Traffic Congestion on Mount Auburn Street at Fresh Pond Parkway

If you have felt that congestion on Mount Auburn crossing Fresh Pond Parkway has been especially bad over the past few weeks, you are right. Hopefully, this week, things are better and things will improve a bit further by the end of the month.

We have a long term goal to improve this intersection and will continue to look for any medium term light timing improvements. However, the last few weeks of congestion have been exacerbated by the construction project further down Fresh Pond Parkway towards the Eliot Bridge. NSTAR has been working there for months, but over the past few weeks, they had expanded the footprint of their work site. The expanded footprint was forcing two lanes going inbound towards Eliot Bridge down to one. That was creating a long backup on the parkway between Mount Auburn Street and the bridge. As a result, the usual light-running commuters on Fresh Pond Parkway inbound crossing Mount Auburn were getting trapped in the middle of the intersection and blocking the box. In turn, because of the blocked box, cars and buses on Mount Auburn street were often getting zero usable green time and the queues on Mount Auburn were backing up towards Star Market.

Transit advocate Joe Levendusky and others mentioned the concern to me and we made some observations last Thursday morning. We reported the problems to the Department of Conservation and Recreation who controls the parkway, to the City of Cambridge and to others. We appreciate the prompt response from Commissioner Murray at DCR, Donnie Dailey at MassDOT and Jeff Parenti at the City of Cambridge. We also appreciate the quick response from NSTAR.

NSTAR reconfigured the site over the weekend. There is still a squeeze and a lane shift, but two lanes of traffic can keep moving. and the congestion is, as a result, considerably reduced. Drivers inbound on Fresh Pond Parkway are still running the light but are not getting stuck in the intersection. The traffic queues on Mount Auburn are still running back towards Brattle, but not generally beyond.

NSTAR indicates that their work should be entirely complete shortly — by the end of the month or before, so things will improve a bit further.

We will continue to push for more significant permanent improvements to this intersection — even with the reduced congestion, buses are still taking roughly 7 minutes to get through the light.

Published by Will Brownsberger

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

22 replies on “Traffic Congestion on Mount Auburn Street at Fresh Pond Parkway”

  1. Will –

    Thanks for the newsletter and all your work on these issues. Becky and I actually adjusted our commuting times to get through the NStar work site at BB&N, so I’m glad to hear they’re almost done.


  2. On the bright side, for me this precipitated the discovery that I can walk from Watertown to Alewife nearly as quickly as the T can get me there. It’s a delightful walk and my legs don’t periodically break down (knock on wood) like the red line does. Belmont’s so pretty this time of year.

  3. Will,

    Thanks for your persistence on this issue. In my experience commuting on that bus during peak times is that the traffic going inbound on Fresh Pond Parkway always runs the light and blocks the intersection thereby, blocking the crossing traffic on Mt. Auburn St. Isn’t this a concern given the proximity to a hospital? Has a police detail been used in this location before?

    1. If Cambridge and DCR cared about the hospital they would not have adamantly blocked all traffic flow improvements on the parkway for many decades. Ambulances from Arlington get stuck in traffic just getting past Alewife, so use other hospitals while Mt. Auburn loses business. Instead, changes are made to make traffic worse. DCR installs instant change pedestrian crossings in bad spots as on Concord Ave too close to the rotary and Cambridge keeps expanding its tax base with too much office and housing development near Alewife. Drivers (including MBTA) squeezing the yellow lights happens when more road capacity/flow is needed as everyone hopes to not have to wait for yet another red light in a seemingly infinite succession.

    2. This issue is very much on the radar screen — we’ll see how it improves when the NSTAR work is done. If it’s still a problem, we’ll push for more enforcement. But yes, the additional detail was under discussion before NSTAR moved its material to contract the worksite.

  4. Have definitely noticed a difference this week. The last two weeks prior were miserable. A 15 minute bus ride on a good day taking up to 45 minutes, with little or no movement along Mount Auburn street. Thanks for helping make this better.

  5. The traffic outbound on mount auburn at the evening rush hour back up from Aberdeen almost to the fresh long patkwAy- I think the timing if te lights are off

  6. And please be cognizant that children cross this dangerous intersect to attend TWO SCHOOLS ! Truly scary.

  7. Hi Will,

    Thanks for this. I was wondering about the back-up on Mt-Auburn Street inbound towards the Star Market, especially during rush hour. Commuting these days is a huge headache, due in part to the horrible roadways in Cambridge, Huron Avenue, Concord Avenue, all at once under repairs. Nowhere else to go.

