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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

Joint Comment Letter on MassDCR Arborway Improvement Project

Joint Comment Letter on MassDCR Arborway Improvement Project

December 16, 2019

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

Dear Mr. Jeff Parenti and team at DCR,

We are so glad the planning process for improving the Arborway has begun. Thank you for prioritizing this project and dedicating time and money to implementing short-term improvements. We agree with and support the overall project goals shared at the first meeting and are looking forward to partnering with you to reach those goals. One additional overall goal we suggest for the project is to restore the park in parkway. As the Massachusetts Historic
Parkways Initiative publication from 2002 highlighted (on its cover!), “A parkway is not a road; it’s a park with a road in it”. Not only is increased access to existing green spaces important, but also increasing green space and trees in the project area and restoring this section of the Emerald Necklace back to being primarily a park and secondarily a road.

Thank you for adding curb cuts and ramps where they are currently missing. This will not only help pedestrians and people using wheelchairs, but also cyclists who take the sidewalk due to unsafe road conditions.

We propose the following suggestions to the short-term improvements and overall planning
process from the meeting on November 21:

1. Changes to the proposed short-term improvements

We have identified three goals that we suggest should guide the short-term improvements: (1) Short-term improvements should calm traffic with a measurable outcome in vehicle speeds, (2) Short-term improvements should result in a measurable reduction in the number of crashes and (3) Short-term improvements should show increased pedestrian and cyclist usage along the stretch. In order to measure the progress and inform the permanent changes, part of the short-term process should include collecting before/after speed data on the impact of these changes and conducting bike and pedestrian counts before and after.

Specifically, in response to the proposed short-term changes we recommend the following:

a. Adjust the positioning of the crosswalk and curb cuts at the Arborway crossing on the exit that brings cars towards Forest Hills so that pedestrians have a better view of oncoming cars. All of us who use this crosswalk regularly agree that this is the most dangerous and difficult crossing especially because as you cross you
can’t see what is coming behind you.

b. Include a lane removal in the carriage lanes between Murray and Kelley Circles as a short-term improvement and put in a physically separated bike lane in the reclaimed space.

c. Add a crosswalk over Centre St by Orchard St which is a current desire line used frequently by pedestrians.

d. Narrow lanes as much as possible in Murray Circle by adding flex posts or other barriers in addition to the paint proposed to narrow lanes.

e. There is currently no proposal for how to improve cyclist safety in Murray circle in the short-term. While we realize traffic calming may be the most significant improvement, we would like to see options for getting cyclists through Murray Circle in the short-term; one that directs cyclists to use sidewalks with paint and signage and one that keeps cyclists on the road. Please circulate options for public feedback before implementation this spring.

2. 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. We suggest quarterly meetings or other public engagement during the project planning phase. 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 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.

3. 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.

4. Other overall comments

a. We are glad to see one of the goals 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.

b. 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 we have set; as a State agency who has custody & control of the roadways we believe DCR can be a critical partner in meeting these goals.

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

Eliza Parad, Boston Cyclists Union
Tom Francis, Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition
Ambar Johnson, LivableStreets Alliance
Brendan Kearney, WalkBoston
Evan Judd, West Rox Walks
Sarah Freeman, Arborway Coalition
David Wean, Rozzie Bikes
Ben Wetherill, West Roxbury Bicycle Committee

Comments on Arborway Safety Audit Meeting and DCR Parkway Needs Along the Necklace

Comments on Arborway Safety Audit Meeting and DCR Parkway Needs Along the Necklace

February 7th, 2019

Commissioner Leo Roy
Department of Conservation and Recreation
251 Causeway St, 9th Floor
Boston, MA. 02114
Re: Arborway, Jamaica Plain, MA.

Dear Commissioner Roy:

We are writing to express our strong desire to partner with DCR and others to improve
safety for all users on the Arborway section of the Emerald Necklace in the Jamaica Plain
neighborhood for Boston. This area forms part of the larger Emerald Necklace and poses
serious challenges accommodating pedestrians, bicycles and automobiles safely in a
continuous manner along its length.

Over the last several years, DCR planning efforts have started, meetings have been held,
proposals made, but final plans or improvements are not yet planned or realized. We ask
that you re-double your efforts to improve Arborway from Jamaica Pond/Kelley Circle to
the new Casey Arborway. The Conservancy and our partners at Walk Boston and The
Boston Cyclists Union are very concerned with the number of incidents that have taken
place along the Arborway in Jamaica Plain recently. This section of roadway has proven to
be an increasingly dangerous stretch over the last couple of years, and we would like to
draw your attention to what seems to be a growing number of incidents in recent months.
The incidents have ranged in seriousness. Last year, a victim of a crash in 2013 succumbed
to his serious brain injuries and died.

