However, as of December 10, the project engineers still do want to retry the configuration described below which failed. The failed configuration makes good sense in terms of safety and throughput, but only if motorists can understand it. Whether signage, striping and possibly additional signals will accomplish that is an open question for consideration over coming months.
Change is hard and important change has happened at the intersection of Common Street and Trapelo Road.
It used to be that traffic with a green light on Common Street could turn left. Only one direction of Common Street had the green at a time.
Now there are separate signals for left and straight. Both directions of Common Street go green for left turn at the same time now. And both directions go green for straight at the same time.
Don’t continue across Trapelo on Common except on the straight green. There has been serious confusion especially for traffic coming from Watertown — going straight on Common involves a slight left and many people have been making that slight left on the left arrow, which is intended only for the hard left onto Trapelo shown in green on the image above. This repetitive error is causing near collisions with traffic properly turning left from Common Street onto Trapelo from the Belmont Center side.
Everyone involved is very aware of the confusion and the risk involved. The Belmont Town Engineer, the Belmont Police, Mass Highway and the consulting engineers are all working together to make the situation safer.
Here (via the Town Engineer) are their immediate plans coming out of a meeting this afternoon:
- The sign board will be re-programmed to better explain the purpose of the two lanes.
- There will be no parking allowed on the right side of Common street from the gas station at 500 Common Street to the corner. This will make it visually clearer that there are two distinct lanes at the intersection.
- Belmont DPW will paint an extension of the white lane delineation line on Common Street, from the end of the current white line to further up Common towards Belmont Street to help guide traffic to the proper lane.
- Belmont DPW will paint dashed white lines for the Left Turn Only lane so drivers will see exactly where they are supposed to go when they get the green arrow.
- Directional signs are due to arrive on Monday and will be mounted immediately on the mast arm next to the traffic signal heads
- For the rush hour tonight (approx. 3-7) Mass DOT is paying for a police detail to work in the intersection to help motorists properly maneuver through the intersection.
It is also recognized that an additional head directly adjacent to Common Street headed north may be needed to show red to cars likely to make the recurring error (going straight across Common on the left arrow from Watertown).
See this earlier post for more updates on the Belmont/Trapelo Road project.
I think a significant part of the confusion on the Northern side of Trapelo Road is that significant lane widening and occured right before the intersection.
Going south through the intersection on Common Street there used to be a center island, which was removed, two traffic lanes and a parking lane.
Now there is no center island, two lanes of traffic, a 2 foot strip that is perhaps an excuse for a bike lane and a parking lane. Basically it is the same layout minus the center island, an important feature for people with disabilities. The only explanation is that traffic lanes were widened, leading to higher traffic speed.
Since there is now more space cars move faster through the intersection. As observed from the 400 block of Common Street traffic speed appears to have increased substantially while while not improving the traffic pattern in any meaningful way.
This is not the kind of highway planning we need in Cushing Square.
There is also a bump out, which does shorten the total traffic crossing for pedestrians, in compensation for the lost island — but I hear your point.
I don’t think it’s the lane width there that is causing problems — I think it’s the fact that straight down Common Street from Watertown is a bit of a left turn and motorists think that the left arrow is giving them permission to go that way.
Thank you for your response. However, the bump out only partially compensates for the loss of the center island. It greatly reduced street space for bicycles. I go through this intersection daily on a bicycle. The bump out forces bicycles to merge far into the travel lane causing an unsafe situation. A lot of people now drive very close to the bump-out, reducing the space for bicycles to nothing. The bump-out causes a kink in the northbound lane of Common Street, which in the absence of other traffic calming measures causes much of the awkward new layout.
As measured by Google Earth, crossing distance on Common Street North of Trapelo Road, from ramp to ramp, is 55 feet, up from 40 feet in the previous design.
The shortest crossing distance – perpendicular to the street, no handicap ramp – is now near 50 feet, up from 25 feet in the old design! The minimum crossing distance has doubled!
Apart from the intersection itself there are now 3 travel lanes to cross for pedestrians mid-block, which is a crossing many people make on foot as the block is a shopping district with parking on both sides.
My question is why they changed it at all! The intersection worked just fine before. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it- that is not original, but it sure fits here!!!
