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What Are the New Signals on Mill Street All About?

You asked, we've got your answers.

By now you may have seen the two new signals at the Minuteman bike path’s Mill Street crossing. (They went up last week.)

But you may still have some questions: Why did they go up? Who paid for them? How do they work?

Well, we recently tracked down the people in the know, and here is what they had to say:

The developer of the new Alta Brigham Square apartments, Wood Partners, was required to improve this crossing as part of their special building permit with the town, according to the town’s engineer, Wayne Chouinard.

Wood Partners contracted Bill Scully, a planner now with Westford-based Green International Affiliates, to work on the crossing in conjunction with the town’s Transportation Advisory Committee.

“The overall objective was to continue to advance safety for the people on the bike path, whether pedestrians or bicyclists,” he said Wednesday. “We certainly want them to stop and look, and we wanted to give moving traffic more of a warning that there is a possible crossing. They’re really designed to enhance awareness.”

The signals flash yellow lights at vehicles on Mill Street when a pedestrian or bicyclist approaches the crossing, and red lights at the pedestrian or bicyclist. They use microwave motion detectors, which are powered by solar panels, Scully said. The signals were paid for in full by Wood Partners.

Who has the right of way?

Even though red lights flash at the bike-path travelers, pedestrians and bicyclists who have dismounted and are walking their bikes always have the right of way, according to the town’s Department of Public Works director, Michael Rademacher.

Scott Smith, a bicycling enthusiast who’s a member of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee and the Transportation Advisory Committee, called the signals a “good solution” on Wednesday. He said the crossing poses two issues: It’s the first busy crossing on the bike path since Lexington Center, so it can catch bicyclists off guard, and it sneaks up on unfamiliar drivers turning from Summer Street at a decent rate of speed.

Why no stoplight?

Smith said a stoplight at the crossing was “not seriously considered.” A light would’ve been a “very involved” process, he said, as it would’ve had to have synced with the Summer Street light.

Scully also said the closeness of the Summer Street light posed a challenge in terms of putting in a stoplight at the crossing. He added that a stoplight would’ve affected traffic more than the flashing signals.

Scully said the flashing signals that were installed are “taking hold” in eastern Massachusetts.

“Do they solve every single problem? No,” he said. “But you don’t want to go overboard.”

Chouinard said the town is in the process of testing the signals to make sure that they are picking up pedestrians and bicyclists from the right distance and flashing for the correct amount of time.

If all goes well, Smith said he could envision similar signals at other crossings, such as the bike path’s Lake Street crossing.

What do you think of the new signals? Would you like to see them at more crossings in town? Let us know by posting a comment below.

Stephen February 06, 2013 at 03:04 PM
The crossing lights at Mill Street are a stupid idea and poorly implemented. First, poorly implemented. The lights currently are not calibrated properly and remain flashing long after whatever triggered them is not in sight. I've witnessed this everyday since they became active, usually early in the morning. Because of this, officials have conditioned drivers to ignore the lights, the so-called "crying wolf" syndrome. Instead of implementing a mechanized crossing light that is user controlled (e.g. push a button), these lights will give bikers a false sense of security as though the somehow have an automated right of way substituting the common sense rule of eye contact. Although, the STOP sign and flashing red light along the path clearly indicate that cars have the right of way, these lights seem to imply otherwise. However, the intersection at Mill could have been handled in a much safer fashion while increasing car throughput at an already over capacity intersection that will only become worse when the Brigham's and Symmes apartment complexes come online. Look at the bikepath intersection with Woburn Street in Lexington (right before the center) for a clue. A fence should bar forward progress across Mill St forcing users to cross at the light at the Mill/Summer intersection less than 100 ft away. The fact that the Selectmen held no hearings and hide behind the TAC and developer confirms, no official wants to own this decision.
Walter Mayne February 06, 2013 at 05:55 PM
I have gone through the intersection 3 or 4 times. It seems to work well. The flashing red light visible from the eastbound bicycle path is a good feature. It is the 1st at grade intersection since Lexington for people bicycling eastbound. It's good to get the cyclists attention before they need to navigate Arlington Center. The flashing lights on the pedestrian signs are good thing to get drivers to observe the sign. When I cross the crosswalk between Orient Avenue and MacLennan Park on Summer Street I find that drivers are completely unaware of the crosswalk. Perhaps these flashing lights should be installed there as well. If there is a problem with the flashing light remaining on too long, that should be easily fixed. As for diverting the bike path up to summer street and back, that would unnecessarily slow traffic on the bike path. It would also lead to conflicts between pedestrians using the Mill Street sidewalk and cyclists only wanting to continue on the bike path. Given that an overpass or in underpass is too expensive I think this is a reasonable solution.
Peter February 06, 2013 at 06:44 PM
If this new system works, it will at least be better than having a cyclist come darting directly in front of motorist and almost getting hit.
Arlington resident February 06, 2013 at 09:36 PM
I think all cyclists should have been directed down Mill and then across on both sides like the change in the center of Lexington. That would have given cars a chance to see that they are approaching the intersection. 99% of all cyclists do not dismount or stop no matter what you try to do so making them make an added diversion would help. They also will not wear reflective clothing to help motorists avoid an accident. Cyclists are the most "entitled" people on the planet and I am a cyclist. I am also a motorist that crosses Mill daily several times. I am considering moving out of Arlington because the traffic congestion being created by all the development in this one section of Arlington is appalling.
JanS February 07, 2013 at 01:25 PM
The key for pedestrians and cyclists TO LEARN is: pedestrians and BICYCLISTS WHO HAVE DISMOUNTED AND ARE WALKING THEIR BIKES always have the right of way, . No one at Lake St walks their bike across the street when they fly out of the bike path and runners barely break stride, while assuming that drivers can see down the bike path while watching the road and light straight ahead!
Heather February 07, 2013 at 09:06 PM
Wouldn't it be great if the TAC, the APD, the Town Meeting members, and the Selectmen in our town were actually open to having input from neighbors in the places heavy traffic (cars mostly) and cyclists and people have to live together? The TAC historically has acted and worked in a "bubble" of nearly secretive and paranoid existence since I've had any dealings with them. In addition, their leadership has been the very same person since the group's inception: term limits would be a wonderful idea to infuse some slightly different views and perceptions about all neighborhoods aroud ARL to make it safer for all and a nicer place to live. No one can make a reasonable claim that there aren't any other people in town who would like to serve and are capable of serving on this committee: many worthy candidates stepped forward last time there were open seats created. It's no surprise there are a few "business" people and developers on this body as well --- these are the people who seem to make all the decisions in ARL. Let's consdier a motion before Town Meeting to review and restructure the TAC. The APD rep has been a very ineffective member as long as I've known, and he has such limited to zero capacity to be neutral in his dealings with citizens that it's deplorable. He has such prejudice against certain neighborhoods and their constituency groups that the whole process that the TAC runs is a farce.
Wind Dummy 25 February 07, 2013 at 10:45 PM
Unreal that the best feature in this town is such a problem...It seems you can have all the meetings & crossing warnings giant flashing neon lights, tunnels, overpasses etc in the world, but it won't fix stupid. Well at least the blizzard will fill in that old train line for awhile. The streets will shrink but that's life in the bike lane... Good luck out there two wheelers & pathogens. Your a huge expensive hassle.

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