I understand that it’s original design contemplated the addition of two more levels.) During rush hour many cars headed to the garage get stuck in a long line of exiting traffic because entering the garage takes time, and the same thing happens during the evening rush hour exiting the garage. Further, the limited capacity of the garage means that people arriving after it fills are either left to wait in line (further congesting the area) or possibly having to drive to work, adding to more cars on the streets. I wonder if any study has been conducted as to how many days per year the garage is full (or close to full) by 9 or 10am? Probably if entry / exit from the garage was smoother and there was more capacity, more people would be enticed to take the T to work rather than drive.

    Yes, the issue of adding capacity to the garage was part of the discussion around the 2/16 intersection improvement. At this point, the approaches to the garage are the capacity limiting factor. The garage is full, but the approaches are also full. Step one is do what we can with the approaches — hence the focus on the intersection.

  4. It seems one of the problems is that Cambridge keeps approving new plans for building high rises and office blocks along Concord near Fresh Pond – there is a new one almost ready near Trader Joe/Bank of America – it’s about seven floors. Heaven knows how many cars that will attract, and that is already a very dangerous turning intersection.
    There seem to be other buildings planned for along that stretch of road to Blanchard.
    Why are plans allowed for new buildings without the impact on traffic assessed? It can take almost an hour during rush hour to travel half a mile from Huron road to the first rotary near Concord, and then as long as half an hour more to the second rotary.

  5. Glad to see this is being looked at.
    IN ADDITION how about doing something immediately to correct/prevent illegal merging that occurs daily during morning commute as traffic on Fresh Pond Parkway approaches the Eliot Bridge? The left-most lane clearly leads to Memorial Drive, but many drivers in the left lane zoom past the slower middle lane (headed toward the bridge) then squeeze to their right at the last minute causing great congestion and occasional Road Rage in front of BB&N. How about a police presence in the AM commute time (say 7 to 8:30 or 9:00 AM) at that merge point?

  6. Any improvement is a
    good and welcome thing.

    It is, however, well past time to address the danger created bY the poorly configured intersection at Huron Ave and Fresh Pond Parkway. Drivers routinely run the poorly conceived traffic light there and something about its shape and slope contribute to the already speeding traffic. The posted limit is 30mph, however if you drive at that speed you will find yourself tailgated, passed and verbally abused by your fellow drivers. I live on the parkway and cannot say that I have once seen the StAte Police cite somebody for speeding.
    Accidents are numerous and not all are reported. The neighbors’ experience of collisions just doesn’t seem to correspond with reported accidents.
    Hubcaps and bits of trim attest to the marginal control vehicles maintain when speeding down Fresh Pond Parkway between Huron Ave and Mt Auburn Street.
    Public safety and quality of life will suffer until solutions are based on planned development and sensible thoroughfare and not upon piecemeal changes to individual intersections.

  7. Hi Will:

    Regarding the Mt. Auburn / FP Parkway intersection, I hope that some sort of traffic tunnel was discussed. Either for FP Pkwy or Mt. Auburn. This would help through traffic a lot and help Mt. Auburn traffic (which is mostly local and the main bus lines) to flow freely. BTW, an improved “intersection” will impact the lights on both sides (Brattle / Huron and at Mem Drive and Soldiers Field Road), so these should also be part of the study of the overall impact.

    Good luck!

  8. The congestion in the Cambridge Alewife shopping area near Fresh Pond Reservoir is rapidly escalating, dangerous and unsustainable. Big money construction projects are mindlessly and greedily taking over the neighborhood. Residents are working with City Councillors to create a Master plan to address a host of issues including environmental impact and the need for social and visual aesthetics relating to urban planning and design.

    A moratorium must be entertained to slow down unfettered development so “all involved” can apply a reasoned approach to the city’s housing needs and quality of life issues. Developers with no community investment what so ever, have seized on new re-zoning procedures creating a vulnerable situation to area residents.

