Mt. Auburn St. Plans Approved by Council Subcommittee, Now on to Full Council

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WorldTech Engineering

An illustration of what part of Mt. Auburn Street looks like now, left, and what it would look like with a right turn lane and bike lanes. There is a single buffered bike lane on the left side and a double buffered one on the right side.

WorldTech Engineering

An illustration of what part of Mt. Auburn Street looks like now, left, and what it would look like with a right turn lane and bike lanes. There is a single buffered bike lane on the left side and a double buffered one on the right side.

Wednesday evening, the Council’s Public Works subcommittee recommended that the Town Council approve the plan for Mt. Auburn Street that would reduce the number of travel lanes in most sections and add buffered bike lanes along many stretches. 

The plan has been much discussed over the past several years, after the Town Council voted in 2013 to have the Department of Public Works and the town’s traffic engineering consultant, WorldTech Engineering, come up with plan for a “road diet” for the major artery between Watertown Square and the Cambridge line.

The project is a Complete Streets project, which means it is designed for all modes of transportation: motor vehicle, bicycles, pedestrians and public transportation. If the Town can get TIP (Transportation Improvement Program) funding, the entire $14 million budget will be covered entirely by the state, said Bill Mertz, vice president of WorldTech.

The plan would reduce the number of motor vehicle travel lanes from two lanes each way to one each way along most of the length of Mt. Auburn Street. Right turn lanes will be added at many intersections to help traffic flow more smoothly. Bicycle lanes will go the length of the roadway, some with painted buffers. A double buffered lane is used to give bicyclists space from traffic on one side and parked cars on the other, while single buffers are used in areas with no parking lane. Improvements to crosswalks and bus stops are also planned.

The plans have not changed since the most recent open house in May, Mertz said. See the latest renderings by clicking here.

Latest Plans for Mt. Auburn St. Show One Travel Lane Most of the Length

The Mt. Auburn Street project starts on the west end at Patten Street (near Starbuck’s) and goes east to the Cambridge line (near Greg’s Restaurant). Designers broke the road into four sections, with differing road layouts:

Patten Street to Walnut Street

Road Diet (reducing to one lane each way) begins east of Common Street

Parker Street will be kept a two-way road

Bike Lanes: double buffered eastbound and traditional bike lanes (no buffers) westbound

Walnut Street to Dexter Avenue

A new traffic signal at Boylston Street (west)

An enhanced traffic island at Boylston Street (east)

Bike Lanes: double buffered eastbound and single buffered westbound

Dexter Avenue to Arlington Street (Coolidge Square)

An enhanced traffic island at Bigelow Avenue, which will be on the east side of the intersection instead of the west side, as it is now

A new traffic light and a bumped out sidewalk at Arlington Street and Grove Street

Bike Lanes: the entire length, mostly traditional bike lanes, some single buffered eastbound

Arlington Street to Cambridge line

Narrowing of Mt. Auburn Street just east of Arlington Street

Bike Lanes: double buffered both directions

A shared bus/bike lane as the roadway enters Cambridge as part of the Bus Priority Pilot Project

Some of the residents and Town Councilors in attendance worried about parking being removed from business districts.

WorldTech Engineering

A closeup of part of the Mt. Auburn Street rendering showing the intersections of Mt. Auburn at Irving/Palfrey and Common Street where parking will be removed because it does not meet federal standards.

District B Councilor Lisa Feltner said that there is parking being removed from Mt. Auburn Street between Parker and Chester (near Hair Cuttery) and between Irving Street and Phillips Street (near the Redeemer Church).

“We already have problems with parking,” Feltner said. “It’s impacting the neighborhood on the south side of Mt. Auburn Street.”

The parking is being removed from places where it is in intersections, or within 20 feet of an intersection, said Public Works Superintendent Gerald Mee.

“Inside the intersection of Common and Mt. Auburn (between Parker and Chester) there is parking that really shouldn’t be there,” Mee said. “It does not meet federal safety standards. Everyone’s goal is to reapply parking other places.”

Parking will be added across Mt. Auburn Street next to the cemetery, Mee said. Feltner said people don’t want to have to cross the street to get to the stores on the other side.

Mertz said the plans could still change, but the Town must submit the plans to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation soon to keep on schedule to get approved for the $14 million in funding in Fiscal Year 2022. The project would go to bid in October 2021.

“It seems like a long time but it is kind of a sprint for us,” Mertz said.

Town Engineer Matt Shuman said the Town has met with representatives from MassDOT, but until the 25 percent design plans are submitted the Town will not receive official comments from state officials about what looks good and what needs more work.

The Town will also have to submit 50 percent, 75 percent and 100 percent designs along with the plan specification and engineering (PS&E) designs before the project can go out to bid.

The subcommittee voted 2-0 to recommend the plan to go to the full Town Council to be approved. Councilor Tony Palomba voted “present,” saying he was not familiar enough with the current proposal to make a vote.

The Council will likely take up the project at its July 10 meeting, which will include an opportunity for residents to speak. Future public meetings will be held before each milestone (25 percent, 50 percent, etc.) is approved by the MassDOT. A public meeting about the project design is anticipated to be held in the summer of 2019.

Find out more at the Mount Auburn Street Project website,

7 thoughts on “Mt. Auburn St. Plans Approved by Council Subcommittee, Now on to Full Council

  1. Buffered bike lanes are not protected bike lanes. What we need are protected or dedicated bike lanes. A cyclist can easily get doored by a parked car on the right and sandwiched by a car on the left. This is a dangerous design.

  2. I agree with Bruce. Bike commuters deserve safe passage on our roads. They are not contributing to air pollution or parking issues or congestion, and deserve first consideration in this design, along with pedestrians. Designing cities and roads to benefit motorists is same old same old, and will continue to create problems. Let’s move into the 21st century! And I still want to see the Watertown Evacuation Plan….

    • Let us not forget about public transit. I am still not sure that the present plan will have a positive impact on our buses.

    • The problem is that this is not a protected bike lane:< I've been clipped one too many times on major roads like these with buffers. We do need better Pedestrian crossings but without protected bike lanes I believe many won't opt to ride on this sort of major road due to safety(as I will not). I've asked the town a couple questions regarding measuring the intersections afterwards to compare to the 'old' 4 lanes and the intersections grades. If traffic is better great but if significantly worse what are the contingency plans? Could we do a Proof of Concept with cones and updates to the light timings? This was done in Roxbury with Bus lane and cones for 1 month to collect data and input.

  3. My first thought is how much longer it is going to take to commute in and out of Watertown! I agree it should be safer to ride bikes, but there isn’t even a decent commuter system for people that live here to get into Boston so its going to make traffic so much worse! We can’t accommodate everything in this town around Athena!

  4. I’m sure it was approved by a vote of the majority of the people of the city of Watertown who pay taxes? Yeah, right!!!

  5. You say you want businesses in the town but you are not putting convenient parking in place. Right now we have to circle around blocks many times to find parking spaces near the stores and restaurants on Mt. Auburn St. near the square. Not everyone can ride a bike, especially if you are older or have children, need to carry packages, or especially in the winter when there is bad weather. I would like to see a bicycle count to see how many people we are accommodating in these areas; maybe bicyclists should pay some form of excise tax if they want all the roads changed to their liking.

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