A plan to redesign the Mt. Auburn Street/Common Street intersection would create 10 more parking spaces in that area, but some businesses in that area would lose the parking spots in front of their stores.
The Town Council’s Public Works subcommittee heard a presentation from WorldTech Engineering, the firm designing the Mt. Auburn Street reconstruction project.
Designers presented three options for the business area just east of Watertown Square based on where MBTA bus stops would be located. The first moves the eastbound bus stop to the east side of Parker Street and removes the one near Franklin Street. The second keeps the bus stop at the same location, just west of Parker Street, and removes the one near Franklin Street. The third one keeps the current location for the Parker Street stop and maintains the stop at Franklin Street. See the diagrams of the different options here.
The area where Common Street comes into Mt. Auburn Street from the north is just east of where Parker Street hits Mt. Auburn from the south. Kris Surette of WorldTech said that the traffic light at Common Street and Mt. Auburn Street, and the one at Parker Street and Mt. Auburn Street will be synchronized so that they act as one single signal.
Moving the Parker Street bus stop would allow for smoother bus service, and prevent traffic backups, Surette said. Part of the change with the Mt. Auburn Street redesign is having only one travel lane each direction for most of the road’s length.
With the stop on the east side of Parker street, if a bus arrives at the stop when another is letting passengers on an off, the second bus can pull over behind the first one and wait. If the stop remains where it is now buses would not be able to queue up, and the second bus would have to sit in the traffic lane, blocking traffic, Surette said.
Wes Edwards, Director of Operations Planning and Outreach for the MBTA, said that buses can bunch up.
“We do see frequently with the 71, because of congestion, the bus running behind may start late and the bus ahead of it may start on time,” Edwards said.
People had mixed reactions about removing the Franklin Street bus stop. Councilor Angeline Kounelis said it has been used for decades by Watertown High School students going to the East End, and now they would have to walk over to the Parker Street stop.
Others said that the crosswalk on Mt. Auburn Street to get to the Franklin Street is treacherous because of the road’s width and the speed of drivers in the area. Another person said it can be hard for drivers to know if people are waiting for the bus or trying the cross the street.
One of the tradeoffs for moving the Parker Street bus stop would be the loss of parking in front of the business block across from Common Street, which includes two hair salons, a veterinary office, a karate studio and other businesses.
Some of the parking on the block will be removed because it is in a signalized intersection, Surette said, which is no longer allowed by state and federal rules. In the second option, where the bus stop remains west of Parker Street, three spots would remain in front of those businesses.
The first option, where the bus stop moves, would actually create more parking for the area, Surette said. The area currently has 25 legal parking spots, and the first option would have 31 spots while the second would have 30. Ten of the new spots, however, would be in front of the cemetery, across the street from the businesses. There would also be three more parking spaces created in the old bus stop location.
Deb Campbell, a vet at the Pet Haven Animal Hospital, said that the loss of parking could be devastating for her business.
“Parking on the other side of the street near the cemetery is great if you want to visit the cemetery, but would would have to cross the street to get where you want to go,” Campbell said. “It would be difficult for people carrying cats or we have elderly clients. As it is now we are battling for limited spaces that are there now.”
The Councilors on the subcommittee suggested that some sort of dropping/loading zone be created near the businesses. Public Works Superintendent Gerald Mee said there are plans to create one on Chester Street — one block east from Parker — just off Mt. Auburn Street.
Walkers and Bikers
With the way the crosswalks are configured, having the bus stop east of Parker Street would mean crossing just one street (Mt. Auburn) to get to and from Watertown High School, Surette said. In the second option, students would have to cross Mt. Auburn and then Common Street to get on the same side as the school.
Those going to the Watertown Senior Center would have to cross two roads in the first option, and one in the second.
A dedicated bike lane with a painted buffer would start on Mt. Auburn Street east of Chester Street. In other areas, bicyclists would share the road with motor vehicles.
Andy Compagna, a member of the Bicycle & Pedestrian Committee said that he worried about bicyclists if the Parker Street bus stop remains where it is. When stopped at the light heading east, people on bikes would have to try to accelerate ahead of the cars so that they don’t have to merge to avoid the “pinch point” caused by parked cars just past Parker Street.
The Public Works Committee discussed the options, and quickly ruled out keeping the current configuration, with the stop west of Parker Street and keeping the Franklin Street stop.
Town Council Vice President Vincent Piccirilli said he was leaning one way.
“My preferred choice is Concept 1, and we need to find some sort of loading zone/drop off area which could be used for the businesses,” Piccirilli said. “With parking spaces, they could be used for other businesses and may not be available.”
Councilor Tony Palomba said he also liked the first option.
“Only because of the benefit for mass transit,” Palomba said. “You don’t get the transit improvements with Concept 2.”
Councilor Ken Woodland also liked Concept 1, because it avoids situations where buses stack up and block traffic.
“No body wants to takeaway parking from businesses,” Woodland said. “Concepts 2 or 3 creates more traffic delays. Concept 1 is the best effort.”
The Committee voted 3-0 to recommend Concept 1 be adopted, which moves the bus stop east of Parker Street, and eliminates the Franklin Street stop. They also voted 3-0 to make have a loading zone/drop-off area near Chester Street.
Other Sections of Mt. Auburn Street
Although of the discussion Tuesday night centered on the area where Common and Parker come into Mt. Auburn Street, the meeting covered the entire stretch from Patten Street to School Street.
Town Councilor Lisa Feltner asked whether Marshall Street could be turned from the one way headed away from Mt. Auburn Street into a two-way street. Also, parking could be added on both sides, because it only has it on one side right now. She said that may help businesses in the area.
Piccirilli said that there is a proposal to put a bike lane on Marshall Street that might interfere with that idea.
A new traffic light is planned for the intersection of Boylston Street and Mt. Auburn Street, right near the field in front of Hosmer School. The light is designed help traffic going to and from the school.
Resident Ann Marie Cloonan, who lives near Hosmer on Winthrop Street, worries that the traffic going to the school will back up on Winthrop back to Mt. Auburn Street.
Piccirilli, who also sits on the School Building Committee, said that there will be two entrances to Hosmer after the construction, one off Winthrop and one off Concord Road.
“We are committed to make sure traffic flows around Hosmer,” Piccirilli said.
Spruce Street resident Dennis Duff said he worries about getting onto Mt. Auburn Street from Spruce with the new light at Boylston Street. Surette said a “do not block the box” will be painted on the road at Spruce Street, as well as at Stearns Road. Duff was skeptical, saying that one of those boxes has been put on Bigelow Avenue near Mt. Auburn Street, and people either ignore it or don’t know what they should do there.
The other half of Mt. Auburn Street will be discussed at a meeting on Oct. 30, 2018, which will focus on Coolidge Square. Find out more about the Mt. Auburn Street project at www.mountauburnstreet.com, and send your comments and questions to Team@mountauburnstreet.com