Even the bus drivers are complaining about the changes- especially the narrowing of Trapelo Rd. I’d like to have the engineers/designers travel it each day at rush hour- perhaps they would see the mess they have created.
It’s a well vetted design. We are at a very awkward transition phase right now.
When it is all done and and tuned up, I remain hopeful that people will see it as an improvement. Of course, the new pavement and sidewalks will be great regardless, but the design itself is well done — it was rated the best project in a pool of 150 by the agency selecting projects to fund.
This is a bunch of baloney. You are narrowing the roads!!! You are creating traffic havoc, traffic jams, noise, pollution, wasted productivity, extra hours of sitting in our cars, frustration, anger. And all of that for what?? For extra sidewalk space?? I don’t see any sidewalk congestions, but plenty of road congestions. What an abomination if a project!
Agreed it’s a mess right now. Hoping and believing we’ll all feel better when it’s done.
How about the right hand lane sign saying “Straight ahead on Common St. MUST use Right Lane”.
I have not been through the intersection from that direction yet.
Yes. That’s the right idea. Signs of that type will go up on Monday if delivered as expected.
Sorry, Will. That’s not “the right idea”. There is no “straight on Common”…Common is NOT straight. Further, drivers not indigenous to the area will not know which of the three possible ways in front of them is considered “straight onto Common”. Heavily verbose signage is indicative of a design flaw. The green arrow lights simply do not match the physical layout of the roadway. Will it take someone getting killed before you folks admit the design is flawed and the green arrows do NOT fit this atypical intersection?? Please fix the design…do not use bandaid fixes such as verbose signage.
I don’t think the plan is for verbose signage — rather arrows next to the lights. We’ll stay on it until it works. It may turn out you are right.
Thanks for the update.
The new traffic signals on Trapelo Road are *very* high. Is that so people can see them from further away?
I went through today, and I wonder if they’re as visible as they should be when a car is close to the intersection.
That’s one of the questions the engineers are asking — whether a lower signal, perhaps on the island in front of UPS would help people focus on the red. But the next step is signage. Hopefully, Monday.
I hope that parking will be prohibited on BOTH sides of Common St. on the blocks where the real estate office and vacant laundromat are located. it will be a very tight squeeze if cars are parked on either side.
Thanks for all of your good work Sen. Brownsberger. Your reports are greatly appreciated!
The intersection has become dangerous because of the change in the lights, but it worked perfectly well the old way, when only one direction at a time had the green and could proceed. Why fix something that wasn’t busted!!!??? Why mess up something that worked? I noticed another comment makes the same point.
If you think about it, the new design is much more typical of other intersections. It is normal for left turns to happen at the same time. But it definitely needs better signage and possibly additional signal heads to communicate the flow. On the way.
“if you think about it”…that’s your response? I wish YOU would think about it! There is nothing “typical” about the Common/Trapelo intersection; the north and south sides of Common DO NOT LINE UP. It is NOT “a bit of a left” as you have said…it IS a left. And therein lies the root of the problem. The solution is to revert back to a simple alternating green.
Sorry, John. Didn’t mean to imply you hadn’t thought about it. I just meant that the signal phasing is not unusual. But you are quite right that the intersection IS unusual, with the five directions coming together, and that is very much part of the problem right now.
Thanks for the update, Will. I was one of the near accidents a few days ago. I was turning left onto Trapelo, other driver going straight onto Common crossed right into my path. She looked at me like, “what are you doing, I have the right of way.” I have taken to avoiding that intersection. Someone is going to get hurt. Glad to know that officials are aware of the problem. How about a sign that says “Green arrow for left turn onto Trapelo only”?
Thanks! Good to know in advance!
I was one of the Belmont residents who tried to alert police and highway to this problem. Drivers are making the wrong choice constantly. I did not find the new wording on the electric signage intended to explain how things work at all clear to understand. (I have advanced graduate degrees.) I think you should be going back to the state to redesign this and change the light coordination. (I’m a landscape architect by training, too. My husband, an architect, thinks the arrow should be right next to the light and that the light which is red when the turn light is green is too high up for the drivers. I don’t know about this. Virtually every time we drive there, someone from Watertown is doing it wrong. Why did this have to be redesigned? It worked before. Now it doesn’t. I think you need to demand that the state come up with a real redesign. The wording on the electric sign doesn’t seem to be working to affect people’s behavior so far. Thanks.
