Protected Bike Lanes Included in Plans for Mt. Auburn Street Renovation

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Options for bicycle lanes that may be used in the Mount Auburn Street renovation.

The long-in-the-planning Mount Auburn Street renovation is taking shape, and Monday night plans for adding wider bike lanes to the major artery were shown to a packed meeting at Town Hall.

The meeting brought together the Town Council’s Public Works subcommittee and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee. It came about after a meeting in December 2016 during which residents brought up concerns that the safety of bicyclists were not being included in the planning for Mt. Auburn Street.

Talks about the renovation of the road, which goes from Watertown Square through East Watertown to Cambridge, began several years ago. The project is a Complete Streets project, which means it not only includes motor vehicle traffic, but also accommodates bicycles, pedestrians and public transportation. In 2007 there was a study for improving Coolidge Square, and the renovation of the length of the Roadway from Patten Street (near Starbucks) to the Cambridge line was added to the project along the way.

Kris Surette, from the town’s consultant WorldTech Engineering, said that the project is a few years away from reality and right now officials are shooting for construction in Fiscal Year 2022.

The plans discussed Monday night would include protected bicycle lanes on each side of the roadway. In addition, the number of lanes of traffic would be reduced from four (two each way) to two, with turning lanes at intersections with large amount of left turns.

Andrew Campagna of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, said it would be good to have data about how much traffic can be handled with two lanes vs. four lanes. Michael Pompili of WorldTech said that the new design includes turn lanes and improved traffic lights that will allow it to handle the traffic. (Statistics can be found in this study).

On-street parking is allowed on the south side of Mt. Auburn Street from Patten Street to Arlington Street but there is no parking on the north side. There is parking allowed on both sides in Coolidge Square, and that will continue. Officials are considering whether to allow parking on the north side of Mt. Auburn Street from Arlington Street to Cambridge. Right now it is not allowed.

A protected bicycle lane can come in a number of forms:

  • A bike lane separated from traffic by a buffer painted onto the street and street parking to the left
  • A bike lane with street parking in between it and the lane of traffic, and the sidewalk to the left
  • A bike lane up on the sidewalk level, separated from the traffic and parking

The third option, a raised and separated bike lane, is considered the safest for bicyclists. Engineers looked at having one on each side, or having two lanes (one each direction) on the same side of the road, Surette said, but there is not enough room. They plan to keep the same overall width of the road – 56 feet – with 11 foot wide lanes of traffic, 10 foot wide turning lanes and 6.5 foot wide bicycle lanes.

The recommendation for Patten Street to Coolidge Square is to see if a separated, raised bike lane would work on the Northside (toward Watertown Square), and a buffered bike lane on the roadway on the Southside (toward Cambridge) with the bike lane located in between the parked cars and the travel lane.

The area from Arlington Street to Cambridge is still being studied, Surrete said, but there could be more protected bike lanes for that section.

“We could provide separated (and raised) facilities on  both side of the road,” Surrete said. “There is a little more right of way there.”

Members of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee said they prefer either sidewalk-level bike lanes, or having it separated from traffic by the parking lane.

“Not many people use the (bike lanes on Mt. Auburn Street) now,” said Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee member Sam Scoppettone. “Why don’t they? Because it is so dangerous.”

Scoppottone said research shows that if in areas with unprotected bike lanes, only about 7 percent of cyclists use bike lanes, while 60 percent use a bike lane if it is protected from traffic.

Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee member Maria Saiz said if there the bike lane is beside the lane of traffic there should be some sort of barrier, such as plastic poles or bollards, to separate bicyclists from vehicles.

Some worried about what the new design would mean for Coolidge Square. Resident Deb Peterson recalled the discussion of redesigning began in 2007, and she thinks more input is needed from residents and business in that area.

Tyke Patiquin, whose family has owned Cass the Florist for 76 years, said she worries about parking being reduced in the area.

“I think the committee is ignoring that there are some businesses that people will not ride their bike to – funeral homes, buying flowers, going to a medical appointment,” Patiquin said. “Parking is paramount to small businesses in Watertown.”

Watertown Town Engineer Matt Shuman said there is no plan to remove parking in the Coolidge Square business district.

Others wondered about how delivery trucks will be accommodated, because they could interfere with bike lanes. Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee member Jesse Hammond said he has lived in places that allowed trucks to unload in turning lanes and wondered if that was an option.

Input will be gathered for the next couple weeks, and comments and questions can be submitted here: mountauburnstreet.com/stay-in-touch/. You can also sign up to receive email updates on the project on that page.

