Meeting Monday Will Discuss Major Redesign of Mt. Auburn Street

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A major redesign of Mt. Auburn Street, including a proposal to reduce the lanes to one each way, will be discussed Monday night by the Town Council’s Public Works Committee. 

The meeting is at 7:15 p.m. on Monday, November 20, 2017 in Town Hall, Administration in the Richard E. Mastrangelo Council Chamber 149 Main Street, Watertown.

The Town sent out the following information:

The Watertown Department of Public Works will provide an update on the progress in designing elements of the Mount Auburn Street project at the Public Works Committee meeting. The project team will follow up on comments from the June meeting and provide an update on the project timeline and design. The Mount Auburn Street project has a dedicated website. Please visit to learn more about the project, view plans, download documents, and sign up for project emails. You can also send us a note at *The Committee meeting begins at 6:30 PM; the Mount Auburn Street presentation is scheduled for 7:15 PM

The project got mixed reviews when it was discussed in December 2016. The project was also discussed in June 2017 in a meeting that also focused on the bicycle accommodations that would be part of the project (read more here).

The Mount Auburn Street Project website includes the following description:

The Mount Auburn Street Project will transform the corridor into a “Complete Street.”

A Complete Street provides safe and accessible options for all travel modes – walking, biking, driving, and transit – for people of all ages and abilities.


The Town of Watertown is still refining the design of the roadway based on public and stakeholder feedback. The latest designs can be found on the Documents page. Potential project elements include:

  • One vehicular travel lane in each direction
  • Enhanced/improved bicycle accommodations
  • Left turn lanes at selected intersections
  • Bus turnouts
  • Replacement of MBTA overhead transit catenary wires
  • Curb extensions at selected locations to shorten crossing distances for pedestrians
  • Wider sidewalks
  • Improved pedestrian signal equipment, including warning signage and flashing beacons
  • Additional green spaces along the road
  • Green infrastructure
  • New bicycle signage with information about the regional bicycle network
  • Safer travel for all modes
  • Increased efficiency on the MBTA Bus Route 71 (trackless trolley)
  • More efficient traffic operations
  • Improved pedestrian and bicycle accommodations
  • Accessibility and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Reduced stormwater runoff
  • Improved aesthetics

18 thoughts on “Meeting Monday Will Discuss Major Redesign of Mt. Auburn Street

  1. I am all for improving Mt Auburn St. But wouldn’t reducing it to a single lane each way make traffic unbearable? Drivers will take to side streets to get away from the traffic on the main thoughoughfair. It’s sounds insane to me.
    I grew up in Watertown, just a couple of houses down from Mt Auburn St. I’ve since moved to Kansas, and they truly know how to screw up traffic, mostly by doing exactly what you are proposing. There is more road rage, accidents, and traffic congestion since the changes were put in place.
    Imagine driving to work in the morning, doing the posted speed limit and another driver pulls out in front of you and pokes along the road at a leisurely 20 mph. You’d go kinda nuts because there is no way around that driver so you can make it to work on time.
    Please reconsider this folly.

  2. Reducing through traffic to one lane means that any time someone parks–or worse live/double-parkers!– to block traffic, the 71 bus simply can’t get by. This is already a problem when there’s not enough reach to the overhead wires for the trolley-bus to go around into next lane over. But just moving the wires won’t solve the problem of insufficient room to accommodate delivery trucks or just-plain-rude parkers. Add a bike lane and it gets just that much more complicated, with some added danger to cyclists.

  3. Please write to the with your comments so they are on record, though I’m doubtful that the design will change. I have done so asking them to look at the study that Senator Brownsberger put out the other day: which has a link to the study(basically stating no let up in traffic and what can we do about it). Yes the pedestrian crossings need to be updated for sure, but making this street into one lane is only going to make most intersections(which are already at low grades) into a real queueing nightmare. There is a bit they can do with the timing but if there is just a line from one end of Galen->Mt Auburn to Cambridge…the lights won’t help much. Bike lanes are only helpful if we take to bikes which a) we don’t do for most of the year b) for those nice months will take to a bike only if it is a protected bike lane. I certainly don’t have the answer for our traffic woes but please show me the data, which takes into account the new study, that says putting a 4 lane street to a 2 lane street is going to help:<

    • Kate – You always say “show me the data” but I don’t think you would know what to do with the data. You are not an expert in traffic (are you?)

      Do you believe in the old saying that “more roads bring more drivers?” If you do, wouldn’t fewer roads bring less traffic?