All good suggestions. We’ll keep the focus on it until we get it working.
It happened to me several days ago; light turned green & I started to drive across Trapelo Rd when a car to my left (left turn only lane) crossed Trapelo Rd. I was alert & pulled back allowing the truck to cross Trapelo.
Possibly, painted arrows would help.
Thanks you Trappello Road Traffic Calming! Between the apparently Permanent biog orange blinkies in the middle of the road, confusing signage, potholes in the middle of nowhere, semi-paved surfaces, muddy roads and extra-congested traffic, we’re off to a great start! Yes, I’m nostalgic for 2009 when I first expressed my concerns about this plan, can’t wait to see how this all works in the Winter. As Louise mentions below, why did we change any of this?
We took a working road and broke it.
I hate to say it but …. many drivers require re-education
The intersection is geometrically defective from the get go, When near that area, I make great efforts not having to go through that intersection by detouring around the area. My only suggestion is to neck up and narrow each road prior to entering the intersection and use a lot of traffic calming designs like speed bumps, bump-outs. That is a tough design assignment without land taking or road narrowing/closing/one ways etc.
I live right near this intersection and I agree that it was much safer prior to these changes. Making a left from Common onto Trapelo means swerving around drivers on the other side going straight on Common when they shouldn’t b/c they have a red light, but also drivers from Watertown turning left onto Trapelo at the same time are having near misses because of the angles involved. Yesterday, as a pedestrian, I saw the police nearly cause a car accident by directing cars to go in a way that was against the lights, further complicating things. That intersection before was fine for cars, but not so much for pedestrians. Now it is worse for cars and I don’t think the situation is much improved for pedestrians either as now cars from multiple directions may be crossing at once.
Many thanks once again, Will, for being at, or ahead of, the curve and getting timely, rational and usable information out to us. This entire corridor project is moving this previously outdated,unsafe thoroughfare, into the 21st century.
The bump out in front of UPS is too large, needs to be reduced to allow cars making a right hand turn off trapelo a smaller turning radius.
This is NOT a matter of re-education. When you drive into unfamiliar intersections, the signals and signage should present a very clear and easy to understand set of choices. The North and South routes of Common Street crossing Trapelo should be a simple, alternating green light. The left arrows simply do not match the physical layout of the roadway. I do not care how well vetted you think the design is…the current signal/signage is simply wrong. Remove the left arrows and put it back to alternating green and ALL the issues go away. There…I fixed it for ya!
Agreed — it is not just reeducation: The intersection should make it obvious how to behave for the first-time driver. I’m going to make sure the engineers are seeing all this feedback.
This is nice and fine, but traffic engineers love to talk about the rationalization of traffic in an intersection, but with all the new lights on Trapelo (compared to a decade ago), there is hardly a discussion about light sequencing.up and down Trapelo. I really wonder if any of these engineers actually drive every day on Trapelo during rush hour.
The light sequencing is in the plans — right now, not all the signals are operational.
Another person sent me an email commenting as follows.
I agree with all the people who say it should be one side at a time. I don’t put much faith in driver education of any sort, including explanatory signs. Not only are drivers in too much of a hurry to read them, the various highway departments do a poor job of locating them where they can be read soon enough to do much good.
Will, thanks for sending this out and I’m glad people recognize that the current signals are confusing.
On a related note, Trapelo coming through Waverley Square from Mill St is also a very dangerous intersection as there is no indication that the right lane ends at Church and the majority of drivers do not turn right. Many drivers try to continue in the right lane, which is now a widened parking zone in front of Wheelworks, to turn right on White St.
Cars have twice nearly crashed into my car when I stayed in the left lane and slowed and signaled my right turn while they attempted to pass me on the right in my blind spot in the non-lane in order to get back into the left lane before the new curb cut them off.
SOMETIMES “IMPROVMENT IS NOT IMPROVEMENT”. The confusion would be eliminated if on each side of common St. traffic was to go by themselves as they did before. I always thought straight was Common to Cushing Ave but it did not matter b/c only one side had a green light at a time.
