The town’s plans to renovate Mt. Auburn Street include a “Road Diet” where the roadway will be reduced to one lane each way for most of its length, and bike lanes will be added, along with some new traffic lights.
Plans were presented at the Watertown Library on Thursday night at a meeting where the Department of Public Works sought input from the public. The residents at the meeting had a mixed reaction to the ideas for changing the stretch of Mt. Auburn Street between Watertown Square and School Street.
Many did not think that reducing the lanes of traffic from two to one would work, fearing it would lead to traffic backups. Traffic Engineer Mike Pompili from WorldTech – the town’s design consultant – said that adding left turn lanes at major intersections will allow the traffic to move smoothly.
“Common sense is reducing from four lanes to two reduces capacity,” Pompili said. “If you are stuck behind someone waiting to go left, now you have to get around to the right lane. It creates friction with the right lane and increases the risk of side swipe accidents.”
The explanation did not convince some at the meeting, and many questioned why bike lanes were replacing lanes of traffic.
“Bicycles have as much right tot he road as motor vehicles,” said Public Works Superintendent Gerry Mee.
He added that any project that receives Federal funding must accommodate multiple modes of transportation, including not only motor vehicles but bicycles, pedestrians and public transportation.
The project will receive Federal money doled out by the state’s Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). It was ranked third in the state by the Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization, after the Needham Street/Highland Avenue area in Newton and Needham, and Ferry Street in Everett.
Members of the Watertown Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission said instead of a bike lane next to traffic they prefer a cycle track – a bike path separated from moving or parked vehicles by a curb.
Bicycle and Pedestrian Commissioner Sam Scoppettone said that he attended a Complete Streets training recently and learned that while only 7 percent of people find an on-street bike lane safe, 60 percent find a separate bike lane safe.
Others pushed for a dedicated late for buses and bicycles.
Mee said there is not enough space to have a separate bus and bike lane and parking.
New Lights, Turning Lanes & Transit
A new traffic light is planned for Boylston Street to allow traffic coming from Hosmer School to move more smoothly. Left turn lanes are planned in many spots, including at from Mt. Auburn Street to School Street and from School Street turning onto Mt. Auburn.
A left turn arrow is planned for people turning from Mt. Auburn Street onto Common Street.
Designers are looking at making Parker Street, which heads south off Mt. Auburn near Common Street, into a one-way heading away from Mt. Auburn Street. Few people turn from Parker onto Mt. Auburn Street, and removing that from the light sequence at Mt. Auburn and Common Street would speed up traffic, said Rick Benevento, President of WorldTech. Parker would also have more parking for businesses in the area.
The traffic lights will be designed to allow buses to have priority by keeping the light green when a bus approaches. The plan also includes spots for bus stops allowing buses to pull over so they do not block traffic, Benevento said.
Not Like Trapelo Road/Belmont Street
Several residents said they do not want Mt. Auburn Street’s renovation to turn out like the Trapelo Road/Belmont Street project.
“On Belmont Street there all these traffic islands were installed, but this has painted lines so if it doesn’t work out it can be rearranged,” said resident Russ Arico.
Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis said she can no longer get make a left onto Belmont Street after 3:30 p.m. because of the traffic back up.
“There are major issues,” Kounelis said. “I know we need to accommodate all, but we have to be sensitive to how we accomplish that.”
The meeting is just one step toward approving the project. Mee said this was a 3,000-foot view, and there will be more meetings to look at details such as the design of bus stops, landscaping and other things before the plan is approved.
Benevento said it could take five years before construction starts.