      Here is an excerpt from a very interesting book about, yes, traffic!
      (Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do by Tom Vanderbilt)

      “If you do not believe that new roads bring new drivers, consider what happens when roads are taken away. Surely all the traffic must simply divert to other roads, no? In the short term, perhaps, but over time the total level of traffic actually drops. In a study of what they called ‘disappearing traffic,’ a team of British researchers looked at a broad list of projects in England and elsewhere where roads had been taken away…Predictably, traffic flows dropped at the affected area. Most of the time, though, the increase in traffic on alternative routes was nowhere near the traffic ‘lost’ on the affected roads.”

      • I’m sorry you missed the point of my post. I stated to first read the report about traffic and the many the fact that we will have more traffic for the next 40 or so years. No, I’m not an expert at traffic(we need one in Watertown!) which is why I referred to the link to the study. I have read through much of the traffic intersection reports for Mt Auburn, most of which are low ratings(congested). I did not see anything in the report to indicate that traffic going from 4 to 2 lanes would improve the traffic, they reported that they would get worse in most cases. Watertown has very poor public transportation. If we were to get a Commuter rail stop near Arsenal or extend the Red line out to Watertown then we all would have a better alternative and may get less traffic. To compare England(with arguably much better public transportation) to Watertown is not a good comparison(IMO). We need a multitude of solutions around the area for this issue. Forcing to squeeze everyone into one lane, while hoping this will stop them from driving, I just don’t believe helpful. I’m not an expert in Traffic, just someone who reads the information, tries to ask good questions, absorb what I can and continue to help Watertown to be a great place to live.

  4. I agree with the above comments 100%. Reducing the width of Mt. Auburn will be disastrous and choke traffic immeasurably. Suddenly bicycles are the most important thing. No, the flow of traffic is the most important thing. Not to make impediments to that process, especially on the main thoroughfare through the town.

  5. Contrary to the “traffic will be horrible” opinions, narrowing the roads into one motor vehicle lane in each direction is the smart solution. It will of course alter the morning commute for those who just drive through our town and honk and pollute the air. It will reduce the noise and increase the peace of our town. It will also offer our bicyclists, joggers and walkers a nicer and safer environment to move about town. Narrowing the roads with bus turnouts is the natural solution, adding bike lanes separated by physical barriers, curbs, reflective sticks, different level travel planes or a combination thereof is the key to this being a successful solution. Imagine being able to let our kids ride their bikes to the school, library, shops parks and other locations in our town…having them share the road with trucks, buses, and motor vehicles only separated by a thin white line, would leave few of us at ease of their safety as they move about our town, being separated from the motor vehicles though and it all of a sudden would be a natural and safe way for kids to move about town. For all the concerns about our quality of life we have to act and think of what makes our lives better, fever cars on our roads would be better for all of us, drivers, pedestrians and bike riders alike.

  6. I’ve spoken with a few Coolidge Square business owners about this boondoggle,
    and they were very much displeased with the idea, I even suggested that they
    need to get together on this if they want any chance of stopping it.

    As far as my own concerns and observations… this is going to be an unwanted, unnecessary and unimaginable nightmare for residents and commuters alike
    that once it’s done, it will never be undone.

    And the actual traffic concerns once it’s completed is only part of the problem, just think what it’s going to be like during any construction phase? Just look at what’s
    taking place on Arsenal St. and multiply the problem X-10.

    What I find even more ridiculous is that this is being proposed at a time when even MORE residential units, and large scale business operations are in the works.

    Wishful thinking on my part, but this whole concept needs to go quietly away. I know it won’t (at least not quietly).

  7. Here’s the deal. The town council is receiving a lot of heat about this from people who moved here from elsewhere and who do not understand the history, dynamic and complexity involved with Mt Auburn St. They want to do something to appease the folks because they are increasingly active and vocal in town affairs. What the town council does is hire a consultant, let them plan and execute the project and than later, when the consultant is gone and the project does not turn out all rosy, the town council can deflect responsibility back to the consultant.

    • Good discussion. I hope people show up tonight to give their input and listen to the presentation. The DPW Supt. Gerry Mee said this is not set in stone, so come out.
      Also, from previous presentations they have made, I understand that the federal standards for roads has changed and the lanes would be too narrow if there were two lanes each way AND parking. The town would need to follow the rules to qualify for federal grants for the project.

      • There are quite a few meetings tonight:
        Mt Auburn, WHS Open House(I’m going to), Committee on Public Works, Environment & Energy Efficiency Committee – WE3C Meeting and I think there is another but I can not remember! This is why I sent my comments via email.

