Contract for Fresh Pond and Mount Auburn intersection awarded

The following reports on the results of joint efforts by Senators Brownsberger and Jehlen and Representatives Hecht and Rogers.

We are pleased to report that the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation has awarded a contract to develop an approach to improving the system of intersections around Mount Auburn Street and Fresh Pond Parkway.

Thousands of people every day – both bus riders and drivers — suffer through delays in these intersections. The intersections date back to an earlier era when traffic volumes were much lighter and no longer work in their current configuration.

There is a lot of reason to hope that real improvements are possible. In a meeting almost two years ago, engineers from DCR (which has jurisdiction over the parkway) met with engineers representing the MBTA, Cambridge, Belmont and Watertown. Everyone in the room had ideas about how the intersections could be improved. No one raised the usual “tried-that-before-it-can’t–be-done” flag — there was real excitement in the room. It seems that no one has taken a fresh look at the intersections for decades.

Following that meeting, legislators representing the most directly affected neighborhoods – Representatives Hecht and Rogers and Senators Brownsberger and Jehlen – began to advocate for funding for the study. We were able to include language in the 2014 Transportation Bond Bill that suggested, but did not bind, the Patrick administration to fund a contract for the study. In late 2014, after a number of further meetings, the Patrick administration did commit funds to the project.

We inevitably lost a little time as people changed over with a new Governor, but a request for proposals finally went out in September 2015. Proposals came back in October 2015 and we were thrilled to see DCR award the contract recently. The firm selected is Howard Stein Hudson. Their bid was $390,038. Other bids ranged form $316,586 to $434,000.

The HSH proposal is very thoughtful and promising. It conveys a strong understanding of the problems around the intersection and the potential for change.  The consultants recognize that trackless trolley riders heading inbound in the morning may have the worst of the problem. They also recognize how hard the main intersection is to negotiate for pedestrians and cyclists. They are attentive to hazards that motorists face as well, noting the high number of crashes, including injuries and fatalities.

Their proposal suggests the possibility of both short and long term responses to the problem. In the short run, the proposal suggests looking at increasing the green time allocated to Eastbound Mount Auburn Street traffic — a concept which local transit advocates have been pushing for some time. Especially in the morning, when the outbound traffic on Fresh Pond Parkway is lower, there is a clear opportunity to improve the signal timing.

In the longer term, the consultants suggest the possibility of changing the geometry of the main intersection so as to eliminate the huge expanse of asphalt in the middle of it. The intersection is so wide that motorists take several seconds to clear it which slows down light changes. Often motorists get stuck and block the box. The width of the intersection is also the fundamental reason it is so dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians. The proposal suggests a number of other possible changes in the surrounding intersections. It seems that the consulting team has done good job of initial brainstorming and we can hope that their final recommendations will make a real difference.

The timeline for the project is approximately one year. The proposal contemplates an early public meeting and we will make sure that this is noticed broadly when it is scheduled.

Published by Will Brownsberger

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

30 replies on “Contract for Fresh Pond and Mount Auburn intersection awarded”

  1. I’m glad this study is finally underway! I like many of the ideas in the HSH proposal and hope that their eventual recommendations for the road reconstruction, bike paths and parklets can be funded and implemented before too many more years go by. I look forward to supporting this plan as a both a city councillor and a resident of West Cambridge.

  2. I appreciated that report with its imaginative proposals. Reading in haste, though, I did not notice any new ideas for accommodating eastbound cars on FPP needing to take a left onto Huron Ave. heading into the Huron Village neighborhood, esp at rush hour when left turns are illegal.

    That challenge probably provokes much of the invasion of the Larchwood neighborhood since some drivers go right off FPP to eventually go left. I used to get off at FP Circle and go up Concord Ave. to Huron but even once the construction there is finished that makes Fayerweather St. a conduit for extra traffic.

    Now eastbound drivers on FPP exit left wherever possible in the car dealership region. This requires perfect timing between waves of westbound traffic and I think those death-defying left turns across the yellow line are illegal anyway. Failing that, we go left at Huron which causes back-ups of horn-honking drivers who just want to continue on towards the river but are stuck while a single car tries to navigate that left turn.

    The pedestrian crosswalk at FPP & Huron is bad as well: a few seconds only for pedestrians (often with strollers and dogs) to cross to the FP reservation, and those are often eaten up by speeding drivers gunning it through the red light.

    Maybe a stop light with a left turn arrow at the intersection of Huron & FPP?

    The parkway cross-walk at the bottom of Lexington Ave. works because it actually stops traffic immediately when a pedestrian pushes the button. Could the crosswalk at Huron be made more responsive to the button?

    Thanks for keeping us posted. I don’t look forward to more road construction in the neighborhood but I can see we could really benefit from added bike lanes, pocket parks, cross walks and pavement reduction.

    1. Great point, Morgan! The inability to make a left turn onto Huron Ave when heading east on the parkway has unintended consequences on the neighborhood streets..

  3. Please let’s ensure that pedestrian safety is also a priority in the recommendations for Mt Auburn/Fresh Pond Parkway traffic study.
    Crosswalks around the area are poorly marked. We need “State Law” markers in middle of the road to get cars to give way to pedestrians, as they do in Watertown down the road. Bicycles riding on sidewalks also endanger pedestrians if they are going fast and/or are without bells or proper lights in front and in back. It can be scary to be out walking!

    1. Markers wont do it. They need to use strobes for pedestrian cross walks. But they are.already make mt auburn into a single lane with bump outs for.pedestrians.

