Town officials laid out the latest plans for the renovation of Mt. Auburn Street Monday evening, which include one travel lanes for motor vehicles and separate bike lanes for most of the length of the town’s major artery.
Discussions of reducing the number of lanes on Mt. Auburn Street from two to one has been controversial since it was first discussed several years ago. The plans shown to the public at the Hosmer School Cafeteria had single lanes with turning lanes most of the way from Common Street east to the Cambridge line. Town officials said, however, that where it counts there are two lanes.
Even with a two-lane road, traffic backs up when cars wait to make a turn, said Department of Public Works Superintendent Gerry Mee.
“A two-lane road is effectively one lane with someone blocking lanes,” Mee said. “At the intersections we are not losing lanes.”
The number of lanes is not always the biggest factor in how many cars that a road can handle, said Assistant Town Manger and Director of Community Development and Planning Steve Magoon.
“It is important to remember that what controls the capacity of the street is the intersection, not the capacity of the lanes,” Magoon said.
As a metaphor, the number of people who can get into a room is not controlled by how big the hallway is, but how many people can fit through the doorway.
William Mertz, vice president of the town’s traffic engineering firm, WorldTech, said that intersections are where traffic slows, currently. When traffic backs up on a two-lane road without turn lanes, Mertz said, cars must either wait for the person turning left to clear or weave into the next lane, which can be dangerous because cars may be coming quickly from behind.
All the major intersections, and many smaller ones, have left turn lanes to move vehicles out of the way to allow traffic to flow, Mee said. The existing traffic lights, and planned new ones, will have left turn arrows.
Mt. Auburn Street is being designed as a Complete Streets project, which means it accommodates not just motor vehicles, but public transit, bicycles and pedestrians. The town will apply for Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) funding — federal dollars handed out by the state — to pay for the project, Magoon said.
“Part of applying for federal and state funds is to meet as many of their goals as possible,” Magoon said. “Complete Streets is important for that.”
Town officials have targeted 2022 as the year they would apply for funding, go out to bid and start construction.
The reduction of lanes has also been called a “road diet.” Other examples of narrowing of roads, and in most cases reducing lanes, in Watertown are: Main Street, Nonantum Road, Greenough Boulevard, North Beacon Street and Charles River Road. Another nearby example is the Belmont Street/Trapelo Road corridor.
Residents at Monday’s meeting got to speak with members of the Department of Public Works, the Department of Community Development and Planning and with traffic engineers from WorldTech. Attendees could also make suggestions for where to put street trees, bike racks and other amenities.
For bicycles, the plan has protected bicycle lanes along most of the roadway from Common Street east to the Cambridge line. There will be buffered bike lanes, with painted buffers between the bike lane and motor vehicles, on much of the length of the roadway. Closer to Watertown Square there will be traditional bike lanes, with a single stripe, and shared bike lanes (where bikes use the same lane as cars and other vehicles).
Public transportation is an important part of traffic on Mt. Auburn Street. The MBTA’s 71 bus carries 5,300 passengers on weekdays, with nearly 85 percent or riders taking it to work or school. Some bus stops would be moved in the plan. Many will move to the far side of intersections so that buses do not pull over, to let people on and off, and then get stuck at a light. Other improvements include bus pullouts (so the vehicles can get out of traffic), and improved amenities at bus stops, such as shelters and benches.
See more information and documents on the Mt. Auburn Street Project website, mountauburnstreet.com.