Broadway/Ball Square Bridge, GLX train
In this issue:
• Broadway/Ball Square Bridge closure and detour routes community meeting this Wednesday, August 29 6 PM at Community Baptist Church, 31 College Ave, Davis Square;
• Cedar Street chicanes, bumpouts and roadway
Broadway/Ball Square Bridge closure and detour routes community meeting this Wednesday, August 29, 6 PM at Community Baptist Church, 31 College Ave, Davis Square; update on detour routes and my concerns
The City Communications Department sent out an excellent email about this meeting on Friday so I am copying it in here below for your info. After the City email, I share some new information about the detour routes, my concerns, and what I am advocating for. Please share with me your thoughts and ideas. I hope you can attend the meeting on Wednesday night and speak up with your concerns, ideas and questions. I have been told there will be ample time for comments by and discussion with the community. Many final decisions about the detour routes and exact timing of the closure have yet to be made.
Here is the City Communications Dept email:
Dear Ball and Magoun Square Community Members,
Beginning in late 2018, the Broadway Bridge (between Boston Ave. and Cedar St.) will close for one full year to vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycle traffic as part of ongoing construction for the Green Line Extension project (GLX).
Please join Mayor Curtatone, Ward 5 Alderman Mark Niedergang, Ward 6 Alderman Lance Davis, and reps from the City and the GLX team on Wednesday, August 29, for a public meeting about upcoming construction, detour routes, and mitigation efforts in the Ball Square neighborhood.
August 29 Community Meeting — Somerville Community Baptist Church, 31 College Ave., 6 p.m. Please note that there will be a second meeting scheduled for late September if you are unable to attend this meeting.
How to Stay Informed
There are a number of ways in which MassDOT, the MBTA/GLX team, and the City of Somerville will keep the community updated throughout this project. We encourage you to familiarize yourself with these additional resources to stay as informed as possible.
1 City of Somerville GLX Updates
Receive bi-weekly email updates about the GLX project. To enroll, email email@example.com with “GLX Alerts” in the subject line.
1 MassDOT / GLX Update Emails
MassDOT and the GLX team maintain an email list, available to anyone wishing to opt in. Emails include upcoming schedules and work information. To sign up for these email updates, visit www.greenlineextension.org.
1 Station-Area Representatives
The GLX Project team developed a Community Working Group to provide information sharing between the project team and the public. The Working Group consists of representatives from each of the station areas in Medford, Somerville, and Cambridge. Working Group members provide assistance to the MBTA and to the community in identifying local issues of concern, facilitating dialogue, and planning agendas and topics for discussion at neighborhood and community meetings. We strongly encourage you to reach out the Working Group representative closest to your area of interest and sign up for their alerts and updates. These representatives work very closely with the project team and the City of Somerville and can provide you with valuable information for your specific neighborhood. The representatives for each area are listed below along with their contact information.
• Jennifer Dorsen, Ball Square: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Justin Moeling, Gilman Square: email@example.com
• Ryan Dunn, Magoun Square: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Jim McGinnis, Union Square: email@example.com
• Elliott Bradshaw, Brickbottom: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Dylan Manley, East Somerville: email@example.com
4. GLX Project Website
If you would like updated information but do not wish to receive active alerts and updates, you can visit www.greenlineextension.org, where full project background materials are also linked.
• GLX 24/7 Hotline: The GLX team is happy to assist you, and this is the best first stop for any questions or concerns. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the project hotline, which is monitored 24/7: 1-855-GLX-INFO.
• 311 Constituent Services: For basic, city-specific issues related to the GLX, contact our 24/7 Constituent Services Office at 3-1-1 (or 617-666-3311).
Information and updates on the detour routes, my concerns, & what I am advocating for
If you want the latest information, I encourage you to review the PowerPoint presentation from the August 7 GLX Community Working Group meeting, which you can see here: http://greenlineextension.eot.state.ma.us/documents/communityWorking/presentationCWG_080718.pdf
You may have noticed that previous announcements said that the bridge would be closed starting in November; the most recent City email which I copied in above says “Beginning late 2018.”
Many residents of the Ball Square area are alarmed at the additional traffic and chaos that may ensue on their neighborhood streets due to the detours. The businesses in Ball Square are, of course, extremely worried, but I was impressed by their stoicism and remarkably positive attitude when I walked Ball Square with Ward 5 Community Police Officer Walter Collette and talked with many business owners, managers, and workers last week.
We all know that the Broadway/Ball Square bridge closure will have a negative impact, and especially on Ball Square businesses, residents who live near Ball Square, and people who regularly drive, walk or bike across the bridge. There is no way around this and no point in sugar-coating it. The inconveniences, hassles, and delays from the bridge closure — in addition to the $50 million that the state coerced from Somerville for the GLX Project — are part of the price we will pay for GLX coming to Somerville in 2021, and for GLX stations in Ward 5 at Lowell Street/Magoun Square and Ball Square.