    I would like to point out that NSTAR has been at this before (last spring if I remember correctly) and I thought that they were done. Well, apparently not, probably a botched job?

    Rhetorical question. Thanks as always and see you Sunday afternoon.


  8. I am not sure how much your commute coincides with the other roads, but I am finding the planning is very poor. I can’t get through. They may be paving Mt. Auburn, so why are they paving the detour around it, too, on the other side of the graveyard? How come the pike is blocked off for these last few months starting the week school started, the worst possible timing, and yet after all this gridlock in the morning for thousands of commuters, NOTHING has been done on the blocked off lanes at the on-ramp behind the Doubletree hotel? Then look at the other way. I tried to get home this morning, and I had four road blocks between the pike and Cushing square. My baby in the back has a most frequent phrase, “Mommy, can you get through?” I am dumbfounded how poorly thought out this construction grid is. There ought to be some way to get through before they take over every single road. Common St.. No. School St.. No. Then I tried side streets. Arlington. No. Ok, I can’t go from Watertown to Belmont at any point I know, how about Cambridge, oh, wait… Please just tell me there’s an engineer coming onto the project soon who ever drove a car around here?

  9. Please see the letter of comments on Transportation Vision of the Boston Metropolitan Organization from the Fresh Pond Residents Association.
    Copy to be sent you separately.
    Two MBTA Bus Lines intersect Fresh Pond Parkway at Mount Auburn Street. Inclusive, 23 MBTA Bus Lines cross the Parkways from the Charles River to the Mustic River. All are interrupted and transit commuters delayed, by the cross traffic of the Parkways.
    Transit communities affected include: Watertown, Belmont, Arlington, Medford, Somerville, and Cmbridge.

  10. Rush hour congestion at Mnt. Auburn & Alewife, as well as at many other intersections — I’m thinking of Watertown Square in particular — would be reduced if the police got serious about tickets for blocking the box. NYC has solved its problem this way (I’m told), and, when I was a student in a west coast city, it was noted that the police only gave blocking the box tickets during the Xmas shopping season, but that the drivers remembered all year long.
    I asked an officer in Watertown Sq, who was standing looking at people blocking the box, why he didn’t issue some tickets. He said, “There’s no place to pull people over that won’t make things worse.” Personally, I think that either of the bus yards could be used, or people could be directed onto California St, or Charlesbank Rd, or . . , ; all the police need is a team approach (a camera might help) and a little ingenuity.
    All drivers would benefit from a little enforcement in this area.

  11. Will, you wrote “I think the problem will get better by itself” – what I think is that this is a very na├»ve assumption. Boston is notorious for poor traffic engineering and the lack of law enforcement only makes things worse. Peter Smith’s comment is right on; in fact, if the “don’t block the box” rule had been enforced there wouldn’t have been a problem on Mt. Auburn at all. Other cities I have visited all across the US manage to enforce this rule. And running the red light is even worse (and much more dangerous). It happens all over the city but the police just don’t seem to be interested in dealing with it. Can you help?

    1. Thanks, Wayne. You may be right. I do think it makes sense to see how the next few days go with the construction site being dismantled before escalating a demand for more enforcement, but I’m not assuming anything. I have discussed with DCR both signage and the possibility of increased enforcement. Please let me know how you see it going and I’ll be watching too. If actual blocking continues, I will absolutely push for an enforcement presence.

  12. You point to short-term reasons for increased congestion at this intersection (NSTAR work). I’d like to point out that there are also long-term reasons for the congestion, not just at this intersection, but along the length of Fresh Pond Parkway from Rt 2 to Mt Auburn::
    Cambridge’s poorly-planned massive development of housing on Fawcett Street and beyond–THOUSANDS of new units of housing–each with its own car attached. I live on Holworthy Street + now consistently sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Fresh Pond Parkway AT ALL HOURS OF THE DAY. This was not true back in 2008 when I moved to the neighborhood. And the City plans to stuff even MORE housing in the area! Did anyone in City or State government consider this when permits were granted for this level of development? who is monitoring the effects of this number of idling cars on air quality…especially in area of our RESERVOIR!

    1. You are right that the congestion has longer term causes. The cities and towns control the density of development, and much of the traffic is regional.

      From a state standpoint, we can try to help with the transportation challenges.

      We’ll stay focused on this.

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