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.