Mount Auburn/Fresh Pond Improvements

DCR will be holding a public meeting this week:  

  • Mount Auburn Street Corridor Short-Term Improvements
  • Tuesday, February 4, 2020 – 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
  • Haggerty School Cafeteria, 110 Cushing Street, Cambridge

The purpose of this meeting is to present the design for improvements to the Mount Auburn Street and Fresh Pond Parkway intersection moving forward into construction in 2020. The intersection was identified as a short-term alternative in the Mount Auburn Street Corridor Study.

From DCR Official Meeting Flyer

Unfortunately, I cannot personally attend this meeting, but I wish to acknowledge that I have been fully consulted in considering the design dilemmas for the intersection and to state that I fully support the next steps outlined by DCR. 

In summary those steps include the following:

  • Closing the right lane of Fresh Pond Parkway (FPP) between Brattle and Mount Auburn (MA).  Most of Fresh Pond Parkway is two lanes — the third lane in that segment does not handle necessary traffic and has the effect of widening the intersection with Mount Auburn.
  • Addition of a crossing bumpout on the south west corner of the FPP/MA intersection for pedestrians and cyclists crossing FPP along MA headed into Cambridge.
  • Moving of the stop bar forward for east bound travelers on MA at the FPP/MA intersection.  This will increase storage capacity between Coolidge and FPP along MA and so improve throughput.
  • Signal timing changes to balance traffic flow through the FPP/MA intersection
  • Signal redesign at Coolidge and MA to allow separate management of right and left turners and improve throughput.

Some will be understandably concerned that this round of improvements does not include a bike lane along Gerry’s Landing Road between Mount Auburn and the River.  After a lot of debate and study we had to conclude that it is necessary to preserve all three lanes of Gerry’s Landing Road until we redesign the intersection with Memorial Drive. 

Experience with loss of lanes along Gerry’s Landing Road shows that as motorists cross-weave to choose between Eliot Bridge, Memorial Drive and Greenough Boulevard, they need all three lanes or else the traffic backs up past Mount Auburn with grid lock consequences.   

As a frequent user of the intersection in all modes — bike, ped, bus, car — I believe that these next steps are sound and balanced. 

  • The heavily used bus routes will see further improvements.
  • Pedestrians will get a big benefit from the bumpout over a bad crossing.
  • Cyclists will also benefit from a much shorter crossing of FPP.  Although they won’t get the path down Gerry’s Landing Road, that was a pathway to no good crossing until we redesign the intersection at Mem Drive.  Cyclists have safer options — crossing at Grove Street and Hawthorne St — to reach the river.
  • Motorists on FPP should see only very modest slowing.

We will need to continue the pressure to improve Gerry’s Landing Road for both cyclists and motorists in the next phase of improvements. The intersection at Memorial Drive contains a lot of space that creates flexibility for significant improvement. For example, we could shift an island in that intersection to take a lane from the two lane segment that connects Mem Drive to Greenough Boulevard and give an additional lane to Gerry’s Landing.  This would streamline the flow for motorists who now do an odd shift left as they go inbound on Gerry’s Landing and over the bridge.  It would also allow us to cleanly add the bike lane. 

I will be pushing for that in the continuing conversation., but it is important to note that there has never been a fully-vetted plan for that intersection — we still have a lot of conceptual work to do there.

For DCR’s drawings about the current changes, please see this page. The document labeled “hand out” has the actual drawings.

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Published by Will Brownsberger

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

Join the Conversation

21 Comments

  1. First of all, the signs and lack thereof in that intersection stink and always have.
    Completely confusing, especially for a visitor, but who cares about them?
    Cambridge/Watertown simply never cared about anyone.
    I recall years ago when an ambulance going to Mt. Auburn Hospital got into an accident there and the patient was killed. Ho hum, he was probably going to die anyway. Yawn.
    Mount Auburn St. itself in Watertown is a wreck. The town council is too cheap to fix the zillion potholes even though its revenue has increased by 100 million due to the Arsenal Street developments.
    You politicians stink to high heaven.
    Not you, Will. You stink, but not to high heaven.

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  2. In no way am I happy about it, but it seems Watertown is putting zero funds into Mt. Auburn leading up to the big redesign/rebuild that involves the state due Rt 16 being a state road. My tires, struts, rims and ball joints pay the price every day.

