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1. What is the purpose of the project?
Mount Auburn Street was last reconstructed in the early 1980s when there was little regard for users other than vehicular through-traffic. The Town of Watertown is redesigning Mount Auburn Street with a Complete Streets approach. The project will improve safety and better accommodate vehicles, transit, bicycles, and pedestrians. By reducing the number of through travel lanes in selected portions of the corridor, there will be more space for all users. The reconstruction of Mount Auburn Street will help Watertown achieve its multimodal Complete Streets objectives.
2. What is the Complete Streets approach?
A Complete Street safely accommodates all travelers: motorists, bicyclists, transit users, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities. Complete Streets reduce traffic congestion, improve quality of life for residents and business owners, promote public health, and reduce environmental impacts. Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) funding supports projects on local roads that incorporate Complete Streets principles.
3. Where will the improvements be made?
Mount Auburn Street is approximately two miles long and connects Watertown Square on the west with the City of Cambridge on the east. The project area includes Mount Auburn Street between the Cambridge City line and Patten Street. This busy area includes the Coolidge Square business district, Watertown High School, and Hosmer Elementary School. Maps of the project area are available on the Documents page.
4. What will the new Mount Auburn Street look like and what are the advantages of the design?
The new Mount Auburn Street will include benefits for all travel modes. The project will revitalize Mount Auburn Street into a more navigable and attractive destination for Watertown residents, visitors, and workers, of all ages and abilities. The design is still in progress as the project team consults with local and state agencies and continues to incorporate public feedback. Currently, the following improvements are being considered in the design for the new Mount Auburn Street layout:
- Lane reductions in some areas (based on traffic study findings; see question 5 and the Functional Design Report for details)
- Improved bicycle accommodations (see question 7)
- Left turn lanes at selected intersections (see questions 6 and 8)
- Bus turnouts (designated spaces along the side of the road for buses to pull over for loading and unloading passengers without delaying traffic flow) or other bus stop configurations
- Techniques and technologies to improve transit operations through the corridor
- Relocation or replacement of select MBTA overhead transit catenary wires and supporting poles as necessary
- Bump-outs, also known as curb extensions, which extend the sidewalk at selected intersections to shorten crossing distances for pedestrians (see photo below)
- Wider sidewalks for better pedestrian access
- Improved pedestrian signal equipment, including warning signage and flashing beacons
- Additional green spaces along the road to provide a buffer for pedestrians
- Green infrastructure to treat stormwater runoff from the road, if deemed suitable
- New bicycle wayfinding signage with information about the regional bicycle network
One of the greatest benefits of the project is improving safety for all users (vehicles, bus riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians). Traffic operations for vehicles and MBTA buses will run more efficiently. Pedestrians and bicyclists will have a more pleasant and safer experience with the improved accommodations. The sidewalks, wheelchair ramps, and crosswalks will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines. There will also be reduced stormwater runoff into the Town’s drainage system due to a reduction in pavement along the corridor. Mature trees that provide shade for pedestrians will be maintained wherever possible, and additional plantings may be included in the design.
Examples of possible improvements for Mount Auburn Street: An intersection on Huron Avenue with a pedestrian bump-out (left) and buffered on-street bicycle lanes on Huron Avenue (right).
5. How does a Road Diet function, and where is it being proposed on Mount Auburn Street?
While it may seem counterintuitive, reducing the number of through lanes (called a “road diet”), can actually maintain or increase traffic capacity, while improving safety for all users. To be successful, a road diet must be implemented in the right locations under the correct conditions. Mount Auburn Street currently has four lanes, but often vehicles making left turns back up traffic and cause delays, effectively reducing the number of travel lanes. As a result, vehicles in the left lane who want to continue straight have to change lanes to get around a turning vehicle, causing delays in the right travel lane and increasing the risk of crashes. The project team is recommending a road diet in segments of the corridor where it can improve capacity and operations at signalized intersections, provide turn pockets at select unsignalized intersections, and minimize delays or stopping in the remaining legs of the road. The team will not recommend a road diet in places where efficient traffic movement would not be possible.
