Changes will be made to help bicyclists get through and around one of Watertown’s more tricky intersections.
The Department of Public Work is finalizing plans to restructure the Common Street intersection with Orchard Street and Church Street, as well as the nearby Common Street and Spring Street intersection.
Common Street at Orchard and Church streets will become a rotary, and bicyclists can either follow the roadway around the round-about, or use the pedestrian paths around the edge. Heading toward Mt. Auburn Street, members of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee had questions about whether bicycles should be encouraged to stay on Common Street, or continue down Spring and use another side street to get to Mt. Auburn.
Last week, the Town Council’s Public Works Committee approved some changes that would add a bike lane on one block of Marshall Street and signs to guide cyclists from Common Street to the bike path leading to Mt. Auburn Street.
There will be bike lanes on Common Street between Spring Street and the rotary at Orchard Street. Bicyclists can go to Mt. Auburn Street on Common Street but the last block or so the bike lane disappears and they must share the lane with cars.
Originally, members of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee hoped to have bike lanes on Common, all the way to the intersection with Mt. Auburn Street. However, they discovered that the roadway could not be widened because on one side there is the historic Common Street Cemetery, while on the other side there is a transformer box near the former church that is now condominiums, said Bike & Ped member Oliver Rick.
Bike Lane on Marshall Street
To give cyclists another option to get to Mt. Auburn Street the Bike & Ped Committee recommended a bike path along Marshall Street, which is the first left if you are heading from Common Street toward Watertown Square on Spring Street.
However, Marshall Street is one way away from Mt. Auburn Street. Therefore the bike lane would need to be “counter flow,” said Town Engineer Matt Shuman.
“The idea is to stripe a lane so bikes would go the opposite direction,” Shuman said. “If you go down Spring Street, you could use Marshall to get to Mt. Auburn Street.”
To put the bike lane on the right side (heading toward Mt. Auburn Street) would require moving the parking across Marshall Street to the same side as the Senior Center.
Because the route would be new, and would take cyclists off Common Street, signs would be put up directing them to the new bike lane on Marshall Street, Shuman said.
The Right Hook
To get to Spring Street from Common Street, drivers and bicyclists coming from the rotary at Orchard Street would need to go through the new configuration of the Common Street/Spring Street/Marion Road intersection.
Currently, the roads split into two directions, with Spring hitting Common where it head turns to go the hill toward Orchard and Marion hitting Common on the way toward Mt. Auburn Street. The new intersection will have a traffic light, and as Spring Street approaches Common Street it curves right. Marion Road comes into a “T” intersection at Spring.
To get onto Spring Street from Common would mean making a right of more than 90 degrees and go through the curve. Bike & Ped member Maria Saiz said this creates the opportunity for a “right hook,” where a bicyclist gets hit when a car hugs the turn too closely as they both go around the turn.
Shuman said the DPW looked at alternatives, including an off-the-street bike path across the new island at the intersection of Spring and Common. However, this would require crossing the sidewalk twice in an area where there are often students walking to Watertown High School. In addition, it crosses the middle of a new driveway for a resident at the corner of Middlesex Road and Common Street. They decided against this option.
Adding a bike lane there would be tough because the roadway is already narrow, said Public Works Superintendent Gerry Mee.
The Public Works committee decided to go with the current design.
To help bicyclists navigate the light at Common and Spring streets there will be bike boxes, which are areas in front of the stop line for cars where bicyclists can sit and get a head start on the motor vehicles. Bike & Ped members at the meeting liked that addition.