LETTER: 'MassDOT Can Do Better'
The following is a Letter to the Editor from Stephen Harrington, a Precinct 13 Town Meeting member and Columbia Road resident. The letter is addressed to Thomas Broderick, a chief engineer in the Massachusetts Department of Transportation's Highway Divisi
I've walked in Arlington for most of my life. Living my first 20 or so years near the bottom of Gray Street, meant I walked daily along Pleasant Street to school, to church, to the Boys' Club, to catch a bus and to the Regent Theatre starting around the age of 5 or so. At that time, Pleasant Street was four lanes wide, two in either direction. Even with more than 52,000 residents in Arlington, far more than today, Pleasant Street was safe enough for a child to cross alone. Today, Pleasant Street is two lanes and is difficult to navigate during much of the morning and afternoon commute. Congestion makes Pleasant St. difficult to cross, creates delays when trying to make turns out of side streets or left turns onto side streets and has little street scene.
If you want to see the future of Mass. Ave. in East Arlington, take a look at Pleasant Street at rush hour.
During the state's second public hearing on narrowing Mass. Ave., speakers and elected officials voiced that their top concern was for pedestrian safety. However, the actions of town officials speak far louder than their words. A proposal four years ago to Town Meeting, that the town clear the curbs cuts and mounds of snow at every intersection, went nowhere, generating a mere resolution but no action plan. Anyone who suffers through a normal snow season realizes the town does a poor job in creating a safe environment for pedestrians. Furthermore, look at the state of the brick sidewalks scattered along Mass Ave to see the disdain our town has for the mobility challenged in spite of efforts by disabled citizens to replace these sidewalks with pedestrian friendly and less expensive concrete.
Town officials claim they are concerned with pedestrian safety, their actions prove otherwise.
At the hearing, many residents complained about the difficulty in crossing Mass. Ave.; yet town officials have not installed mechanized crossing lights anywhere along the street in the past five years that this legitimate complaint has been lodged. Yet a high tech signalling device was recently installed at Mill Street without any delay. This choice of priorities by our officials is telling. My take away from the current design plan for Mass. Ave. is that there are still insufficient mechanized crossing lights along the stretch of roadway. Yet officials claim pedestrian safety is a priority.
The current design for Mass. Ave. does not reduce the amount of vehicles that will use the roadway. Congestion will force vehicles down the many side roads onto Warren Street and Broadway. None of these roads are capable of handling the Mass. Ave. overflow and the current design plan is silent on mitigating this issue. The current design may make Mass. Ave. safer at the expense of creating dangerous situations over a much greater area.
During the meeting, the MassDOT designers claimed that simulation software showed no capacity issues on Mass. Ave., hence no increased traffic onto neighboring streets; a convenient rationalization. It was stated that the design would create, at most, a 26-second delay at peak times. The designer provided no stress tests showing worse case situations and no scenarios of vehicles avoiding grid lock in poor weather or emergency situations.
In addition, the lead designer showed a money shot of why four lanes are impossible showing a cross section of parked cars with doors open, bikes traveling down the bike lanes, three cars and a bus all at the same time at the same place in a cross section of Mass. Ave. This type of presentation, taking a rare occurrence to justify typical use, is not engineering, but marketing using flawed software to justify foregone conclusions. Furthermore, no observations of both Lexington center and the entire length of Cambridge, where four travel lanes are used along narrower stretches of Mass. Ave., was provided.
One common sense approach to road safety that I challenge our officials to implement immediately is to stripe Mass. Ave. with the missing dashed line down the center on both sides creating visual clues for motorists, improving the flow of traffic and limiting the frequency of dangerous lane shifting that currently takes place. Town officials have been remiss in not striping the lanes throughout Mass. Ave. for decades. If safety is truly their top priority, stripe the lanes now. Put your words into action.
I support redesigning Mass. Ave. I support pedestrian safety. I support safer traffic flow for all road vehicles. I doubt officials who say they want safety and have consistently failed to provide it. I was appalled at the poor engineering on display where capacity and traffic concerns were ignored. The design approach has been rosy forecasts and political marketing, not engineering. The MassDOT can do better.
Town Meeting Member, Precinct 13