  4. I so appreciate your reporting and your work on this, Will, and that a contract has been awarded. It seems like the improvements suggested will ameliorate a truly outdated and difficult intersection.

  5. Wh is this study taking place AFTER completion of Belmont/Trapelo redesign and construction? Wouldn’t it have made sense to do it before? Also, are those awful looking hazard barrels going to be removed from in the area in front of the golf course and CVS?
    And $590k to tell us to extend the time of a light ? How about a traffic circle?

    1. There is really no coordination need with the Belmont/Trapelo project.

      The proposal goes well beyond traffic light timing and will consider a number of ideas including traffic circles at a couple of places.

      The barrels should be gone in the next construction season when permanent signage is in place.

  6. Certainly a step in the right direction!
    And if a study will now be undertaken of the inadequate bus service to Belmont via routes 74 and 74-5, that will be yet another step in the right direction!
    Thank you, Will, for all you do for all
    of us.
    Iris Chandler

    1. I understand your frustration with the 74. I wish I could tell you that I thought a study would help the 74. It’s just one of those routes that has lower ridership than other routes.

      Buses work best in denser areas — like the bus to Waverley square, which runs through neighborhoods filled with two-family homes.

  7. HSH is an excellent firm – glad to hear that they were awarded the contract. Definitely going too think about how to get people through the intersection most efficiently, not just cars.

    I would be interested to find out what percentage of rush hour throughput is people on the bus versus people in cars. And, I guess more to the point, consider what percentages we should have. Might help frame how to prioritize different traffic configurations.

  8. Im skeptical since they are also trying to auburn into a one lane rd from watertown sq to that intersection.

  9. I hope they don’t just make the passage narrower without actually driving it before it is finished. Trapelo road redo is an example of changing something for aesthetics without taking real drivers into account.
    At least they are trying to make the MT. Auburn FPP intersection more manageable.

  10. Probably not a popular opinion, but maybe it just is not possible to get any more traffic from the end of route 2 through fresh pond and onto Memorial And Storrow Drives .
    I would suggest better bus service and dedicated bus lanes shared with bicycles or didtinct and protected bike lanes with restricted single lanes for autos . Restrict truck size or trucks completly

    1. Agreed that the stretch your refer to is at max capacity. No matter what we do with this intersection, that stretch of intersections can’t move much faster.

      The biggest beneficiaries of changes proposed will be Mount Auburn drivers and bus riders, and, as you urge cyclists and pedestrians.

  11. Maybe we have reached “peak car” and are banging up at the limit and maxxed out at how many cars that can be squeezed through. Why not a cross town bus connecting Belmont with Arlington as a bypass. The MBTA is behind the times as far as planning dogma. It is a hub and spoke radial system which is a 19th century urban planning solution applied to a 20th century traffic problem and is profoundly obsolete in the 21th century.

    MBTA: General Manger
    Soviet Union: Premier
    MBTA: Board of Directors
    Soviet Union: Council of Ministers
    Soviet Union: Central Committee
    MBTA: Advisory Board
    Soviet Union: Communist party

  12. This intersection has been a problem for years ( decades )I am pleased and excited that maybe something will be done to correct/improve this intersection. If it gets approved it needs to done with an eye to the future and done ” big ” Lot’s of people take side streets to avoid this area. Will there be federal money available?

  13. This is great news! Thanks for continuing to support this. I am so curious to know what simply extending that eastbound signal will do for the bus riders. I’ll take the opportunity to add, that the bus stop just before the intersection, on Mt Auburn St. should be looked at – possible removal or relocation to the other side of the intersection. The buses are forced to stay in the right lane as traffic builds over there, often for no one or very few passengers. Several light cycles go by for this to happen. And, though I’d love to see improvements for bikes and walkers, many eastbound cyclists, including myself jump over to Brattle Street – happily – to avoid the stretch of road all together. That is to say, it’s not just the intersection that feel dangerous – the whole stretch of Mt. Auburn – particularly from Belmont St. to Rt 16 are unfriendly to cyclists. Thank you for this!!

    1. Hi Kate,

      If we can get more green time for the cars and buses going East on Mount Auburn, more will get through in every cycle and that could dramatically shorten queue lenghths. Queueing time is very sensitive to throughput.

      The goal is to improve the intersection for all users — cars, buses, bike and ped. We think we can do that.

  14. I am very glad to see this problem finally being addressed. We have a good friend who was injured very badly in a crash in that intersection about 20 years ago and we still refer to it as “Glenn’s intersection.”

  15. One thing that will help prevent backup throughout the intersection is to extend the green light timing of the light by BB&N, and coordinate it with the next light just before one gets onto the length of Storrow Drive. The present timing stops everyone at both the BB&N light, as well as at the next light just beyond the right turn off to Newton/Brighton.

    It might also help if Cambridge consulted with the Waltham traffic light coordinators, as they do a superior job compared to the light timing in Cambridge.

  16. Really pleased to read this… I feel grateful that my spouse and I have survived so many passages across this intersection. I have seen motorists get confused by the lights and the options, wandering into the wrong traffic lanes. Not to mention the unfortunate pedestrians trying to cross…

  17. I don’t think a system with traffic lights will improve the flow much.
    What is needed is a very large traffic circle which could have park in the middle or a public building. It could be accessed by pedestrians and bike either underground of cars or as a story above the car lanes, the latter of which could be partially sunk.There are examples of this in very heavily traffic intersections that work very well.
    Ask me about precedents that have worked well over decades.

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