    Resident of West Cambridge for 30 plus years, raised my family here and enjoy the open natural wonders of Fresh Pond Reservoir, also vulnerable to this much development.

  9. Hi, Will, I’m very glad someone else has raised the subject of the disaster in the making, the stretch of Concord Ave from the Fresh Pond Parkway to Blanchard. The building boom approved by the City of Cambridge, including the ugly, over-sized condo development adjacent to the Trader Joe’s shopping mall, seems to have been authorized with no consideration for the impact on traffic. From Fresh Pond to Blanchard, the area between Concord to the commuter rail tracks is a holding pen, blocked from egress on three of four sides. The only way out or in is Concord Ave, which itself is blocked on one side by the Fresh Pond reservation. Where are all the cars going to go? During phases of the construction of the condo building when trucks were blocking the west side of Concord (while Cambridge police officers stood by chatting with each other) traffic came to a standstill on the inbound Fresh Pond Parkway back on to Route 2, almost to Lake street in about 10 minutes. This was in the middle of the day. How are cars from the condo when it’s occupied going to get into Concord Ave through the narrow road that’s there now? It seems to me you can make all the plans you want for either end of the Fresh Pond Parkway, but it won’t help much if this issue isn’t dealt with.

  10. I live about 1/2 mile from fresh pond. I avoid the fresh pond area at all costs. The recent new construction/development (retail/housing) directly west of the rotatar makes it clear that cambridge and its government does not care about the overcrowding and traffic nightmares. The parking situation for the newer retail stores (trader joes, chipotle, etc) is totally inadequate in terms of navigating through the lot. Only one vehicle can enter or exit the side driveway at a time. Who was the genius civil engineer that designed this and who is in the town approved this mess?

    also, it’s maddening that the overflow and traffic patterns at freshp pond circle directly impacts what used to be a quiet little neightborhood in the belmont/cambridge line on blanchard road. Blanchard road is not big enough for any more traffic – bikes, cars, or trucks. At minimum, get a truck ban there! Think about making it a one way street. It’s only by sheer luck that there hasn’t been fatalities on this roadway which is carrying more than its share of the fresh pond traffic burden.

    This has been under your purview for many years, Rep. Brownsberger, and you have seen this coming for a long time. it’s time for action not words.

  11. Hi Will,

    I am glad to hear of all these positive traffic initiatives around Fresh Pond.

    But I agree with Elizabeth Marran that “The congestion in the Cambridge Alewife shopping area near Fresh Pond Reservoir is rapidly escalating, dangerous and unsustainable.” I have been watching this traffic impact coming for the last two years!

    I also second Bill Phillips and Charlene Smith that something should be done immediately to find ways to exit this new neighborhood of highrises in the Cambridge Highlands and to limit the number of vehicle that will be going onto Concord Avenue and creating a huge snarl of traffic.

    What were the authorities thinking, or not??!!

  12. Agree with previous poster. Curb or Halt development until these improvements are complete. Dig a tunnel for those simply trying to get through to memorial/sorrow.
    Also improve bike/pedestrian experience with bridges over the parkway and perhaps fences/walls between paths and traffic. Neither biking nor walking is pleasant along this stretch of the parkway. Perhaps increase public shuttle service or bus from alewife to nearby destinations like watertown square, medford, etc.
    thanks for working on this Will. It is the worst part of where we live. We love it here but hate the fresh pond traffic.

  13. Would an underpass of Mount Auburn St. Traffic work? Something similar to the Huntington Avenue/Massachusetts Avenue intersection? Or even a curved underpass similar to the Leverett Circle to Storrow Drive type of setup? Ofcourse the traffic would still back up at the red lights outside of the BB&N School.

  14. I can’t wait to see the study of this intersection. I travel through here virtually every day and have tried many circuitous routes to avoid the intersection, particularly this winter.
    It is extremely unsafe for cycling and so I don’t take my bike because there is no safe way to cross the intersection. The bus has to cross over in the lane and there are no lane markings. Just telling people which lane goes across and putting lane markings across the intersection would help significantly.

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