      • Joseph,
        Please stop the antagonistic tone of your posts toward everyone you disagree with. It doesn’t help. It’s very obvious that Watertown has become a much divided community so let’s deal with it or not at least respectfully.
        I am very skeptical that narrowing the streets for the traffic “calming” effect that the traffic experts’ claim will result in less traffic overall or improve the quality of resident’s lives. Routine drivers will simply adjust and find alternate routes. They will cut through nearby neighborhood side streets to avoid back-up delays. I hope not your street! Please come by and see the 4 year long Edenfield Avenue reconstruction project where I live. (94 Edenfield Ave). The street has been substantially reduced in width. It is no longer possible to have two vehicles pass each other on the street if cars are parked on both sides. The original neighborhood development began nearly ninety years ago in the 1920’s when families were fortunate to own a single automobile if at all. The property lots are almost all identical in size at 40’W x 100’D with a single file driveway along one side of the house barely wide enough to open a car door. Most of the homes in this neighborhood are two family dwellings. By far, most are rental properties. All these people park on the street, and they don’t care where. There have been three single families homes demolished on this street in the last two years. Another four on the next street Westminster Avenue. All have been replaced with oversized high priced duplex condominiums. This is the new trend in Watertown. Do the math and estimate how many vehicles there are per household (On average, at least 2). There is insufficient off-street parking for them. Watertown has a 2 hr. stationary parking limit, and a 1 AM-6AM parking ban Law on the books year round that is only partially enforced during the winter months. WE HAVE CARS PARKED EVERYWHERE!! People park on sidewalks and in front yards, and in front of other home owner’s driveways. It’s very difficult to get out of your driveway if you choose to park off street in your own driveway. The dark winter mornings in bad weather are dangerous. We do not have curbside snow removal in Watertown. A snowy winter with high snow banks narrows the street even further. How does a fire engine or a medical ambulance get up or down the street for an emergency on a Saturday evening in February after a nor’easter snowstorm when all the residents cars are parked on the snow bank narrowed street with the added number of cars from guests and sleep-overs? This happens EVERY YEAR! This doesn’t improve the quality of life, it makes it miserable. How does any of this make people feel less stressed or secure living on their street? What’s the point of investing taxpayer money to green up and tree line streets that are going to be hidden and car clogged? It doesn’t make any sense and it’s ugly! Poorly planned and thought out rapid urban development has ruined many sections of Watertown. Sorry, I can’t sell my car and ride a bike 25+ miles to work each way up Rte. 20 or 128/93.

    • Time will tell. If it comes down to a worst case scenario, I would be very
      much in favor of placing a referendum question (binding or even non-binding),
      on the Nov. 2018 ballot. Make it simple and straight forward; ‘As part of the ‘Complete Streets Project’, should Watertown reconfigure Mt. Auburn St. to one
      travel lane in both directions?’.

  8. I was at both meetings and live on Mt. Auburn St. and think the “road diet” is an awful idea! Has anyone tried to take a left turn, or been stuck behind someone, off of Arsenal St onto Francis St? That’s a road diet! I have spoken to many residents, neighbors and business owners who all agree and are miffed at the proposal. After hearing last night’s meeting it was clear that the current confines of the road cannot even support the proposed bike lanes, lane reduction and turning lanes as a Whole St Project. It’s clear that the road was just not built to accommodate all of what is proposed. Certain sections, closer to the square, are even taken off the table as the data supports keeping the road “as-is”. I am all for reducing traffic speed, providing dedicated turning lanes, re-paving the asphalt, put in new trees, gentrify the throughway but reducing capacity is an insane idea especially in a day where there is so much development in our town. For those that suggest smaller roads will reduce or deter cars and operators from using them – come buy a house on Mt. Auburn St, pay taxes, live there for a few years and then see what you think. To sit off the St and only drive on it occasionally and have the propensity to comment on how it should be used is baffling to me. For those efforting this project, thank you for your time – but use some commonsense not just data. For those that are making the ultimate decision here – remember that decision will affect you, this town, its residents and image for a lifetime. Be Pro-Watertown and act for its dedicated and hardworking residents and businesses!

  9. Looked like a pretty good resident turnout last night.
    My overall impression was that this plan is doomed to failure if
    major changes, concessions aren’t made… namely to keep two
    travel lanes in both directions open. Didn’t seem to be very many
    enthusiastic supporters of the project present, even the chairman of
    the Bike-Ped committee had little to offer.

    There were a couple of not very happy business owners present (hopefully
    more will attended any future meetings), even the Town Council members
    that were present were noticeably unimpressed and skeptical of the project.

    Perhaps when this finally comes up for a vote, they’ll all do the right thing
    and give it a resounding thumbs down.

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