Residents Say Traffic, Speed is Rising on Their Street; Officials Say the Problem is Townwide

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Residents of Lincoln Street went to the Traffic Commission to try to change the increasing traffic and speeding during rush hour on their street. Officials said the problem goes well beyond their block.

Residents of a street off of one of Watertown’s main thoroughfares have seen an increase in traffic during rush hour, and say people are driving at dangerous speeds. They took their case to the Traffic Commission, which said the issue cannot be solved by making changes on one street and would push the problem to another road.

Lincoln Street comes off Mt. Auburn Street near the intersection with Walnut Street — a connector to Arsenal Street —and curves to connect with Spruce Street. The residential street has a small connector street (known as Little Lincoln Street) which comes out on Walnut Street.

Residents say drivers make a left onto Lincoln to avoid the light at Walnut Street, then get onto Walnut to continue toward Arsenal Street. The most cars are seen during the morning commute. A traffic study done by the Town found that traffic increases to as much as five times the amount seen during non-rush hour times, and many cars speed.

Lincoln Street resident Jason Merkin, who analyzed the data from the traffic survey, said that when he moved in four years ago his children were the only ones on the street. Now there are nearly a dozen.

“I want to make the street safe for my neighbors, my children and my neighbors’ children,” said Merkin, who noted that the morning rush is the same time that he is walking his children to school.

The median speed of cars on Lincoln Street looking at the whole day is about 15 mph, but during the rush hour most vehicles exceed 25 mph. Councilor Caroline Bays said that she and some residents watched traffic on the street one morning and saw some very fast drivers.

“We counted 33 cars in less than an hour and of the 33, about one-third were speeding,” Bays said. “Two were going so quickly you wanted to shout at them. It is truly dangerous.”

During the traffic study, the fastest speed recorded was 40 mph. The speed limit on Lincoln, as with all streets in Watertown where the speed limit not posted is 30 mph.

Lincoln Street resident Abigail Houghton said she doesn’t feel safe walking with her children on her street, and others in town.

“It’s not just Lincoln Street. It can be scary to walk in Watertown,” said Houghton who added that the speed limit of 30 mph does not seem appropriate on a side street.

Residents fear the problem will get worse when Arsenal Yards opens, and if a planned development at 85 Walnut Street (formerly Doble Engineering) is redeveloped, including a 500 car garage.

They also found that the traffic apps are directing drivers to use their street to get to Walnut Street.

Possible Steps

Residents discussed several ways to make changes in hopes of reducing the number of vehicles and their speed. From making it one way toward Mt. Auburn Street to closing off Little Lincoln Street to putting in speed humps. They also asked the Traffic Commission to look at reducing the speed limit or putting a “no left turn” sign on Mt. Auburn Street effective during rush hour.

Jane Holden, one of the Lincoln Street residents who requested the Traffic Commission hearing, said that most of the households on the street participated in a survey about potential changes. Most disagreed with making the street one way or closing off one end, but most agreed with one request.

“Over 20 neighbors say they are in favor of speed bumps,” Holden said.

Not all Lincoln Street residents supported making changes to the street.

Charles Kasparian, who has lived on the street for more than 50 years, said that there has been traffic on Lincoln Street over the years, and he said the change could impact other streets.

“My position is leave it the way things are now,” Kasparian said. “I think it is a bad precedent. Across town, a lot of people use streets as cut throughs. To make it one way doesn’t solve the problem, it just sends it to the next street.”

Commission Responds

Watertown Police Sgt. David Sampson, who heads the Police Department’s Traffic Division, said that Lincoln Street is not alone.

“An increase in volume and speeding during rush hour is not unique to Lincoln Street,” Sampson said. “We hear it from all over town.”

He did not recommend adding a speed bump on Lincoln, and said that changing the speed limit has not been proven to slow drivers.

Public Works Superintendent Gerry Mee said that his department is not against putting in speed bumps, or humps as the wider ones are called. Some have been installed on Waverley Avenue and Church Street recently, and others are planed for Whites Avenue and in front of Cunniff School on Warren Street. However, he said, they need to be in the right place.

Fire Chief Bob Quinn said the speed bumps can cause damage to fire vehicles, which will sometimes scrape against them. The ambulances have the most problems. They have automatic chains to assist is winter weather driving that have been knocked off by the speed bumps.