This does not mean that Trapelo road should be any different than it was as well. Most traffic coming from Cambridge/Watertown end of Trapelo road wanting to go towards COmmon or Belmont St. have mostly turned left onto the continuation of Belmont St. at the Oakley Country CLub. Allowing that to be the main left turn and NOT allowing left turns at Trapleo/Cushing would allow two lanes of traffic to proceed, one for straight on Trapelo and one for slight right on COmmon as it once did. Restricting it to one lane for both only creates a man-made traffic back up that is unnecessary and will ultimately hurt business in the Square.
Like I said, Someitme Improvement is not that. Tweeking small things about the intersection is good. I think this design was a victim of it’s own good intentions. But of course, it is not too late to re-tweek.
The green arrow signal is counter-intuitive and, as others have pointed out, very high. It competes visually with the alternating signal on the same post. The previous, single solid signal, at a traditional height, was simpler for drivers to “read”.
I believe that the lights should have arrows on all lens. No General Green light.
There should be 2 signs next to the lights from Common Street to Trapelo road that says “left turn arrow must turn left on to Trapelo road”, next to the Left turn light. A sign mounted next to the straight arrow should say something like “Straight arrow for Common Street Traffic.” Some what like the intersection of pleasant street and Mass Ave in Arlington. I do not think there is to much confusion about the left turns from Trapelo Road to Common Street.
That and traffic enforcement should train most rats to run the maze correctly.
This intersection is a classic case of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it”, they should restore the old signal sequence immediately; I also agree with the others who commented on the height of the signals, they seem positioned for low flying planes.
I noticed that parking is allowed on the approach to Trapelo Road from Watertown up until the gas station’s driveway. This allows about 3 cars to queue up in the right lane. If everybody drives perfectly by the rules the left turn lane and the lane to go straight will always block each other. Of course, if there is not enough space for all the parking and car lanes already there will not be a single inch available for people on bicycles.
If the light sequence is restored to what it was previously then no left turn lane is needed on either side of the intersection and there will be enough space for parking, a center rescue island for people on food a bicycle lane for people who bike and traffic will flow better without any confusion as vehicles making left turns and go straight won’t be in each others way.
Please reconsider the current car-centric design that does not even work for car traffic.
Thank you, Will, for working on this improvement. I have found this intersection very confusing, especially when it is dark, at night.
OK. So as of 9/24/2015…the signals have been changed so that both directions of traffic on Common Street, crossing Trapelo now use a simple alternating green scheme; that is, the signals allow northbound traffic with green. Then Southbound traffic with green. This is TREMENDOUS improvement in safety.
Based on my numerous observations just today, there is still a compliance issue for traffic on Common Street, crossing Trapelo, heading towards Belmont Center (Northbound). There is upwards of a 50% or better misinterpretation rate of the signals/signage. Left lane drivers are still heading across and to the left to continue onto Common Street. This is causing near collisions with right lane people doing the same. The easy fix is make the right lane (adjacent gas station) right turn only and the left lane for ALL other travel (straight on Cushing, slight left onto Common, or hard left onto Trapelo.
We are getting there!
I travel this intersection daily at 7:10 am and believe the intersection redesign is a mistake along with the narrowing of lanes throughout Trapelo Road and Belmont Street. My daughter boards a bus each morning at 7:20 in front of Payson Road on Belmont Street and there is now a continuous, fast moving stream of traffic each school morning. This wasn’t the case prior to the redesign. Additionally, I am finding that busses do not pull onto the shoulder of the road to let traffic pass as they let passengers on and off which causes traffic to further back up. Wasn’t the redesign intent here to slow vehicular traffic and make things safer. So, what have we learned from this experience and from this redesign effort. What was flawed in the design and approval process that led us to where we are today. I suggest we feed these writer comments/experiences back to the design team to understand what went wrong so that we learn from experience and avoid repeating mistakes like this in future efforts (e.g. Belmont Center).
Twice today I was at this intersection and noted the reconfiguration of the lights. On both occasions I saw vehicles proceed north of Common St across Trapelo from the “left turn only” lane.
This despite lines in the street and a large sign on Common St with instructions.
Clearly it still,needs some work.
Yes, the lane usage still is not consistent. That problem is recognized and will get further discussion.
If it wasn’t broke, why fix it?
Well, because it sort of WAS broke! Before, you had two lanes of cars inbound on Trapelo Road at the intersection. But shortly after the intersection, those two lanes became one lane, and there was fairly aggressive and often dangerous competition between cars (that is, drivers!) in those two lanes to claim pride of place in the single lane ahead of the car in other lane. I liked the new system much better.
