Update on Needham - Newton Bike/Pedestrian Corridors

On Thursday, Feb. 2, a meeting was help at Newton City Hall to address designs and options for bicyclist and pedestrian usage of the corridors between Needham and Newton that weill be affected by the impending Rt. 128 Add-a-Lane project.

The meeting was well attended by Newton officials, including COO Bob Rooney and State Rep. Ruth Balser, along with bike/ped advocates and city engineers; it was also attended by several people from the state - MassDOT planners and spokespersons, as well as project managers from Jacobs, the lead contractor on the add-a-lane project.

The meeting was called and organized by George Kirby, head of Newton's Bike and Pedestrian Task Force. Also represented was Bike Newton, a private advocacy group (which was represented) and Needham Bikes.

The purpose of the meeting was to have project managers and engineers working with MassDOT review the planned bicycle accommodations associated with not only the Add-a-Lane project, but also the entire Needham St. - Highland Ave corridor (to Webster St. in Needham). There's a broad overview of the 25% design project scope on the MassDOT web site . Both Needham Bikes and the Newton bicycle advocacy community had raised concerns over the safety of the currennt designs.

There are actually two projects in play: one focusing on Rt. 128, led by Jacobs, and another focused on Needham St. and Highland Ave, with the exception of the portion including the bridge over Rt. 128. The Needham St. / Highland Ave project plan was interesting - Needham St. will certainly get more bike friendly, with five foot bike lanes planned from the Charles River to Winchester St. There will also be four foot bike lanes on Highland Ave from Webster St. to just short of Gould St. (Utica Rd.).

Problem Areas

The specific areas of concern are 1) the section of Highland Ave from Rt. 128 to the Charles River, 2) the Highland Avenue bridge over the highway, and the new Kendrick St. bridge and highwau access.

1. The section from Rt. 128 to the river, is crowded, narrow and busy. For most of this section the shoulder for bikes will drop to 1-2 feet wide. There is a planned bike/ped bridge over the Charles separate from the road. The road itself will have a 3 foot shoulder over the Charles. Frankly, there's no good solution for this stretch, which means that bike/ped passage between Needham and Newton won't be facilitated on this corridor any time soon.

2. There are also significant challenges with supporting bike/ped crossing over the high bridge. They have planned for generous 5-foot bike lanes in both directions of both the Highland Ave and the Kendrick St. bridges. The problem is when bikes and pedestrians need to cross ramps for cars entering onto and exiting form the highway. The current plan for handling these ramps is to direct bike/peds to a crosswalk that is the shortest possible distance across the ramp, one end of which would be partly around the corner (see crude drawing below).

The bicycle representative from MAPC, David Loutzenheiser, recommended having highway ramps meet the crossing roads at right angles, which would make safer crossing. However, the engineers pointed out that this would cause significant backups and slow automobile traffic.

3. On the Kendrick St. bridge those right angle intersections are actually planned for most of the exchanges (there will be fewer ramps on this overpass, since not all exit/entrance options will be available.

One specific proposal from George Kirby was to add traffic signals on Kendrick St. bridge intersections that accommodate bicycles and pedestrians.

The Challenge

At issue is making this section of Needham and Newton livable and accommodating for all forms of passersby. There is concern that, without adequate solutions in place for biking and walking, that potential commerce and business opportunities in that area will be severely hampered. What's needed is a Complete Streets approach to making the developing area more hospitable to people as well as cars ( more on Complete Streets here ).

The MassDOT project people were doing the best they could given the constraints they were working under, including the AASHTO handbook that specifies how to design bike/ped accommodations.

Advocacy Needed

We at Needham Bikes feel that what's needed is more creative and holistic approaches to this area when it comes to transportation. Though the designs are far along, there is still time to advocate for greater safety and awareness of non-automobile passage between Needham and Newton.

Newton has put together a Transportation Advisory Committee ( ) to "to study issues like traffic flow, bicycle lanes and to develop a long-term plan to improve pedestrian safety." Andreae Downs, chairperson of that committeeis eager to work with appropriate groups within Needham, including Needham Bikes.

If this is an area of interest to you, please contact me at .