Information about the project, including the slides from Monday’s presentation can be found on the Mount Auburn Street Project website, mountauburnstreet.com

{This story was updated at 5:39 p.m. on June 20. It incorrectly said parking was allowed on the north side of Mt. Auburn Street from Patten Street to Coolidge Square.}

25 thoughts on “Protected Bike Lanes Included in Plans for Mt. Auburn Street Renovation

  1. I think all bicycles like automobiles should be registered and assessed an excise tax. If they are going to take up funds and space on public roads, then they ought to have the honor of footing the bill just like the motorist.

    • They already foot the bill–it’s called taxes. And many also own cars and thus pay the excise tax. There is no good reason for registration and a tax on bikes.

      • And, what about the ones who don’t own a vehicle, what excise taxes are they paying? That notwithstanding, excise taxes are paid for EACH vehicle owned.

        Just because one is already paying excise tax on a single or multiple vehicles shouldn’t mean they get a pass on paying that same tax on a bicycle.

        “There is no good reason for registration and a tax on bikes”.

        There’s no good reason why we should be spending enormous amounts of
        money and time (never mind the inconvenience), to appease a relatively small segment of commuters that will take advantage of the proposal for
        roughly 8-9 months out of the year.

        I know, the reasoning goes that the project should accommodate “All Users”,
        but when it comes down to brass tacks, the excuse is ‘well, we’re different.
        Why should any of that apply to us’?

        • Wow Henry, you are harsh. Do you really want little kids to have to pay taxes on there bicycles? Ridiculous. . .

          • When all else fails parade “the little kids” out there.

            There is a certain amount of sense to an excise tax on bicycles used to commute.

          • I never suggested that the “little kids” should be hit with an excise tax; any such tax would be incumbent on the kids parents to pay (seeing as they’re the ones who bought and paid for the bike to begin with).

          • Tell me why it makes sense to tax bikes? I see no argument whatsoever.

        • That’s because EACH car creates excess harms in terms of pollution, congestion, and wear and tear on the road. Whereas a bicycle doesn’t create excess harms in terms of pollution, congestion, or wear and tear on the road.

          Bikes are objectively a better option for pollution, congestion, and wear and tear. Period. It’s just a fact of their size and engine. Cars have a lot of things to consider in addition to their convenience. Those things need to be counted for.

    • At the very least they should be insured and be required to carry some form of ID and be held accountable for any accidents (both pedestrian and vehicular), they may cause. Additionally, if they want to be treated and regarded equally as motor vehicle drivers, they need to obey the same traffic laws and face the same penalties and fines as if they were driving a car.

      I see these people routinely disregard safety and traffic laws all the time as if the rules don’t apply to them. It’s even more frustrating and infuriating they are
      never stopped and cited by the police. For a period of time, Cambridge PD was
      stopping and writing up these reckless and selfish individuals (maybe they still
      do, I don’t know). With that in mind, it would be in the best safety concerns
      FOR ALL if WPD enforced and applied the traffic and safety code to cyclists
      the same way they do motorists.

      • Motorists run red lights and disobey traffic laws constantly. What’s your point?

        Is it that you hate bikes and bicyclists perhaps?

        • Motorists don’t treat a red light like it was a yield sign by slowing down or stopping at the light, look to see if its relatively safe to proceed, then continue on through the red light (I see cyclists pull this particular stunt on a daily basis).
          And yes, motorists disobey traffic laws constantly, however, if a cop observes them, they WILL get pulled over and cited and fined for the infraction with the possibility of their insurance rates going up.

          How many times have you seen a bicyclist stopped and written up for ANYTHING? And in the rare event they are cited, it’s a simple $20.00 fine.

          • “Motorists don’t treat a red light like it was a yield sign by slowing down or stopping at the light. . .” Really? Come to Coolidge Square sometime.

            Henry, you just don’t like bikes.

          • Your anecdotes are your anecdotes. And, everyone has these kinds of anecdotes about every form of transportation. If you don’t think car drivers bend the rules around red-lights, then you’re either willfully ignoring what’s happening on the roads. Or, you are far back enough in the line of traffic that you don’t see what actually happens at intersections. Or, because you identify primarily as a driver, the bad actions of drivers don’t get you so riled up because you see yourself in them as well. That’s normal.

            But, facts are facts. And, every years, thousands of people around the country are killed directly by cars – regardless of the will and legality of the driver. Where as, every year, next to 0 people are killed directly by bicycles.

            Policing them just doesn’t make sense because their potential to do harm is so, so, so much lower than the reality of harm caused by cars.

  2. Registration
    Visible License plates
    Insurance
    Excise tax
    Observing traffic laws
    Enforcement by the police department
    Must pass a test just like with a drivers license

    • And what might be the reasoning for all this? Tell me why each point is necessary. Or is it that you don’t want to share the road with bicycles?

