This post is jointly authored by Senator Pat Jehlen, Representative Jon Hecht, Representative David Rogers and me.
Relief for bus commuters and other users of Mount Auburn Street in Cambridge may be on its way. A consulting report studying the corridor between the Belmont/Watertown line and Mount Auburn Hospital has proposed creation of a dedicated bus lane as well as a number of other changes to ease traffic bottlenecks, enhance bike and pedestrian safety, and benefit abutting neighborhoods.
Three years ago, we convened a meeting of state and municipal engineers to discuss streamlining traffic flow and improving safety at the huge intersection of Mount Auburn and Fresh Pond Parkway. It was an exciting meeting because everyone had ideas for possible improvements.
After a lot of legislative effort to put funding in place for some real analysis, the Department of Conservation and Recreation issued a request for proposals and selected a consultant to conduct the review.
Last May, the chosen firm, Howard Stein Hudson, began a process of community consultation. From the beginning, they recognized that there are many stakeholders — drivers, bus riders, cyclists, pedestrians, local merchants, schools and institutions, and residents of several abutting neighborhoods.
After many community meetings and a lot of data collection and modeling, the consultants presented conceptual recommendations at a community meeting last week.
One of the more innovative recommendations is to create a dedicated bus lane along parts of Mount Auburn Street eastbound near Mount Auburn Cemetery. They estimate this would save an average of over 2 minutes per inbound bus trip at the AM peak (even more when conditions are highly congested). By shortening the round trip time for buses, the changes would also permit more frequent service and reduce bus bunching.
At the same time, they recommend a number of changes to the light timing along the corridor that they believe would help drivers as well, so that drivers on Mount Auburn would, net of all changes, see only a few seconds per trip loss as a result of the dedicated lane.
They would tighten up the foot print of the huge primary intersection at Fresh Pond Parkway. This will allow quicker light cycles there — currently, because the intersection is so wide, the light cycle has to include extra yellow and dead time to allow vehicles to clear the intersection. It would also greatly enhance safety for cyclists and pedestrians. They are also working on measures to reduce speeding and other dangerous conditions on Fresh Pond Parkway up to Huron Avenue.
The proposal will continue to be fine-tuned to respond to community concerns. For example, residents of the Strawberry Hill neighborhood (in Cambridge West of Star Market) identified an set of concerns at the recent meeting as to how it might affect their ability to exit their tight neighborhood. Merchants have also raised concerns about parking in that area.
The next steps in vetting include doing more detailed design work and also field testing some of the ideas. There are a set of short-run measures that could be implemented using light-timing, road paint and traffic markers at the main intersection. Essentially, DCR could tighten up that intersection and create the bus priority lane just in that area and make signal adjustments to support those changes.
This would yield some of the intended improvement in bus throughput and would allow confirmation that there would be only minimal throughput loss for Route 2 commuters and vehicular Mount Auburn users.
We are very grateful to DCR for moving this project forward. They have facilitated a very creative design process and are clearly committed to assuring that all stakeholders have a voice in the possible changes. We are also grateful to the City of Cambridge and the towns of Belmont and Watertown for their constructive and necessary partnership in the process.
We look forward to doing everything we can to support continued forward progress on this important project.