“We have to really take extra caution going over them in the ambulance so as to not damage the chains, which delays our response time,” Quinn said after the meeting.

Police Chief Michael Lawn, who is chair of the Traffic Commission, said that he knows what it is like to live on a cut through street. He said he would not let his children play in the front yard unsupervised because people speed on his road. He added that the Town should be looking at the problem more broadly.

“I don’t want you leave thinking that we don’t care about you,” Lawn said. “The problem is the whole town, and it is not just Watertown.”

Other communities, including Belmont and Boston, have reduced their speed limits, but have not seen a slowing of drivers.

“(Boston Mayor) Marty Walsh wants to reduce it to 20 mph, now,” Lawn said.

A flashing sign that tells drivers their speed could be placed on Lincoln Street, Lawn said, and he said Police could do other things, such as putting a police officer on Lincoln during rush hour to try to slow drivers.

Mee said the Town is in the process of remodeling Mt. Auburn Street, and he said designers will also be looking at the side streets.

“The Mt. Auburn Street project is the best avenue to look at it,” Mee said.

The Town can also work with Waze and other navigation apps to not make Lincoln Street the primary choice for drivers.

A added that the DPW is working to change the project at 85 Walnut Street so that not all the traffic is coming on to Walnut Street. The plan is to have some vehicles go in and out of the site onto Arsenal Street.

17 thoughts on “Residents Say Traffic, Speed is Rising on Their Street; Officials Say the Problem is Townwide

  1. There are certainly many side streets(and not discounting this one) that get this sort of surge at specific times of day. I would not be against putting calming rises on many side streets…the cut throughs are easy to identify. Why are we waiting for Mt Auburn street given this is a townwide issue? I am still puzzled by Mt Auburn going down to one lane and left turn lanes when the biggest bang for getting people from point a->B would be to keep 4 lanes and make one lane a bus/bike lane either 6-9:30am then 4-7pm or all the time? Of course the pedestrian crossings should be made safer(and can be). The amount of people I encounter taking a left on Mt Auburn(not at a light) is very small in comparison(anedotal for sure). If the goal for Mt Auburn is a)better pedestrian crossings b) less traffic by promoting better times in other modes of transportation then we are missing the goals. I believe bus lane only, for the smaller sections of Mt Auburn has improved the times. Why not have a bus lane up Mt Auburn(costs< + more people in better time)? If anyone knows the answer to this please post, I sincerley would like to know why this was not the answer?

  2. We also have a cut-through problem on my street, Templeton Parkway. I fear for the children who live on my street because some people drive unreasonably fast for such a narrow street.

    I believe that side street speed limits should be cut to 25 mph and the police should get out and enforce it on various cut through streets in order to send a message. Do we have to wait for something horrible to happen before we act?

  3. Speed limits should be 25 or slower. Much safer if someone were to get hit—see Complete Streets. There should be parking allowed and little traffic circles at even small intersections. Gives us green and traffic calming. More speed signs— do we want to lower speeds or make money catching speeders? Show drivers what we expect. More enforcement.

  4. I live on Waltham Street, Watertown. Every day I am yelling slow down to cars exceeding the speed limit. I cringe when I am walking one of my grandsons down to the Bemis park.
    When the town fixed Waltham Street, I always wonder why there are no speed bumps. I have lived in my house over 25 years & have never been nervous walking on Waltham Street. It’s made think about selling my house and moving out of Watertown…..

  5. I live at Belmont and Lexington. Two stop signs on opposite sites of Lexington street are a suggestion for most drivers. I’ve witnessed at least 2 accidents a year in the 7 years being here.

  6. Residents of Watertown have been concerned about the increasing traffic in town for years. And what have our officials done — blindly allowed massive construction without true a plan of how to deal with the increase in vehicles. The steps they are taking with our roads are counterintuitive. Our current officials are not equipped to deal with this growth. It’s time for a change. We need people in charge that can fix our schools, dilapidated streets, traffic issues, etc. We can do better. #WatertownNeedsAMayor.

    • Better public transportation and more dedicated bus lanes would help too. For gods sake, can we get a bus line going down Grove Street? Traffic there is a nightmare during rush hour. Speaking of Grove Street, I wouldn’t mind seeing the parking lot owned by Mt. Auburn Cemetery (currently rented to Mt. Auburn Hospital) turned into a commuter lot. Getting anywhere by public transportation from this part of town takes far longer than it should.