A road diet is not currently recommended between Patten Street and Common Street due to high traffic volumes and close intersection spacing. However, the analysis presented in the Feasibility Study showed that a road diet and updated traffic signals would provide safe and efficient traffic operations along Mount Auburn Street east of Common Street. For more information, review traffic data for Mount Auburn Street, watch a video showing how road diets were implemented in New Jersey. The Town is proceeding with the 25% design based on the recommendations of the Town Council at a meeting in March 2011.
6. How will the reduced travel lanes and left turn lanes on Mount Auburn Street affect traffic, and how is the project team collecting traffic data?
The Town completed a feasibility study in 2011 to evaluate if there would be sufficient traffic capacity on Mount Auburn Street, for vehicles (including MBTA buses), with a single lane in each direction along stretches of the corridor. The analysis was based on projected increased traffic volumes in the year 2030. The study determined that the corridor would work well with one lane in each direction between the Cambridge City line and Common Street, with additional turn lanes provided at key intersections. The traffic analysis of Mount Auburn Street also looked at where to incorporate separate left-turn lanes for existing and future demand. At these locations, separate lanes will help increase safety, reduce delays, and improve traffic flow where turning vehicles currently block through traffic and force drivers to make lane changes. Intersection improvements (see question 7) will also help improve traffic flow and safety for all travel modes.
For more information, review traffic volume data for Mount Auburn Street. The Town continues to update traffic counts throughout the design process to ensure the proposed layout will accommodate forecasted travel demands.
7. What will the major intersections look like in the new design?
The current design maintains two lane approaches in each direction at key signalized intersections including Common Street, Walnut Street, Boylston Street, School Street, Arlington Street, and Cottage Street. A combination of turn lanes and through lanes will maintain traffic capacity and avoid queuing at each intersection. With the new configuration, traffic flow and safety will be improved at these intersections (see question 6).
In addition, the modernization of signalized intersections along the Mount Auburn Street corridor will create gaps in traffic that will provide opportunities for vehicles to turn left at other intersections where left turn lanes are not provided. Furthermore, the project will also provide a number of benefits to the corridor’s pedestrian, bicycle, and transit users (see questions 8, 9, and 10).
8. What kind of bicycle accommodations is the project team considering for Mount Auburn Street?
Although the design process is on-going, the Town initially considered several options for bicycles on Mount Auburn Street:
- Conventional painted bike lane alongside traffic, as recommended in the 2011 feasibility study
- Bike lane with painted buffer on the curbside of parking (see question 9 for details)
- Bike lane with painted buffer on the street side of parking (next to traffic)
- Separated bike lane (see question 9 for details)
At a meeting in June 2017, the project team recommended a bike lane with a painted buffer on the street side of parking (next to traffic) on the south side of Mount Auburn Street between Patten Street and Coolidge Square. This option would maximize safety and maintain parking in the corridor. The project team has been collecting public feedback on this option since June and presented an updated recommendation at a Public Works Committee meeting on November 20, 2017 (see the Documents page for details).
The project team is still evaluating options for bicycles on the north side of Mount Auburn Street between Patten Street and Coolidge Square and on both sides of the road between Coolidge Square and the Cambridge City Line. Impacts of bicycle accommodations to vehicular and bus operations, right-of-way, conflict points, and utilities are some of the things being considered as part of the Complete Streets evaluation. If it is advisable to install separated facilities at these locations, they will be incorporated into the plan. The project team will also strive to include continuous bicycle facilities, rather than short segments, to ensure a seamless and safer cycling experience.
9. What are some of the challenges of separated bike lanes and bike lanes on the curbside of parking?
A separated bike lane is an exclusive space for bicyclists along or within a roadway that separates bicyclists physically from motor vehicles and pedestrians by vertical and/or horizontal elements (learn more in MassDOT’s Separated Bike Lane Planning & Design Guide). Separated bike lanes work best on streets with long blocks and few driveways or cross streets. The frequent driveways and cross streets on Mount Auburn Street could present potential for conflict between bicyclists and vehicles. Separated bike lanes can also constrain the roadway, impacting traffic operations for vehicles and buses.
The design of bike accommodations must include adequate sight distances outlined (in Section 4.2.4 of MassDOT’s Separated Bike Lane Planning & Design Guide) to ensure there is enough distance for drivers to see bicyclists (and vice versa) at intersections and driveways, particularly when turning. Sight distance requirements are highest for bicycle accommodations that are farthest from the travel lane – separated bike lanes and bike lanes on the curbside of parking. A significant loss of parking along most sections of Mount Auburn Street would be required to improve sight distances if a bike lane is provided along the curb or on the sidewalk. On-street parking is valued by the local businesses that call Mount Auburn Street home, particularly in Coolidge Square.
