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Joint comment letter regarding Arborway Parkways Improvement Project

Joint comment letter regarding Arborway Parkways Improvement Project

Department of Conservation and Recreation
Office of Public Outreach
251 Causeway St 6th Floor
Boston, MA 02114

CC: Senator Chang-Diaz, Representative Nika Elugardo, Representative Liz Malia, City Councilor Matt O’Malley, Chief of Streets Chris Osgood

July 10, 2020

Dear Mr. Jeff Parenti and DCR staff,

Thank you for hosting another meeting concerning the Arborway Parkway Improvements Project We are glad that DCR is prioritizing this project and dedicating time and money to implementing short-term improvements and embarking on a rapid “long-term” process to dramatically improve the way the Arborway functions for vulnerable road users, especially in Murray Circle and improve park access for all.

In addition to the comments we provided in December 2019 and this spring, we propose the following suggestions to the short-term improvements and overall planning process from the meeting on June 24:

1) Changes to the proposed short-term improvements

We are pleased to see an aggressive timeline to have a design by the start of 2021 and construction to begin in 2021 — don’t let up! However, we are concerned about short-term bike accommodations not being implemented this year. We want to be sure this opportunity is used to create a safe, connected route to and through the Emerald Necklace Parks. As stated in our previous letter last December, short-term improvements should calm traffic and reduce crashes while also encouraging greater usage by people walking and biking. Toward that end, we reiterate our request for short-term improvements to include a lane removal on the carriage roads between Murray and Kelley Circles to accommodate a physically separated bike lane in the reclaimed space. We also remain concerned about the lack of a plan to improve safety for people biking through Murray Circle. Murray Circle is a critical gap in the network, and is plagued by crashes that impact safety of all road users.

2) Concern About CTPS Modeling Projections

We are concerned that this project is planning to accommodate an increase in vehicular traffic despite a 2019 study showing a decrease in daily traffic volumes since 2014, and despite Boston and Massachusetts’ goals to shift mode share away from personal vehicles.

In last month’s meeting about this project, DCR cited a CTPS study showing a slight increase in morning traffic. However, that same study found a decrease in evening traffic. As a result, we are deeply skeptical of the CTPS model projecting an increase in overall volume from 2020-2030. We would like to remind you that traffic models have again and again overestimated future volume. In one notable example, in 2018 CTPS projected that inbound traffic on the Longfellow Bridge would double from pre-construction levels once the bridge fully reopened that year; in reality, traffic volumes fell by almost 30% during the morning rush hour relative to 2008. The projection for outbound traffic was even further off-base. CTPS estimated a morning rush of 2,121 vehicles — nearly five times more than the actual peak of 442 measured in September 2018. We also would like to remind you that we must build for the future we want to see! Designing this road to accommodate more traffic will only create more induced demand for driving at a time when that’s the last thing needed on Boston’s already congested roadways.

As you move forward conducting traffic studies, we encourage you and the consultant team to not only consider current vehicle demand to predict future behavior, but to take into consideration that a design that encourages walking/biking can actually get people out of their cars. Both the Commonwealth, under the Global Warming Solutions Act, and the City of Boston have ambitious goals (e.g., Boston reducing emissions and car traffic in half by 2030) that relate to reducing the number of cars on the roads. Emissions from the transportation sector have stayed steady in the state and are not meeting the reduction goals set; as a State agency who has custody and control of the roadways, DCR must be a critical partner in meeting these goals.

3) A robust public engagement process

Especially given the history of previous planning processes for the Arborway and the frustrations expressed by the public at the first meeting, we suggest extra communication and time with the public and believe that this will lead to the most successful process and outcome. We appreciate, for example, the robust public comment period held during the first meeting and are glad to hear that there is a communications and facilitation team for meetings moving forward.

We ask for a publication of a timeline for the project that outlines expected meetings, other public engagement opportunities and milestones (25% design, construction, etc) as soon as possible and for you to stick to the promised dates and timelines. We strongly feel that this will go a long way in building trust and transparency with area-residents. We hope the process is as concise as possible and includes regular communication so residents continue to engage productively in the planning and discussion.

Finally, we suggest including walks — which can be planned in a way to allow for safe social distancing — as a public engagement tool. We have seen that people who currently only drive through the area have a very different understanding of the safety and connectivity needs when walking or riding a bike there.

4) Coordination

a. Given resident concerns about traffic being diverted to side streets, we suggest including those neighborhood side streets in Jamaica Hills and the Jamaica Pond neighborhood in traffic studies and projected traffic patterns to demonstrate to residents the hopefully minimal impact it will have on their streets.

b. Thank you for the coordination and communication you have had with the City of Boston around this project. We hope this will continue so the City can partner around implementing some traffic calming at intersections or side streets that will be impacted.

c. We understand that Centre/Walter St and Arborway are proceeding at the same time. We ask that DCR consider the impact one project will have on the other and ensure that both consultant teams are sharing information and plans. We ask that public meetings on either project share consolidated updates on the other related process.

5) Other overall comments

We are glad to see one of the goals of this project is to “Create a continuous and comfortable bicycle and pedestrian connection between the Arboretum and Pond”. We ask that the bicycle facilities be physically separated the entire length, regardless of whether they are a shared-use path, off-road or on-road facility. Protected or physically separated bike lanes have been shown to improve safety for not only people who bike, but for all road users. A 2019 study by researchers at the University of Colorado Denver and the University of New Mexico found protected bike lanes reduced injury risk to cyclists by 90%, while reducing fatal crashes overall by 44%. Moreover, countless studies have found that a majority of Americans are interested in biking, yet the primary reason why people don’t bike is the fear of being hit by a car. To create a truly “comfortable” bike route that encourages many more people to ride bikes, you must implement protected/separated bike lanes.

Thank you for your consideration of our suggestions. We look forward to continuing to work together around our shared goals for this project.

Becca Wolfson Boston Cyclists Union
Ambar Johnson, LivableStreets Alliance
Brendan Kearney, WalkBoston

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