All we can do is mitigate the harmful impacts as best possible. Some mitigation suggestions have already been ruled out by the GLX Team. For example, community members advocated for three alternatives to the proposed ¾-mile pedestrian/bike detour down Winchester St to Harvard St and back to Ball Square on Boston Avenue. All three community proposals have been ruled out by the GLX Team. You can see their rationales for nixing these great suggestions on pp. 25, 26 and 27 of the August 7 presentation.
I am enormously concerned about the ¾ mile pedestrian detour, and have expressed this to decision-makers on the GLX Team, in our City government, and to our state legislators. It is outrageous to expect some people to walk ¾ of a mile to get around the bridge, especially elderly people, people with disabilities, parents with strollers, and parents with young children. And what about when it snows, and ice and snow are not cleared from some sidewalks? It is the responsibility of the GLX Team to solve this problem. City staff and I have suggested that a shuttle van could pick people up at one end of the bridge and ferry them around the detour route to the other. This shuttle van could also carry bus riders to and from their bus stop – since the bus stops will be moved off Broadway and many bus riders may have to walk far to get to their stop.
City officials have asked the GLX Team to establish a shuttle van program and pay for it. So far, the GLX Team has said no; their proposed solution is that residents who need help use the MBTA Ride. This is not a viable solution for many reasons. If the GLX Team refuses to provide a shuttle van service, I hope the City will do it, even if the City has to pay for it.
My greatest concern continues to be the safety of pedestrians in the Ball Square Somerville neighborhood in Wards 5 and 6 bordered by Cedar Street, Highland Avenue, and College Avenue. These streets constitute the proposed motor vehicle detour route for vehicles heading west, and one of the proposed bus detour routes for all bus traffic, both eastbound and westbound (see pp. 19 & 20 in the August 7 presentation). My biggest fear is that out-of-town drivers will peel off from the motor vehicle detour route to avoid the gridlock and enter neighborhood streets, especially Morrison Avenue. Morrison Avenue is already used as a cut-through. Because the section between Cedar and Willow is wide and straight, drivers bomb down it at speeds that are way too fast. I worry that a pedestrian, perhaps a child or parent crossing Morrison at Highland Road to get to Lexington Park or the Community Path, will be hit by an out-of-town driver going too fast on Morrison Ave who is not familiar with the neighborhood. In addition, if drivers who are not from that neighborhood get into it, they may get lost and go the wrong way down the many one way streets there, since the traffic pattern in that neighborhood is unusual.
City staff in the Transportation and Infrastructure Division and the Traffic and Parking Dept are looking at possible traffic-calming physical interventions, such as speed bumps, to enhance safety on Morrison Avenue and the surrounding streets. As far as I know, no decisions have yet been made. However, one absolutely necessary part of protecting that neighborhood is strong enforcement by police to keep non-residents out. There should be a police officer at the intersection of Cedar Street and Morrison Ave – and also at several other key intersections along the detour route — for at least two or three hours every weekday morning and evening during rush hour. I have spoken with the GLX Team and City officials including the Mayor and Chief of Police about this, but have not gotten any commitment yet to a strong police presence along the detour route. We know from experience that signs are not enough: many drivers ignore signs and just do what they want if there is not a police officer present to enforce the signs that say “Abutters and local residents only.”
In terms of bus detour routes, I have been assured by City staff that there will be no buses or motor vehicles detoured through the Ball Square neighborhood. Bus detours down Rogers Ave, Pearson Ave, Highland Road and Willow Ave have been proposed by the GLX Team. In a meeting with top City staff and the Mayor, I was told that the City will not support bus detours into that neighborhood, and that the City does have the legal power to deny the GLX Team and MBTA from detouring busses onto Somerville local streets. While no decisions have yet been made, the #s 80 and 89 busses may be detoured onto Cedar Street, Highland Avenue, and College Avenue (the same route as the westbound motor vehicle detour). A couple of longer alternative bus routes are also being considered. I think the MBTA should keep the busses completely off of Cedar Street. (See pp. 28-38 of the August 7 presentation for possible bus detour routes).
Cedar Street chicanes, bumpouts and roadway: my thoughts on the continuing controversy
Cedar St. curb extension by Muskat Studios makes the street very narrow.
Many Ward 5 and other Somerville residents who live near or drive down Cedar Street have shared their concerns about the chicanes, bumpouts and curb extentions on upper Cedar Street. Some, thinking ahead, are worried about the increased delays and possible gridlock due to the high volume of traffic that will be detoured onto Cedar Street when the Bridge is closed. I share those concerns. (For those who are not familiar with the term, “chicanes” are artificial serpentine curves in the road so that drivers drive slower and pay closer attention.)