The problem wasn’t the concept. The problem was that we couldn’t communicate it to drivers. And, correct me if I’m wrong — the improvement you note has note been diminished by the latest change.
Thank you for all your work on the Trapelo Road project, Will.
As a neighbor I would like to share my observations about traffic patterns after the light cycle was reconfigured.
Towards Belmont Center – North – many drivers proceed straight from the left turn lane. The right lane looks like a parking lane here instead of a travel lane. As there are no significant traffic backups it appears that 2 lanes are not needed here.
Towards Watertown – South – has 2 lanes for the entire block before the intersection. 80-90% of drivers proceed straight. A design with 2 lanes also appears not necessary. When the light turns green there are typically about 10 cars queued up to go straight during busy times while drivers make it through the intersection in one light cycle for the most part.
The left turn lane is mostly empty even during evening traffic. Many drivers approach the light at high speed to “make the light”. I have observed multiple time people even driving 2-3 feet over the yellow double line to be able to drive faster. This is another problem that bringing back the center island would fix.
Common Street has become very difficult to cross on foot as a result.
Yes. I see this too. Will make sure all are seeing it.
Thanks for the update, Will. And thanks for taking our feedback back to the engineers.
Southbound Common street traffic is now working very well. Northbound is better…but still needs to be tweaked.
Left lane cars heading Northbound are still competing with right lane cars to proceed onto the Northbound side of Common (>50% rate of failure to interpret signals/signage). Engineers should consider making the Northbound right lane “right turn only” and the left lane for ALL other travel choices (across to Cushing, across and left to Common, and hard left onto Trapelo). This change would bring the flow back to more closely resemble the way it worked prior to any of the construction.
Thank you. Suggestion duly noted. I’ll make sure the engineers continue to see this thread.
I suggest that everyone read this. We are doing the opposite.
I wanted to continue to share my observations on the progress made in Cushing Square.
Last week the top pavement layer was removed on Common Street between Payson Road and Belmont Street in preparation for the final pavement. While we are waiting for the final pavement temporary lane markers were painted on the road.
Here are my observations about these temporary markings in the hope of contributing to an improved final design. In general there are many areas where lane markings are awkward and require numerous turns and merges that feel unnatural and present people who use the intersection by car, bicycle or who walk with surprises and leave little room for error.
Crossing distances are big and mid-block crossings have become much more difficult. This presents a problem in an area where parking is on both sides of the road and people then cross on foot to reach their final destination.
I continue to see no facilities for people who bike on Common Street despite being required due to the federal funding the project received. Much space is given to car traffic without clear benefit yet this space is then no longer available for people who bike.
Common Street and Belmont Street:
A left turn lane was added on Common Street in front of Belmont Citgo although there is very little left turning traffic (only local). This offset the Northbound lane so far to the right that it no longer lines up across the intersection. Coming from Watertown cars now have to move far to the right. This presents a danger to people on bicycles, who may not realize that cars cannot proceed on a straight line.
Common Street and Trapelo Road:
Left turn traffic from Common Street continues to be much less than traffic proceeding straight through Cushing Square in both directions. Going south towards Watertown it looks like there are two travel lanes on the other side that look like they line up with the two lanes before the intersection. The right lane then ends or is almost always obstructed
The bike lanes will absolutely be there in the final striping.
Your other points need attention though, particularly, the issue of south bound flow. Now that we don’t have a left turn phase, there is no reason to have a left turn only lane and the straight flow is indeed awkward.
This is one of the more confusing intersections in Watertown. This morning I drove from Watertown to Belmont via common street. I was on the right lane going straight up north (well, slightly turning left). There was a school bus minivan driving from the left turn lane also going up to Belmont (slightly behind me). The driver in the school bus horned me hard as there was a near collision because both of us wanted to go up to Common St. I can not fault the driver because the layout of the intersection is confusing indeed. This seems to be a repeated patten now that I have seen many drivers trying to go straight up via the left turn lane. Can you do something with it?
Yes, very aware of this exact problem. Many are concerned about it. I have brought it to the attention of the team. They have a lot of balls in the air and the final on-the-ground response may not come until the spring on this, but it is definitely on the list.