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    1. I had asked city officials about the cost of stinky resurfacing while we wait for full reconstruction. It was somewhere north of $800,000. Is that a worthwhile expense for taxpayers knowing that in FY22 the state will pay for the whole thing? Some of the blame surely goes to previous generations of politicians who deferred the maintenance. Although I’m not sure when it was last repaved…

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      1. Hi Sam – good points. If the DPW could hit some of the worst areas it shouldn’t cost too too much and hopefully the work would at least last until the rebuild. Hard to say – it seems the 71 is pretty hard on the roadway. My “favorite” candidates would be the Irving/Mt. Auburn intersection (I fear breaking an ankle 2x/day crossing that on foot) and the westbound stretch approaching Common St, though there are many others.
        A little goodwill along these lines could go a long way…and I’ll guess we could divert some of the road salt and plowing budget this year (if not most).

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  3. Thanks, Will. A most helpful summary of the state of play.
    Good signage to indicate the best passages for cyclists and pedestrians will be important. And it needs to start a fair distance out from the intersection itself to get folks on the right track.

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  4. Can someone tell me how many bikes we are catering to in this area per day. For once it’s nice to hear the traffic won’t be completely screwed up for a bike path. Lucky for us in the 100’s of cars going to work who use Gerry’s Landing that we have a reprieve while it’s reviewed!!

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    1. The number of bikes is less than it would be if there were a usable and safe bike network. If you don’t see many bicyclists it’s because the roads during the mid twentieth century were designed completely for cars. And while you complain just remember that 40% of carbon emissions come from transportation.

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  5. That was a really rude email Dee and totally a reflection of the rudeness that is now normal in public discourse. I think most the traffic plans are not improvements and we need to limit development. Not a fan of how the developers are running and ruining our towns but try a little civility.

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  6. If the westbound bus times are expected to increase during the evening commute, as a result of the design changes, then perhaps signal timings could be adjusted based on the time of day and day of the week, if they are not already.

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  7. Will, regarding: “this round of improvements does not include a bike lane along Gerry’s Landing Road between Mount Auburn and the River.”

    The bike lane will improve safety for bicyclists, which is currently sadly lacking. How do you justify using that lane for cars instead, only in order to avoid traffic congestion at the expense of safety?

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  8. I am very disappointed that there will not be a bike lane on Gerry’s Landing Road between Mt Auburn and the River. It’s a very dangerous biking stretch in what should be a major biking area, between connecting the river path to Cambridge/Watertown/Alewife/rail trail and also serving BB&N and Shady Hill campuses.
    That said, if it is impossible to have it now, it would be very helpful to
    a. repave the sidewalks in that area so they are less miserable to bike on
    b. put in protected bike lines on Coolidge Road as an alternate route.

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  9. Is there a reason why the two-way bike lane isn’t being built on the east side (i.e., Cambridge-side) of Gerry’s Landing Road? There appear to be several advantages to having it on the Cambridge-side, including:
    1) Considerably more space; no need to eliminate a car lane to accommodate the path;
    2) Fewer conflict points (e.g., cyclists could avoid being cut off by parents dropping there kids off at school if the bike lane was built on the opposite side of Gerry’s Landing);
    3) The existing Memorial Drive crossing to the Charles River, while imperfect, is more direct and safer on the east side of Gerry’s Landing vs. the west.

    At the very least, widening and repaving the existing sidewalk on the east side of Gerry’s Landing Road should be considered as a viable, short-term solution to providing pedestrians, the disabled, and cyclists better and safer connectivity to/from the river.

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  10. I’m all for working toward the best possible solution, and if that means building the bike lane on the west side, so be it. However, given that the long-term design concept includes widening the sidewalk on the east side, why can’t that be part of the short-term solution? Again, to reiterate my comments above, is it possible for DCR to widen and pave the east-side sidewalk sooner rather than later? At least that will provide a short-term safe route for cyclists needing to connect to the Charles.

    I appreciate the fact that you, too, are a cyclist who brings an invaluable perspective to the table. I’m sure you can understand the frustration expressed from those of us who don’t have the means or desire to own a car and simply want a safe way to get from point A to B (fyi, 31.4% of Cantabrigians don’t own a vehicle).

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    1. I just noticed your response to Judith who had similar comments to mine. I will submit my comments via the link you provided above.

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    2. To answer your question: Until we shift lane lines at the Mem Drive intersection as part of a larger redesign, we can’t take a line for the bike lane on Gerry’s Landing Road inbound. Loss of that lane in the area that motorists need space to cross-weave to their various destinations as they approach the river is disasterous — we know that from construction projects causing gridlock in the area.

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