  7. The traffic commission has heard and discussed the matter of reduced speed limits several times over the last 5 years and has sent it back to the staff ‘for study’ and kicked the can further down the road each time. Actually lower speed limits DO slow cars down. The first time someone gets a speeding ticket on a street, he or she is much less likely to surpass the posted speed limit again. Not to mention, there are plenty of studies out there that tell us how much less likely a person is to die after being hit by cars that are going a mere 5-10 mph less. As far as the Mt. Auburn Street project goes, let’s all please remember that those 5-10 mph that we might lose amount to almost nothing when it comes to getting to your destination as long as your car keeps moving at a steady pace and doesn’t get held up at the intersections.

    Its time to act on this speed limit matter Chief Lawn, Superintendent Mee, Councilor Bays. Enough studying of the matter. People who have advocated for it just got tired of asking but please don’t mistake that for us not wanting it. Showing up at a traffic commission meeting isn’t easy to do for most working people. Thanks and I know this is the absolute worst forum to voice this concern but I’m just venting frustrations. I live on Bellevue and I have nightmares about my kids getting hit on this cut-through. Have already lost a side-view mirror on my car and keep getting told by WPD that many streets have the same problem and there’s nothing they can do about it.

      • Yes, bravo Aaron. Acknowledging there is a problem and then doing absolutely nothing certainly hasn’t helped. I can’t see any reason not to lower the speed limits. Also, if, as Lawn says, “(Boston Mayor) Marty Walsh wants to reduce it to 20 mph, now”, then there must be some validity in reducing speed limits. They can observe and study things all they want, but sitting idly by doing nothing doesn’t help the situation.

  8. People are similar to water when they commute. Both will travel in the path of least resistance. Continue to add traffic congestion, stoplights, and narrowing main arteries for a few bikers and there will be traffic flowing through neighborhoods. It’s been happening for years. Quiet streets become rush hour cut throughs. Welcome to the new “progressive “ Watertown!!

  9. I’ve seen very few bicyclists using the new bike lanes on Mt. Auburn St. and Arsenal St. We spend all this money for them and add to the problems for those who have to drive cars to get to work or appointments. When winter and snow comes and people can’t see the road markings for all the zigs and zags on those roads, let’s see what happens! Progressive is regressive in my books.

    • What they have planned for Mt. Auburn St. is a joke. I find it laughable that Town officials and anyone supportive of the effort thinks that it will solve or alleviate traffic concerns.
      Quite the opposite… this noble idea of reducing Mt. Auburn from 4 lanes to two (all for the sake of bike lanes), is going to be a disaster, and make matters worse by backing up traffic, create even more congestion, and encourage drivers to take alternate side streets. The brianiacs that conceived this boondoggle should be humiliated and run out of town.

  10. Aldrich Road is a dangerous cut-through street with a blind curve, a school bus drop-off, parking on one side, and Casey Playground and basketball courts. Yet the traffic knuckleheads allow this narrow street to be two-way. Drivers cut through to avoid the traffic signals at the Watertown/Galen Street intersection. Kids getting off the school bus, kids chasing a ball from the playground, people walking in the street in winter when residents don’t clear their walks. What could possibly happen? Someone will be hit and maybe killed that’s what. Injury or death is what usually gets the attention of the traffic powers that be. Residents can complain and complain, but until there is a tragedy nothing is done. It happens over and over.

  11. If Watertown officials actually cared what residents thought, it would invite all to participate directly as a community through Town Meeting…just like every other Massachusetts town does. Power was grabbed in early 80’s by none other than a member of the traffic commission, whose traffic planning credentials include selling suits and owning land in town. The joke is on us for sitting idly by for all these years pretending to have a voice in any of this. Town government is going to do exactly what they want to do without inviting any of us into the process.

    • Just an FYI, the town meeting in Watertown was a representative one where members were elected, so not every resident could participate in those meetings. It is a common form of Town Meeting for larger towns.

  12. Reply
    When we had town meeting every Watertown resident was allowed to speak if they weren’t one of the 166 town meeting members representing each of our 12 precincts – they would ask the moderator. No one was ever denied that opportunity. I was an elected town meeting member. There are hundreds of representative town meetings in Massachusetts- including surrounding towns – Lexington, Arlington, Belmont Brookline etc
    This is New England citizen government

    What is better than having your neighbors representing the residents as your legislative body?

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