An Alternative Way Across Rt. 128: A Tunnel?

Needham Bikes has a vision in which more open, clean and safe passage between Needham and Newton will provide access to:

  • Natural resources like Cutler Park and the Charles River
  • A less congested experience when shopping on Needham St.
  • More open commuting routes to Newton and beyond that are safer and more appealing

Over the past couple months, there has been an active discussion among cycling advocates in Needham and Newton, expressing concern over the published designs for the Kendrick St. and Highland Avenue crossings over Rt. 128 as part of the Add-a-Lane project. A description of the concern is summarized in the a recent post here, Advocating for Better Routes Between Needham and Newton!

We expect further conversations with MassDOT and local officials, but are generally concerned about the range of options that will be considered. The primary challenge is that it's difficult to design any bicylce and pedestrian crossings highway crossing when exit and entrance ramps are involved. MassDOT designers have added bike lanes on each bridge, in both directions, but those bike lanes will still cross traffic on the ramps.

As one Newton bicycle advocate suggested, perhaps the lack of good alternatives is due to a lack of imagination.

Imagine Going Under, Not Over

Perhaps the best way to get bicycle and pedestrian traffic from one side of Rt. 128 to the other is to avoid the over-trafficked bridges altogether. Midway between Kendrick St. and Highland Avenue is an interesting optoin for a crossing under the highway.

Barely a quarter mile from Highland Avenue on Hunting Ave, just at the bottom of the hill as the road turns to head uphill to Kendrick St, there's an overgrown and unclaimed parcel of land adjacent to the highway. At this point, Hunting Rd. is actually well below the grade of the highway - perhaps as much as 8 feet lower.

Is there an opportunity to run a tunnel, or a culvert, underneath the highway at this point?

This crossing would be midway between Highland and Kendrick, offering an accessble crossing alternative close to each bridge. The crossing is even more intriguing because on the other side of the highway, where it would connect to the New England Business Center, A Street would provide a natural route to the Charles River (maroon line on map below), where the DCR is planning to upgrade the path along the river to a full-blown bicycle path (in green below).

This would provide an excellent route to Needham St., which itself will soon be renovated to become more bike-friendly. This route would avoid the stretch on Highland Avenue between Rt. 128 and the Charles River, which is, and will continue to be, notoriously dangerous for cyclists.

Click the image below for a native Google Map version.

Bike/Ped Tunnel Precedents

There are plenty of examples of tunnels under highways. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has published an interesting paper called Tunnels on Trails: A Study of 78 Tunnels on 36 Trails in the United States .

Following are some images from a quick survey of examples:

Assabet River Rail Trail: Here's a local example of a bike tunnel - under Rt 290 Connector in Marlborough. The photo shows the precast tunnel sections on the north side of the I-290 Connector, which were lifted in place by crane. (from )

Billings, Montana cyclists and pedestrians have a new bike/pedestrian tunnel that connects bike trails under Montana's busiest highway (from

Davis, CA has many, many bike tunnels (see full page at ), including this one:

Harlem River Tunnel : MKM Landscape Architects are working on a bike tunnel underneath Rt . 22 in Columbia County, NY. Here is a drawing of the proposed tunnel, which provides a good sense of proportion.