Public Sees Visions for Renovation Coolidge Square, Weighs In on Project

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Charlie Breitrose

Gideon Schreiber, a senior planner with the Watertown Department of Economic Development and Planning, talks to attendees of the Coolidge Square Open House about plans to renovate Mt. Auburn Street.

Charlie Breitrose

Gideon Schreiber, a senior planner with the Watertown Department of Economic Development and Planning, talks to attendees of the Coolidge Square Open House about plans to renovate Mt. Auburn Street.

Town officials invited the public to come give its ideas for how to redesign and improve Mt. Auburn Street in the area of Coolidge Avenue, while making the area more efficient for motor vehicles, buses, bicycles and pedestrians.

Currently, the street has two lanes of traffic in each direction and parking on both sides of the street, but no dedicated bike lanes. Some ideas for changing the street include cutting the number of lanes of traffic to one each way with left turn lanes at intersections, adding bike lanes and making sidewalks wider in some places to allow easier crossings for pedestrians.

Planning for all modes of transportation is known as Complete Streets. At prior meetings about Mt. Auburn Street the plan, particularly the reduction of traffic lanes (sometimes called the road diet), has been met with skepticism and opposition from residents and business owners.

The open-house style format of Tuesday’s meeting allowed town officials and representatives from WorldTech engineering firm to speak one-on-one with residents to answer questions and address concerns, said Department of Public Works Superintendent Gerald Mee. By 5 p.m., an hour into the three hour event, the auditorium at the Apartments at Coolidge School had a healthy crowd of people chatting and looking at informational posters.

“This is a fantastic turnout,” Mee said.

Designing Coolidge Square so it works for all modes of transportation and is still a vibrant business district poses a challenge, Schuman said.

“A lot of people want to use the space, and we have parking on both sides, sidewalks,” Schuman said. “We really want to preserve parking. We recognize parking is important to businesses. On the other hand we want to make the streetscape walkable.”

Charlie Breitrose

An illustration of how a street with a road diet is supposed to be more efficient than two travel lanes.

While the sidewalk is wide enough in many areas, Schuman said there are choke points for pedestrians, such as where street trees are planted and in the area near the gas station and diner at the corner of Bigelow Avenue.

Traffic flow, of course, is also a priority. One part of the plan is to improve the traffic signals in Coolidge Square, said Michael Pompili from WorldTech. Designers plan to coordinate the signals at Arlington Street and Mt. Auburn Street, and Bigelow Avenue/Kimball Road and Mt. Auburn.

“The signals don’t talk to each other at all. We would change that,” Pomplili said.

Public transportation is also a big emphasis, Mee said. Proposals include moving bus stops so that buses don’t get stuck at lights and other measures. Many people rely on the MTBA to travel the corridor.

“People may not realize that 2/3 of the rush is on transit,” Mee said.

Bicycle lanes have been discussed along the entire length of Mt. Auburn Street. Not all sections will have separate bike lanes, but it is being considered for the Coolidge Square area.

Coolidge Square resident Pete Airasian said he does not want to see bike lanes interfere with people getting to the stores along Mt. Auburn Street.

“The ones in Somerville with posts are impossible,” Airasian said.

Charlie Breitrose

The open house about the Mt. Auburn Street project in Coolidge Square, held at the Coolidge Apartments, drew a crowd.

Andy Compagna, a member of the Watertown Bicycle & Pedestrian Committee said he would like to see intersections that are easier for cyclists and people on foot to cross.

“They don’t mention protected intersections,” Compagna said while looking at the boards about the project. “The have some in Western Ave. in Cambridge where both bicyclists and pedestrians get ahead of the cars and get into the cross walk before traffic starts.”

Tuesday’s meeting was the first in a series about the Mt. Auburn Street project. The corridor has been broken into four segments, and Mee, and the DPW may host an open house for each section. The next meeting, however, will focus on transportation. It will be held on Feb. 15 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Watertown Free Public Library, 123 Main St., Watertown.

Find out more about the renovation of Mt. Auburn Street at the project website,

Concerns Raised About Narrowing Mt. Auburn St. & Making it Safer for Bikes

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