Removing one of the roads leading into Watertown Square, splitting up the 70 and 70A into three routes and using technology to improve traffic flow are three of multiple recommendations for improving Arsenal Street in the study done for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT).
The final draft of the Arsenal Street Corridor Study was presented by transportation consultants from VHB at a public forum Thursday at the Watertown Library. Information was gathered for the study during six stakeholder meetings and three public meetings (including the one Thursday) dating back to September 2015.
There were a total of nine recommendations, whittled down from the 18 presented at a meeting in October 2016.
“We looked at driving, biking, walking and especially public transportation,” said Michael Clark, project coordinator for MassDOT. “The goal is to improve each one.”
One major change recommended is reconfiguring Watertown Square, including removing one of the roads leading into the intersection. Laura Castelli of VHB said Charles River Road would be closed off at the intersection in the Square.
“It would allow people to go east to use Riverside Street (off North Beacon Street) to get to Charles River Road,” Casetlli said. “It would not allow people going west (on Charles River Road) to go to Watertown Square.”
To get to Watertown Square from Charles River Road heading westbound, drivers would have to use Irving Street to get to North Beacon Street. The realignment of the road would create new open space near the Watertown Square Dock that could be turned into recreation space, said Watertown Senior Planner Gideon Schreiber.
With only four roads coming into the intersection, the sequence of the traffic lights could be changed. The recommendation calls for having all the traffic from heading one direction to go at once, for example, all the traffic coming from Galen Street would go at once.
Castelli said going straight from the second from left lane would be allowed. She noted that people try to do that now, and because they cannot do that legally it causes backups with people waiting to go left. Changing the signals to do that now is not possible because vehicles turning left from Mt. Auburn Street onto Arsenal Street go at the same time and cross in front of people waiting to go straight.
The plans also shows extra left turn lanes: one from Mt. Auburn Street to Arsenal Street and one from Arsenal Street onto Galen Street. This could be done by eliminating the traffic island in the middle of those streets.
Another proposed change would be moving the stop for the 70 bus from near Church Street to a spot right on the Watertown Square Delta on Main Street.
“A lot of people transfer buses there (to the 71) but it is pretty far – you will see people running to make the bus,” Castelli said.
One of the main goals of the study was to improve bus service along the Arsenal Street Corridor. Right now there is the 70 bus from Central Square in Cambridge to Cedarwood and the 70A from Central Square to North Waltham. The different lengths of the routes mean the buses will often bunch up, leading to long periods between buses.
The report recommends splitting the 70 into three different routes, and adding some express buses, said VHB’s Caroline Ducas. One would be the current 70 route, from Cambridge to Cedarwood. The second would be a new spur route from Waltham Center to North Waltham, which is the section served by the 70A. A third would be a truncated portion of the 70, from Waltham Center to Cambridge.
“Most people using the 70A from North Waltham are going to the Red Line (in Central Square), so we would recommend an express bus,” Ducas said.
Currently there are no express buses on the 70 route.
Another recommendation for buses is to add four more shelters along Arsenal Street. Castelli said these would encourage more people to use public transit during bad weather. The existing shelters would remain.
Smart Traffic Lights
One way consultants believe that traffic can be improved along Arsenal Street is by installing two types of traffic signal technologies. One is called transit signal priority, where buses can communicate with traffic signals.
“If a bus is approaching and the light is about to change to red it will hold the light and allow the bus to go through,” Castelli said. “It allows buses to move more quickly, which may encourage more people to use the bus. Also, it would allow traffic to move more smoothly.”
The other technology is known as adaptive signal control. The controls would be installed at 10 locations along Arsenal Street between Watertown Square and Greenough Boulevard. The technology would adjust the timing of lights based on the traffic conditions.
Castelli said adaptive signal control would improve the flow of traffic and the bus reliability with it. In addition, she said, it would cut down the amount of cut through traffic on streets like Frank Street and Walnut Street.
Like the improvements to Watertown Square on one end, the study recommends making improvements to the other end of the corridor, at Soldier’s Field Road. Clark said the City of Boston is looking at making improvements of that intersection in conjunction with a project in Allston, and a meeting and recommendations are likely this fall.
Nearby, the study looked at making changes to the Arlington Street/Arsenal Street/Coolidge Avenue intersection near Home Depot. Castelli said VHB would recommend removing Coolidge Avenue from the intersection, and connect it either it to Arlington Street or to Arsenal Street. Both would require going through environmentally sensitive areas, and one would go through private land. The advantage of using the one connecting to Arsenal Street is it would remove the traffic coming down Coolidge Avenue from the Arlington/Arsenal intersection.
A new express bus is something that should be explored linking to Commuter Rail service to South Station. The report recommends running it from Watertown Square along North Beacon Street to the new Boston Landing Commuter Rail stop in Allston (next the new Boston Bruins practice rink). A stop somewhere along the route of the express bus would be recommended, likely at North Beacon and School Street, Castelli said. The MBTA would not likely fund this, so the a sponsor or public/private partnership would be needed, she added.
The report does not recommend reducing the number of lanes of traffic on Arsenal Street, but does recommend bike lanes. The improvements would include re-striping Arsenal Street east of School Street to create bike lanes at least 4.3 feet in width and closer to 4.5 feet in most places, Castelli said. The street could not be widened in many places due to buildings being too close to the roadway.
Another bicycle improvement recommended is creating north-south links from the Watertown Community Path (Watertown Greenway) to the Charles River. The streets to be considered for the cross connections are Irving Street, Beechwood Avenue and Louise Street/Paul Street. Castelli said after the presentation that there would not be a new bike lane on Irving Street roads but bikes would share the road with vehicles. Bike lanes could be possible on Beechwood and Louise/Paul if the roads are made one way.
Who Is Responsible for the Projects
With the exception of the improvements to existing MBTA bus service, the responsibility for implementing the other recommendations would fall partially or entirely on the Town of Watertown. In all cases the town could use money from the state and/or developers to pay for the projects to help pay for the improvements, the report says.
Assistant Town Manager Steve Magoon said some of the projects could be done under the proposed I-Cubed project being proposed jointly by Town officials and Athenahealth. Magoon noted that the Town Council will have a special meeting to discuss the I-Cubed proposal at 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 29 at Town Hall (see more info here).
Under I-Cubed the state would provide Athenahealth with bond money to pay for the infrastructure improvements which it will do in conjunction with public entities – the Town of Watertown and the Department of Conservation and Recreation. The bonds are paid back for with increased taxes that come from Athenahealth’s ongoing expansion. Projects must be near the Athenahealth property and must be completed within 3 years of approval of the I-Cubed proposal.
See the final draft of the Arsenal Street Corridor Study, background documents and notes from prior meetings at the MassDOT Arsenal Street Corridor Study webpage: http://www.massdot.state.ma.us/planning/Main/CurrentStudies/ArsenalStreetCorridorStudy/Documents.aspx.