Final paving on Common Street just finished. The contractor put down temporary and permanent looking lane markings similar to ones before, two southbound lanes towards Trapelo Road, one northbound from Trapelo Road.
The situation on the southern side of Trapelo Road is similar, the new lane markings resemble what was there before.
Looks like the plan is to make the permanent markings just like the previous temporary ones, which caused so many problems that are documented in this thread.
Please reduce the design to one lane in each direction. We need traffic calming here, not acceleration.
If traffic speed gets reduced to 15mph going through the intersection all problems about awkward flow go away as people have enough time to figure out where they should drive.
Preliminary lines for what looks like final striping was put on Common Street last night. It is almost exactly the same as the previous temporary striping.
North of Trapelo Road there are 2 lanes southbound and one lane northbound. There appears to be some space for a bike lane although the entire space would be in the door zone.
South of Trapelo Road there are 1 or 2 lanes southbound that seem to merge into 1. The completely unnecessary left turn lane in front of Belmont Citco was carried over into this design. There appears to be some space for a bike lane, depending on how many lanes are in the final design.
Northbound there are first 1, then 2 lanes approaching Trapelo Road. There is no sign of any bike lane on the entire block and very clearly no space for it at the Trapelo Road intersection.
Loading zones will also become a problem. Large trucks make deliveries at all times in this area. This wasn’t a big problem in the old design as the lanes were very wide. Now that more space was given to moving vehicles through the third lane I suspect this will become a problem as trucks stopping in the northbound lane between Trapelo Road and Payson Road block almost the entire lane.
There definitely will be bike lanes on Trapelo.
I do share your concerns about the intersection striping and have brought them to the attention of the engineers.
Not that this is a reason not to get it right, but the Cushing intersection itself has not been final paved and will not get its true final striping until the spring.
So it’s been a couple of months since I last checked in here. In that time, I have passed through the Common/Trapelo intersection well over 100 times. I can tell you the Northbound traffic is still a serious issue; there is a 80% failure rate for proper signal/signage interpretation. The left lane traffic is almost always proceeding across and left…continuing onto Common Street. This is causing numerous near-collisions with the right lane traffic which is trying to also proceed across onto Common. You do not need a Civil Engineering degree to see this is obviously WRONG.
Now, if our town engineer is not too stubborn or entrenched in his “award winning design”…he will also see the obvious need for change in the Northbound signal/signage.
The SIMPLE solution is to have the right lane (by Eric’s gas station) become a Right-Turn-Only lane, and the left lane is all-other options (straight onto Cushing, left onto Common, and hard left onto Trapelo).
If you do not believe me, I urge you to spend a half hour on any typical day between 5 and 6 PM to observe the traffic flow and see firsthand what I am describing.
I DO believe you. You are 100% right. I’ve seen it myself.
There are a lot of pieces in motion right now as people hustle to get things battened down for the winter. Your suggestion is a good one. I’m not sure whether it will get implemented before or after the season, but this is going to get fixed one way or another, because it has to get fixed.
Thanks for your response. I drove through the intersection tonight and saw the newly painted arrows on the ground. I have to say I am incredulous. The real fix was to make the right lane (by Eric’s gas station) right turn only. Our town engineers decided to paint the most cockamamie sequence of arrows in the right lane; pointing off into almost every direction. I am left to believe this is just a bad joke, or the town engineer is simply too invested in a faulty design to admit what is truly wrong. I am so disappointed to see yet another amazingly ridiculous solution to a problem that has such an easy fix.
Will common sense ever prevail, Will???
We’ll have to live into it a little further. If they can’t get it to work with this strategy, we’ll definitely insist on a reversal.
Will, We already know the right lane does not line up with the Northbound side of Common Street…not even close. Why are you NOT insisting on a reversal now?
I am extremely disappointed on how much time and money have been wasted on this issue and the intersection remains a dysfunctional embarrassment and serious safety issue for the town.
Got it. I do respect the professionals involved as I do respect your observations. I’ve made sure that they are hearing your concerns directly.
I will check back in with you in a few weeks with more feedback on the flow. I hope you will also have some updated observations on the efficacy of the most recent signage changes.
John, please call me on my cell, 617-771-8274 — I am trying to arrange a meeting on this.
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