Finally, separated bike lanes and curbside bike lanes create special maintenance challenges for the Town. Bike lanes alongside traffic can be plowed simultaneously with the travel lanes. However, separated bike lanes and curbside bike lanes would require additional leaf and snow removal services.
The project team is still weighing the feasibility and advantages/disadvantages of each bicycle accommodation and will present an updated recommendation at a Public Works Committee meeting on November 20, 2017 (see the Documents page for details).
10. What are some of the design challenges of a two-way separated bike lane on one side of the street?
Two-way separated bike lanes, as we have learned on Arsenal Street, present a number of significant and unique challenges along long corridors. A two-way separated bike lane on Mount Auburn Street raises concerns about safety, congestion, and impacts to utility infrastructure and street trees.
Bicyclists traveling in the opposite direction of vehicles are not anticipated and often difficult to see at intersections. A similar situation arises at driveways, where vehicles backing out of Mount Auburn Street will also not anticipate (or see) bicyclists traveling in the opposite direction, due in part to retaining walls and other visual obstructions close to the road.
A two-way separated bike lane would create additional pedestrian conflict points at MBTA bus stops, mid-block crosswalks, and intersections. At signalized intersections, a two-way separated bike lane would require additional traffic signal equipment and phases for bicyclists. This would create more delays and increase congestion for all users of the intersections.
Finally, the Town would like to remain within the existing curb line of the road. To do this, a two-way separated bike lane would require significant impacts to the existing utility infrastructure (catenary poles for the MBTA buses, utility poles, and light poles) along the corridor. Additionally, many mature shade trees along Mount Auburn Street would need to be cut down. These trees contribute to the overall character of Mount Auburn Street.
11. What kinds of pedestrian improvements are being considered?
Pedestrians will have a much safer and more comfortable experience on the new Mount Auburn Street. The design includes wider sidewalks, landscaping between the sidewalk and the roadway, modern pedestrian crossing signal equipment (such as flashing beacons to attract drivers’ attention), and curb extensions for shorter crossing distances (pictured in question 4). All elements will improve accessibility for persons with disabilities and be compliant with ADA guidelines.
12. What improvements will be made for bus riders?
Bus riders account for an astounding 30% of all users of Mount Auburn Street. Therefore, it is important that any selected design maintain or improve bus operations on or through the corridor. MBTA Route 71 bus riders will experience a more reliable ride with improved traffic flow. The Town is working with the MBTA to review bus stop amenities and potential improvements to MBTA infrastructure. Some changes in the location of bus stops are being considered by moving stops to safer locations near streetlights. The relocations will also allow for the possibility of transit signal priority (TSP) or other technologies to improve bus efficiency and reliability throughout the corridor. With TSP, for example, traffic signal technology is able to detect an oncoming bus and hold the green light longer to help improve the flow of buses on Mount Auburn Street.
The Town is also looking at how to integrate with the proposed improvements of the Mount Auburn Street Corridor Study (at Fresh Pond Parkway), including the proposed dedicated bus lane near the Cambridge border.
13. What are the next steps, and will I see additional plans?
The project team is currently refining the design of bicycle accommodations throughout the corridor (see question 8) and will then design each intersection in the project area. Meanwhile, the Town is also coordinating with MassDOT, the City of Cambridge, the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) on transit improvements, and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) on the Mount Auburn Street Corridor Study (at Fresh Pond Parkway).
The project team presented an updated recommendation at a Public Works Committee meeting on November 20, 2017. A meeting on Coolidge Square will be scheduled in January 2018. This and future opportunities for public involvement will be posted on this project website, and shared in emails to everyone in the project database. Sign up for email updates!
14. How will the project be funded, and when will it be constructed?
Funding for the project design will be provided by the State Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). The project is currently programmed for advertisement in Fiscal Year 2022, with selection of a contractor and construction to begin shortly thereafter.
15. How can I learn more and participate in future events?
Last updated December 2017
More questions? Contact the project team.