      As a society, we want to encourage cycling, especially commuting, because it takes cars off the road. Less traffic. Less pollution. Less CO2. Positive health benefits for the riders.

      We don’t need all of the extra bureaucracy you suggest above. No need at all.

  3. With Mt. Auburn st. down to 2 lanes it will be very difficult for emergency vehicles to navigate especially during rush hour periods. With the bike lanes plowing will also be a challenge.

    • The Mt. Auburn Street renovation is being run by the DPW so I am sure they are thinking about snow plowing. The consultant said that the sidewalk level bike lane would need a separate plow. Also, it may be more difficult to plow the bike lane between parked cars and the sidewalk because cars would have to be moved. They did not talk about emergency vehicles but since the road will be the same width it should be about the same. I don’t think it has been a problem on roads like Main Street or North Beacon St.

  4. “I think the committee is ignoring that there are some businesses that people will not ride their bike to – funeral homes, buying flowers, going to a medical appointment,”

    I’ve happily managed to avoid the first one, but I’ve done the second two on a bicycle repeatedly.

  5. Delivery trucks stopped in the left-turn lanes? Seriously, what the…? Talk about safety concerns; stop and park a 15’+ vehicle in the middle of traffic coming from both directions, exit the vehicle, unload it and cross back and forth the road making deliveries.
    Honestly, if I were a driver, that is not a situation I would want to place myself in, and if
    I was a distributor, its not a situation I’d want to place my employees in.
    The purpose of the left turn lanes is so drivers can turn down the side roads and not have vehicles backed up behind them… they are not for deliveries. How are drivers
    expected to get down any side road if a truck is in the way?
    How much business will be lost because customers don’t want to be
    deal with the congestion caused by reducing the roadway to a single travel lane?

    I’m unaware if there’s a ‘Coolidge Square Business Owners Association’ or not, but
    if there is, they need to stay on top of lunacy like this and any other proposals that
    would negatively impact their livelihoods before its too late.

  6. I reside on Mt Auburn St and where I am in favor of reviewing options for cyclists i see this whole project a huge expense just to appease a small population of travelers. Yes, bringing bike lanes will allow more people to take advantage of it but at the same time it is reducing a major thorough way that parallels Arsenal St that is already underway with improvements and bike lanes – plus Arsenal St abuts the newly developed and interconnected pathways that are a better, and safer, source for cyclists – why not continue to develop that and point cyclists there. Reducing the road to two lanes is an awful idea – there are so many side streets that vehicles will be turning right and left into that will back up traffic – not to mention personal driveways. It’s hard enough for me to pull into my driveway safely with buses, cars and even bikes that having one lane in front of my house will only cause more issues, primarily safety, when pulling in and out of my house – the house I pay taxes for. Try backing in and out of a driveway into one lane of traffic – do you think they will stop for you? At least now I can ease into the outside lane while traffic still flows by – add bikes and a few busses and the place I call home is now impossible to come in and out of at free will. I also heard there was the possibility of cones or some type of physical barrier for the lanes? – ABSOLUTELY NOT! I do not want to walk 12 feet out of my house and have to look at a barrier in front of my property – that will be an eye sore and possibly a blight on property value. If it comes to that I guarantee a movement by Mt Auburn St residents.

    Continue the conversation but the idea of augmenting a throughway that was designed for vehicular traffic is in my opinion a challenging and very expensive idea that in the end will ultimately serve no one. Fix the road, add turning lanes, put pretty trees and flowers – reduce the speed (take the money for all these ideas and apply it to enforcement and traffic signals instead) but don’t muck it up for those that live on the street, pay taxes and actually want to call Mt Auburn St and Watertown home. We don’t have to solve everyone’s problems – this is just an area that isn’t the best suited for bikes – otherwise it would be easy to solve for and everyone would be happy – a very concerned resident!

    • Thanks for your comment Kirk. It would be interesting to know what people who live on Belmont Street are experiencing where the street was narrowed from 2 lanes to 1.

  7. I’m very glad to hear that the city is considering protected bike lanes on Mt. Auburn St. I’ve biked and driven on Mt. Auburn St between Cambridge and Watertown Square many times, and it’s always a bit dicey. The current 4 lane cross-section really doesn’t work that well for anyone. It forces people biking to take the lane, requiring drivers to change lanes. It forces drivers turning left to essentially block a travel lane while waiting to turn, and then have to cross two lanes of oncoming traffic. Having one through lane each direction with turn lanes, along with the addition of protected bike lanes will be much safer and easier for everyone. It will be less stressful for people biking and people driving!