Based on information received from local residents and the Arborway Coalition over the
summer months in 2018 there were:

  • 3 crashes through the fence across from the Arboretum resulting in damage to the fence and
    trees.
  • The pedestrian crossing sign at Murray Circle/Centre Steet /May Street was hit and
    knocked over twice, with tire tracks visible on the sidewalk.
  • A hit and run involving a motorist and bicyclist at Murray Circle.

Based on information gathered from a State Police Report (likely NOT complete) there were
approximately 150 reported crashes on the Arborway from Jan. 5, 2017 to Aug. 8, 2018,
which is an average of over 8 crashes per month.

In the fall of 2018, the Conservancy’s staff, Board of Overseers and others organized walks
through this area of the Arborway. Attendees included Nika Elugardo, new State Representative,
and Jennifer Norwood of DCR. The walks were helpful to see the issues along this section of
parkway (excessive speeds, lack of clear and safe pedestrian and bicycle amenities) and make it
clear that we are seeking a solution that improves safety for all – pedestrians, bicyclists and
automobiles.

We understand that alterations to the Arborway section of the parkways were put on hold until
the new Casey Arborway was completed. The Casey Arborway roadway work is now in place, so
we hope improvements can proceed without delay to the remainder of the Arborway.

We were pleased to recently learn that DCR is doing a comprehensive road safety audit of this
section of parkway and is working with MassDOT to collect all available data. We look forward to
joining an anticipated site walk and seeing a final report in April.

It is our hope that this safety audit will lead to good information, and will lead to a plan to make
improvements. Please let us know how we can support your efforts towards this goal.

Thank you for your attention to this pressing matter.

Sincerely yours,

Karen Mauney-Brodek, President
Emerald Necklace Conservancy

Wendy Landman, Executive Director
WalkBoston

Becca Wolfson, Executive Director
Boston Cyclists Union

Cc: Chris Cook Chief, Environment, Energy, and Open Space; Commissioner, Parks and Recreation;
Erin Gallentine, Director of Open Space, Town of Brookline;
Patrice Kish, Director of Historic Resources, DCR;
Jennifer Norwood, Director of External Affairs and Partnerships, DCR;
Conservancy Board of Directors and Overseers
Nika Elugardo, State Representative
Liz Malia, State Representative
Matt O’Malley, City Councilor

Comments on the DCR’s Arborway Proposals

Comments on the DCR’s Arborway Proposals

November 4, 2015

Mass DCR
Office of Public Outreach
251 Causeway Street
Suite 600
Boston, MA 02114

WalkBoston Comments on the DCR’s Arborway Proposals

First of all, WalkBoston commends the DCR on its work to correct the serious safety issues to be found in the present Arborway configuration. We thoroughly endorse the project’s approach of channeling regional traffic to the center lanes and making the “carriageways” function as local, neighborhood streets with improved bicycle facilities and upgraded safety features and connections. We believe the proposed re-­design of the Arborway in Jamaica Plain will indeed improve bicycle and vehicular safety.

CONCERNS ABOUT PEDESTRIAN SAFETY AND CONVENIENCE
However, we are not convinced that the changes, taken together, will actually improve safety for people on foot. We are concerned about the multiple pedestrian crosswalks at the Kelley and Murray new roundabouts, which we fear may not improve safety and will certainly make walking across the Arborway much less convenient. Before WalkBoston can support this project we need to sit down with DCR and their consultants, Toole Design, to discuss the safety and increased walking trip times to traverse the roundabouts.

The crosswalks appear to have multiplied since the February 2015 design. For example, slip lanes to facilitate through traffic have been added at both Kelly and Murray Circles. At the new Kelly roundabout pedestrians wishing to walk from Pond Street to Orchard Street will need to traverse nine crosswalks in order to cross from one side of the Arborway to the other. Currently, pedestrians can do this in a simple, two-­step crossing with a pedestrian-­actuated traffic signal. (See below for more detailed discussion of this issue.)

Moreover, many transportation engineers question the safety of multiple lane roundabouts: “Multiple-­lane roundabouts lose many of the safety benefits of single-­lane roundabouts. In general, multi-­lane roundabouts are not recommended in areas with high levels of pedestrian and bicycle activity.” (Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning 2015) We at WalkBoston are unfamiliar with any multi-­lane roundabouts in eastern Massachusetts that are truly pedestrian friendly and would interested to know of any examples DCR or its consultants have found in the course of the planning process. WalkBoston appreciates that the re-­design calls for raised crosswalks, which will function as a traffic calming measure, WalkBoston would nevertheless like DCR to consider the efficacy of a signalized, mid-­block crosswalk between Kelly and Murray Circles, similar to the mid-­block crosswalk near the Arnold Arboretum main entrance.

To make the same journey today, pedestrians from Moss Hill have two signalized crosswalks. One can hardly call the proposed configuration an improvement for someone on foot.

HISTORIC STONE WALL
WalkBoston supports retention of the historic stone wall, however, if it is necessary to break through the wall in order to make a crucial connection to improve vehicular Kelley circulation, and then re-­build the new wall ends to look like the historic wall ends, WalkBoston would support this — and it’s likely that most local residents would, too. We do not think it is necessary to protect the stone walls in their entirety. The February plan for Kelley had a more logical connection from the roundabout to Orchard Street.