The changes in upper Cedar Street have drawn much comment, including warnings such as “Someone unfortunately will DIE on Cedar St because of those dangerous chicanes,” and “I only hope to God I’m not right, but I feel that north and south traffic being pushed into one another will cause a serious accident.” (Check out my Facebook page if you want to see these and other comments.)
Bicyclists have complained about how unsafe Cedar Street is, too. They are right, but it always has been. I mostly get around by bicycle myself and I tell bicyclists to avoid upper Cedar Street during rush hour as the street is simply not wide enough to have adequate bicycle infrastructure. There is nothing that can be done about this.
I do not agree with those who think the changes on upper Cedar Street are bad. I continue to support the chicanes, bumpouts and curb extensions because I believe they will make that street a slower and safer roadway for all users once the construction is complete.
Let me give a little history. The plans were developed four years ago by City staff and professional traffic engineering consultants. There have been two large community meetings to review them. There was enthusiastic and widespread support for the plans in the community and at those meetings.
The main goal is to slow traffic and make Cedar St safer, and to allow cars entering from Morrison, Clyde, Murdock and other sidestreets to do so more safely. Another goal is to deter some of the many out-of-towners who use Cedar St as a cut-through to Cambridge and Boston from using our City for their commute. To do the latter, the engineers decided to make the street more uncomfortable to drive on. We will get used to it; hopefully this will inspire people north of Somerville who don’t use Cedar Street regularly to find other ways to get into Cambridge and Boston.
The project was delayed by three years and now there have been a lot of complaints about the current (unfinished) roadway. I have to agree that the construction and implementation has been flawed, leaving the street in an in-between, halfway-finished state for three months. And it looks like the job won’t be finished until late September, when they will finally repave and restripe Cedar Street from Highland Avenue to Broadway.
The current condition of the street does present dangers for drivers. I have heard that some vehicles have run into the bumpouts at night, including a Warwick Street resident who had to swerve to avoid a driver who was in the middle of the road. As a result of complaints I received, I urged City staff to put bollards and reflectors on the bumpouts so they are more visible at night, and they put those orange and white reflective barrels up right away. I then urged City staff to temporarily repaint the street so that drivers had some guidance as to where to swerve to negotiate the chicanes and bumpouts. It took over a month, but finally the street got some center lines on it, but only a bare minimum. Driving on upper Cedar Street still requires great caution. Of course not all drivers are paying close attention, so I expect that accidents will continue, but so far, as far as I know, nobody has been hurt.
The reconstruction of the upper Cedar Street roadway has created a narrower and harder to negotiate street. This is actually a good thing as it will slow and reduce traffic. However, it seems to have come at the worst possible time. I do not understand how traffic will be able to flow, or even move, if large trucks and MBTA busses are detoured onto Cedar Street when the Broadway/Ball Square Bridge is closed. Some spots on upper Cedar Street are now quite narrow – especially the curb extension near Clyde Street and Muskat Studios (see photo) and the large bumpouts at Morrison, Clyde and Murdock. Under normal circumstances, I see this as a positive, as it will do what this design was intended to do – slow traffic and make drivers pay better attention. But when the Bridge closes and lots of large trucks and MBTA busses go down Cedar Street, I am concerned that traffic may become gridlocked if a bus and a truck are facing each other and can’t back up or pass. I have shared this concern with City staff, and told the GLX Team at the August 7 meeting that they should do some serious testing of their buses and drivers along Cedar Street now.
Despite the short-term pain, I believe that the redevelopment of upper Cedar Street will improve safety and mobility for all users. I have encouraged the critics to wait and evaluate the new roadway once it is complete and has been in use for a few months.
Lower Cedar Street: water and sewer infrastructure project to be completed in September
Lower Cedar Street will continue to have closures into September as Gioisio Construction, the City’s contractor there, continues to work on the Summer/Cedar Street intersection and the sidewalks to make them legally ADA accessible. They will also replant some trees. When that’s all done, they will repave the roadways on Cedar Street up to Highland Avenue, Hall Street, and Cedar Avenue. City officials have said this long-running project will finally be finished by the end of September.
In the coming weeks, I will write to you again about topics such as the tree slaughter along the GLX rail corridor and in other locations in Somerville; the need for more green and open space in Somerville and Board of Aldermen efforts to make progress on this important goal; and priorities for the Board of Aldermen and the Legislative Matters Committee, which I chair, for this fall, winter and the spring of 2019.
Mark Niedergang, Ward 5 Alderman