PARKING ON THE CARRIAGEWAYS
At the October public meeting, someone suggested that the new proposed parking lane on the carriageways be eliminated to enhance the parkway appearance. A surprising number of people agreed with this. WalkBoston strongly supports local parking on the carriageways for the following reasons:
Residents along the Arborway are entitled to have street parking for guests as residents on adjacent streets do.
Parking along the carriageways is a benefit for overflow, event parking for Jamaica Pond and the Arnold Arboretum. The demand was clearly present. Even though Kelley Circle is posted as “no parking”, visitors have habitually parked there when visiting Jamaica Pond.

 

CONCLUSION

WalkBoston remains deeply concerned about pedestrian safety and accessibility along the Arborway. The proposed DCR redesign is a major step forward for bicycle and vehicle safety and convenience. It is not as large a step forward for pedestrian safety and may be a step backward in terms of pedestrian friendliness and convenience. We believe very strongly that the Arborway should be designed to be a fully multimodal roadway with vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic treated on an equal basis. The parks and ponds in the area are a unique attraction and the area’s residential and commercial neighborhoods are well suited to walking and biking. The Arborway should support and promote both forms of transportation in order to prevent ever-­‐increasing vehicular traffic volumes and to meet the recreational and health goals of the Emerald Necklace of which it is an integral part.

 

Sincerely,

Dorothea Hass, WalkBoston                                 Don Eunson, Jamaica Plain resident

cc: Julie Crockford, President
Emerald Necklace Conservancy.

Comment Letter: Improving parkways in Emerald Necklace

Comment Letter: Improving parkways in Emerald Necklace

March 2, 2015

Department of Conservation and Recreation
Office of Public Outreach
251 Causeway Street, Suite 600
Boston, MA 02114

Re: Improving parkways in the Emerald Necklace

Dear Commissioner Murray:

WalkBoston thanks you for launching the public process to improve safety and connections for people walking, bicycling and driving the section of the Emerald Necklace parkways between Jamaica Pond and the future Casey Arborway (under construction). As well as creating new, separated paths for pedestrians and cyclists, proposed improvements include replacing Murray and Kelley Circles with new, safer “roundabouts.”

We understand that your office was initially responding to concerns of the bicycling community. However, your staff and consultants, Toole Design Group, quickly saw that the challenges facing cyclists and pedestrians in this area cannot be fixed without also solving the existing problems of confusing and dangerous vehicle circulation and chronic speeding. So, the scope and objectives were expanded to all users.

WalkBoston is happy to support this comprehensive package of improvements. The safety of people who are walking or bicycling is absolutely dependent on changing the traffic circles. We feel that the proposed plan would both provide good vehicle access and accomplish the following benefits for walkers:
Improve connections between Jamaica Pond and the Arnold Arboretum for all park visitors, whether on foot or on bike
Improve safety and reduce the number of accidents, injuries and deaths Improve quality of life for local residents
Make the movements through the roundabouts clear and understandable and prevent speeding

All of us are aware that the Arborway is unsafe. Between 2008 and 2012 alone there were 135 crashes on the Arborway, with more than 20 injuries. Murray Circle is especially dangerous because of high vehicle speeds and lack of clarity for drivers. Cars frequently jockey for openings and exits. No one wants to walk or bicycle across the roads that feed into Murray Circle!

Proposals
The process that DCR used to develop a set of “starter ideas” included both a public meeting and several meetings with local elected officials and pedestrian and bicycle advocates. The ideas presented by Toole Design at a public meeting on February 5 are impressive and promising.

  • Separate pedestrian sidewalks and bike paths would be provided in the area
  • The “circles” would be rebuilt as smaller, modern roundabouts that
    o    clarify vehicular movements
    o    make it difficult to exceed the “design speed” of 15‐20 mph
    o    provide multiple safe crosswalks (for people traveling in all directions)
  • Provide raised crosswalks to improve pedestrian visibility and slow traffic
  • Preserve the historic roads between today’s traffic circles including the allées of oak trees
  • Reduce the number of traffic signals that interrupt vehicle flow (reduced from 5 to 1)

What is strikingly innovative about the current “starter ideas” is the concept of replacing the enormous Murray Circle two smaller roundabouts, side by side, to sort and channel traffic clearly and efficiently – while providing multiple crossings for bikes and pedestrians.

In addition the plan provides local residents on both sides of the Arborway with multiple ways to access their homes, while using the outer roadways for local access only, making them safer for all users.

Naturally, a lot of details need to be worked out in the next phase of design (e.g. How will blind persons navigate the roundabouts? How will snow removal be handled?), but the big ideas are solid. Your agency’s intention is to make this area more livable for residents and park visitors alike while continuing to accommodate vehicles.

Sincerely,
Wendy Landman
Executive Director